Todd Motto

Todd Motto

Owner, Ultimate Angular

Angular’s dependency injection annotation process
Jul 11, 2014
10 mins read
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For those familiar with Angular’s dependency injection (DI), this post will dive into some of the “under the hood” methods that power the DI process. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, DI is a way of asking for necessary dependencies instead of passing them. We merely tell a method, function, object what dependencies we want - and tucked away we get our dependencies given to us.

So, how does this work in AngularJS?

Until now, I’ve kind of let it be a black box - it just works and I use it. But after a stint of looking through the source code, I think I’ve cracked how it all works underneath - and the implementation is so clever and simple - it’s definitely worth looking into. I’ve also learned a few things along the way!

Dependency injection in Angular

There are three ways we can pass dependencies into Angular functions, the first cannot be minified without breaking the app, the second annotations aid minification aliasing - let’s look at them.

1. Function arguments

Function arguments work perfectly until we minify our app. Minification is important as we want to compress our JavaScript as much as possible, for obfuscation but mainly for performance purposes.

Let’s see how that works:

function SomeCtrl ($scope) {
  // do something with $scope
}

angular
  .module('app', [])
  .controller('SomeCtrl', SomeCtrl);

Easy, we just pass in $scope as an argument and Angular passes it in for us.

2: Array arguments

Possibly the most common way to do it, we pass in an Array to an Angular module method, we’ll use a Controller in all examples to keep things easy and consistent.

function SomeCtrl ($scope) {
  // do something with $scope
}

angular
  .module('app', [])
  .controller('SomeCtrl', ['$scope', SomeCtrl]);

This is also commonly seen as this, however, with functions inside the .controller() method:

angular
  .module('app', [])
  .controller('SomeCtrl', ['$scope', function SomeCtrl ($scope) {
    // do something with $scope
  }]);

John Papa and I have been discussing the first pattern in depth recently and advocate its use over the latter, that’s another story though.

3. $inject

Using $inject makes things simple, and does the same as the above by annotating the dependencies:

function SomeCtrl ($scope) {
  // do something with $scope
}

SomeCtrl.$inject = ['$scope'];

angular
  .module('app', [])
  .controller('SomeCtrl', SomeCtrl);
What does this mean though?

It means when our application is minified, dependency references remain intact due to Angular’s internal annotations, for example function ($scope) {} becoming function (a) {} . Visual example:

function SomeCtrl (a) {
  // a = $scope
}

SomeCtrl.$inject = ['$scope'];

angular
  .module('app', [])
  .controller('SomeCtrl', SomeCtrl);

Angular magically maps this ['$scope'] dependency onto the local a argument variable - how does it know?!…

Annotation process

This is where things get seriously awesome, we’re out of API land now and deep within Angular’s source code. How does Angular map our dependencies then onto minified variables? Let’s find out.

First, there’s a bunch of RegExp variables in the source, these play a part in it ;)

var FN_ARGS = /^function\s*[^\(]*\(\s*([^\)]*)\)/m;
var FN_ARG_SPLIT = /,/;
var FN_ARG = /^\s*(_?)(\S+?)\1\s*$/;
var STRIP_COMMENTS = /((\/\/.*$)|(\/\*[\s\S]*?\*\/))/mg;

There’s a bunch of steps that each of these RegExps correspond with, let’s follow them:

Angular turns a function it needs to annotate into a String, then reads what you’ve passed in and changes that into an Array of arguments and returns it. First, it calls the toString method on the function - I’m going to recreate the bare basics of this - it won’t be a direct copy of the source code.

// declare our function
function ExampleMethod ($scope, /* $rootScope needed! */$rootScope, SomeService) {
  
}

// call toString on it
var fnString = ExampleMethod.toString();

// "function ExampleMethod($scope, /* $rootScope needed! */$rootScope, SomeService) {}"
console.log(fnString);

What now? Someone’s put a comment in the arguments (totally cool) but Angular needs to do some more work on this. Enter, the STRIP_COMMENTS constant:

// "function ExampleMethod($scope, $rootScope, SomeService) {}"
fnString.replace(STRIP_COMMENTS, '');

With the comments gone, Angular moves onto the next phase and calls String.prototype.match:

/*
  [
    "function ExampleMethod($scope, $rootScope, SomeService) {}",
    "$scope, $rootScope, SomeService"
  ]
*/
fnString.match(FN_ARGS);

We then get the above Array as the output. We don’t care about the first part, we just want the comma separated second item in the Array, which means we would do this instead to get just the String value of the second item:

/*
  "$scope, $rootScope, SomeService"
*/
fnString.match(FN_ARGS)[1];

Next, Angular calls fnString.split(FN_ARG_SPLIT);, which returns an Array of our arguments:

// ["$scope", " $rootScope", " SomeService"]
fnString.split(FN_ARG_SPLIT);

You’ll notice that some of the Array items have a single space before the name, such as " $rootScope", this is because the function arguments were separated with a comma then space. Angular then loops over these final Array items, replaces function arg whitespace and pushes them into a new Array called $inject:

var $inject = [];
var args = fnString.split(FN_ARG_SPLIT);
args.forEach(function (arg) {
  arg.replace(FN_ARG, function (all, underscore, name) {
    $inject.push(name);
  });
});
return $inject;

The function returns $inject. And we’re done. Putting the above together, I can replicate what Angular does (in a very simple form):

var FN_ARGS = /^function\s*[^\(]*\(\s*([^\)]*)\)/m;
var FN_ARG_SPLIT = /,/;
var FN_ARG = /^\s*(_?)(\S+?)\1\s*$/;
var STRIP_COMMENTS = /((\/\/.*$)|(\/\*[\s\S]*?\*\/))/mg;

function annotate (fn) {
  var $inject = [];
  fn = fn.toString();
  var first = fn.replace(STRIP_COMMENTS, '');
  var second = first.match(FN_ARGS)[1];
  var third = second.split(FN_ARG_SPLIT);
  third.forEach(function (arg) {
    arg.replace(FN_ARG, function (all, underscore, name) {
      $inject.push(name);
    });
  });
  return $inject;
}

Nice! Here’s how it works:

function ExampleMethod ($scope, /* $rootScope needed! */$rootScope, SomeService) {
  
}
var annotated = annotate(ExampleMethod);

// ["$scope", "$rootScope", "SomeService"]
console.log(annotated);

This only takes into account arguments being named correctly, such as $scope instead of minified a. This means that the above method is only for annotating functions that haven’t been minified or have no Array dependencies, in other words, this code isn’t used in production if you’re minifying your code.

Annotating the Array syntax

This is actually really simple! Take our Array setup, I can pass it into my annotate function:

function ExampleMethod ($scope, /* $rootScope needed! */$rootScope, SomeService) {
  
}
var arraySyntax = ['$scope', '$rootScope', 'SomeService', ExampleMethod];
var annotated = annotate(arraySyntax);

// ["$scope", "$rootScope", "SomeService"]
console.log(annotated);

If we’re already this example, then Angular doesn’t need to grab the names as above, it assumes you’ve already supplied them correctly and uses your Array order as the new arguments order, using this line in the source:

...
else if (isArray(fn)) {
  last = fn.length - 1;
  assertArgFn(fn[last], 'fn');
  $inject = fn.slice(0, last);
}
...

We’re only interested in this part:

...
else if (isArray(fn)) {
  last = fn.length - 1;
  $inject = fn.slice(0, last);
}
...

What does it do? The last variable holds the Array.length - 1, which (very cleverly) the last item in our Array is the function to be invoked (the arraySyntax variable I just created above). We could write a tiny function to do exactly that:

function annotate (fn) {
  var $inject = [];
  $inject = fn.slice(0, fn.length - 1);
  return $inject;
}

Or even:

function annotate (fn) {
  return fn.slice(0, fn.length - 1);
}

Both would output what we need, as Array.prototype.slice returns a portion of an Array, which Angular says to be the length of the Array, minus 1 - omitting our function:

function annotate (fn) {
  return fn.slice(0, fn.length - 1);
}

// returns ["$scope", "$rootScope", "SomeService"]
var annotated = annotate([
  '$scope',
  '$rootScope',
  'SomeService',
  function ExampleMethod ($scope, $rootScope, SomeService) {}
]);

Annotating $inject

Inside Angular’s annotate function, it also checks to see if fn.$inject exists, if it does, it can just return those, as we’ll have provided a setup like this:

function ExampleMethod ($scope, $rootScope, SomeService) {
  
}
ExampleMethod.$inject = ['$scope', '$rootScope', 'SomeService'];

ExampleMethod.$inject is a straight up Array, and Angular will run with that.

Mapping function arguments

This took some further digging, and the way Angular maps minified function arguments to real names is so unbelievably simple! The steps are:

  • Get the dependency list in Array form (as we have above)
  • Apply the dependencies list over the top of the minified variables (pass them in as arguments when invoking the function)

We’ve already completed the first step, let’s assume we have ['$scope', '$rootScope', 'SomeService'] on standby from an $inject property on the function, and the said function with minified arguments:

function ExampleMethod (a, b, c) {
  
}
ExampleMethod.$inject = ['$scope', '$rootScope', 'SomeService'];

How does $scope match up with a? Easy:

function ExampleMethod (a, b, c) {
  console.log(a, b, c);
}
ExampleMethod.$inject = ['$scope', '$rootScope', 'SomeService'];
ExampleMethod.apply(null, ExampleMethod.$inject);

Three lines to completely remap the underlying argument names. As they’re just placeholder arguments anyway (which Angular has read and passed in what we actually want, there isn’t really “remapping” going on, but it feels like it). This is just a simple case of invoking the function based off a predefined arguments list.

Angular doesn’t do much with the $inject property, it just gets returned from the function (after a few function checks, no manipulation), so I’ve left it out of my remade annotate function as it’ll just get returned as is.

Altogether now

Let’s slap it all together.

/**
 * annotate remake
 */
var FN_ARGS = /^function\s*[^\(]*\(\s*([^\)]*)\)/m;
var FN_ARG_SPLIT = /,/;
var FN_ARG = /^\s*(_?)(\S+?)\1\s*$/;
var STRIP_COMMENTS = /((\/\/.*$)|(\/\*[\s\S]*?\*\/))/mg;

function annotate (fn) {
    var $inject;
    if (typeof fn === 'function') {
        $inject = [];
        fn = fn.toString();
        var first = fn.replace(STRIP_COMMENTS, '');
        var second = first.match(FN_ARGS)[1];
        var third = second.split(FN_ARG_SPLIT);
        third.forEach(function (arg) {
            arg.replace(FN_ARG, function(all, underscore, name){
                $inject.push(name);
              });
        });
    } else {
        $inject = fn.slice(0, fn.length - 1);
    }
    return $inject;
}

/**
 * functions
 */
function withoutDependencies ($scope, $rootScope, SomeFactory) {
  // $scope, $rootScope, SomeFactory
  console.log($scope, $rootScope, SomeFactory);
}
function withDependencies (a, b, c) {
  // BOOM! We did it!
  // $scope, $rootScope, SomeFactory
  console.log(a, b, c);
}

var annotatedWithout = annotate(withoutDependencies);
withoutDependencies.apply(null, annotatedWithout);

var annotatedWith = annotate(['$scope', '$rootScope', 'SomeFactory', withDependencies]);
withDependencies.apply(null, annotatedWith);

The above annotate function invokes the withoutDependencies function without any dependencies, so annotate loops through the arguments and invokes it with each argument name directly. The withDependencies function is looking for a, b, c arguments, but what are they? We grab $scope, $rootScope, SomeFactory from the $inject property and use Function.prototype.apply to invoke the function with our $inject Array of arguments.

That’s it! This doesn’t cover how Angular physically “injects” the actual dependencies, but how it resolves the dependency names internally, I thought it was really clever, and learned a thing or two from the source. Here’s the end result in a jsFiddle, inspect the console to see it working.

Best route for performance?

Based on the following conditions in the Angular source, using $inject would be best for performance! I’ve annotated the good parts of the function:

function annotate(fn, strictDi, name) {
  var $inject,
      fnText,
      argDecl,
      last;
 
  // if the function passed in is a function, let's roll with it...
  // ...there are two things that can happen inside here, either we're using $inject or
  // we aren't using $inject, which means we'll manually need to get the dependencies
  // from the arguments
  if (typeof fn === 'function') {

    // !($inject = fn.$inject) checks for the presence
    // of fn.$inject and assigns it to the $inject variable, if this is true
    // there is no further action needed, and $inject is returned
    // which is a very fast operation
    if (!($inject = fn.$inject)) {

      // if fn.$inject doesn't exist, it's bad news and we're going to need to
      // do some manual work reading the dependencies from the arguments, so they
      // need to be spelled correctly against the proper names or they'll be an
      // unknown provider
      $inject = [];
      if (fn.length) {
        if (strictDi) {
          if (!isString(name) || !name) {
            name = fn.name || anonFn(fn);
          }
          throw $injectorMinErr('strictdi',
            '{0} is not using explicit annotation and cannot be invoked in strict mode', name);
        }
        fnText = fn.toString().replace(STRIP_COMMENTS, '');
        argDecl = fnText.match(FN_ARGS);
        forEach(argDecl[1].split(FN_ARG_SPLIT), function(arg){
          arg.replace(FN_ARG, function(all, underscore, name){
            $inject.push(name);
          });
        });
      }
      // here after we're done, it completes what we wanted before this 
      // operation, the fn.$inject, so it just assigns $inject to the function
      // and $inject gets returned below
      fn.$inject = $inject;
    }
  } else if (isArray(fn)) {
    // if the function isn't a function, but is an Array containing a function
    // we need to remove it from the Array and send the leftover portion of the
    // Array back as $inject

    // calculate the Array length
    last = fn.length - 1;
    assertArgFn(fn[last], 'fn');

    // use slice which returns the portion of the Array minus the final item
    $inject = fn.slice(0, last);
  } else {
    assertArgFn(fn, 'fn', true);
  }
  // returns $inject from one of the methods above!
  return $inject;
}

Want to dig in more? Search for this function annotate to find this implementation, and function invoke to see where the .apply() call takes place and how the two hang together.

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