Angular2: A couple of months in

Like any other Angular 1.x developer, I have followed the evolution of the next version of the platform from its announcement through its eventual release. I was not incensed by the lack of (complete )backwards compatibility, as some seemed to be on the initial announcement; the way I saw it, it was indeed a complete rewrite intended on fixing what was missed in the 1.x version using more modern concepts, which I am all for. The 1.x project I was on was mission critical so there was no way of attempting to rewrite it in 2.0 but I prepared by adopting John Papa’s excellent 1.x style guide recommendations, which if you are not, you should (Todd Motto’s is another excellent alternative). I followed the news on each of the RC releases, practiced with one of the initial SystemJS versions of the Tour of Heroes tutorial on the official site to get a feel for the platform and Typescript until I was finally able to work on a full fledged Angular2 project. This is a summary of my experience learning and using the platform two months in.

Learning Angular2

I started from the source, so after initially doing the SystemJS Tour of Heroes, I naturally went back to do it again this time using the CLI build version, having forgotten most of what I had learned initially. The second run through was informative, helping break in some of the new concepts by contrasting them at times with the way Angular 1.x did things. Overall I found the tutorial a good way to break into the framework, although some of the concepts can take a minute to sink in.

An additional hurdle for me was also making the transition to Typescript, which outside of typing can also be compiled to include most of the ES6 features. This made the learning curve a bit more steep but as with everything I have learned in programming so far, nothing builds confidence like practice. The addition of types makes code in my opinion clearer in defining contracts when creating APIs. It looks daunting from the outside but once you get of hang of it, it becomes second nature and your brain gets better at understanding and processing the code when scanning it. Now to get to the meat of the matter, what does it feel like to work with Angular2?

Angular2 is a good/great framework

There is one reason why Angular has spread in the enterprise world the way that it has and contrary to what you might have heard with all the new frameworks popping up, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. To build large scale enterprise application within the context of a team where knowledge has to be shared, it’s in my opinion one, if not the best frameworks out there. The addition of Typescript, like it or not, has in a way reduced the barrier of entry for those who were considered before pure backend developers. Anecdotally, friends of mine in the .Net world have found the transition to buildings UIs a lot less complicated when using Angular2. Something about types and static language developers…

To get back to what makes Angular2 a good/great (depending mainly on the type of problem you are trying to solve) framework, here is a list based on my experience:

  • Angular2 is well designed, you can tell by comparison with Angular 1.x, which was built out of the concept of providing easy two-way data binding, that lessons were learned and applied .
  • Documentation is good: with the new site, the accent is really put on getting you going as fast as possible but with access to more advanced concepts not too far away. It can be confusing and overwhelming at times, but I found it so far to be useful.
  • Component based approach: That’s the way of the future, and it has been made trivial in Angular2. It’s an easy and natural way to represent and application. The only hard part, which is not unique to Angular2 is to decide how atomic to get in the creation of components.
  • Routing: The one weak point of vanilla Angular 1.x which was easily remediated with the excellent UI Router. Now it’s a module on itself with all kinds of functionality, everything you need to handle your routing needs.
  • LifeCycle hooks: Finally Angular officialised a way to hook into initialization and finalization in a way that did not feel hackish when creating views/components (Yes I know, using .component in 1.x offers the same functionality).
  • Quirky function and component names: You loved them in 1.x, they’re back in 2. forRoot anyone?

But seriously I felt Angular2 gave me all the tools needed to be able to develop my application and even more should I want to dig deeper. There were dragons though.

Angular2 is difficult to grasp (initially)

I know you all remember the famous graphic listing the Angular 1.x learning curve, i feel like that initial curve is even steeper. As i said earlier, the introduction of Typescript makes it even more intimidating. I am a seasoned veteran, with years of JS and Angular development behind me but it took me a bit of time to get comfortable with the framework, especially in trying to use best practices when designing and implementing features. It’s nothing for the most part that going back to the documentation often and Google Fu won’t fix, but it’s not always obvious. To summarize my feeling about it, as I was struggling through the initial phases of learning, I thought about all the new developers coming to the Web Development world through self learning and all these bootcamp type of schools and wondered how the learning curve would be for them. Maybe it is a case of old dog learning new tricks but with the emergence of Typescript, ES6, RxJS and functional programming, I feel like the barrier of entry into Front End Development has been kicked up quite a notch.

Angular 1.x was famously known for it’s steep learning curve but for a complete newbie, a good preparation in Javascript would be good enough to eventually understand it and become proficient in it, but now there are new concepts (mainly related to RxJS) that have been made part of the core framework which significantly kick up the complexity level of the framework. With the case of promises and observable for example, the intent for the makers of the framework is clearly to move into the Observable direction, but for the purpose of backwards compatibility, support for Promises is still around and it is also the way to handle HTTP calls used in the basic tutorial until you go deeper. It’s a good thing and a bad thing at the same time for me because as I learned Angular2, I wanted to learn the best practices at the same time, so even though the example with the Promises made sense, from everything I had read before I knew that it was not the “best” way of going about interacting with the API but I guess it helped easing me into the framework by proposing something familiar but in hindsight I would have liked a more tear the BandAid approach to getting up to speed with Angular2.

Angular2 annoyances and gotchas

  • How do I add custom tasks to the CLI?
  • Watch out for Shadow DOM style scoping: ( :host \deep\ shall be your friend). i.e if you’re losing your mind trying to override global styles in a component, read the documentation.
  • An HTTP call returns an Observable, but the HTTP call itself won’t fire if you don’t subscribe to the returned observable. It seems obvious now but in practice, not so much.

In summary, after working with it for 2 months now, I am still a believer in the Angular way. I think the team solidly positioned Angular2 to move forward with the best that is being done in Front End development moving forward and to do so, moving away from 1.x was necessary. So far I have seen good support for the 1.x version of the framework, and applications written with it at this point are “outdated” only in your mind. Angular2 is a different approach and you should definitely consider it for your next project but be prepared for a steeper learning curve.


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