Traditional web development builds a bridge between the front end, where the user performs their manipulations of the application’s data, and the back end, where that data is stored. In traditional web development, this process is driven by successive networking calls, communicating changes between the server and the client via re-rendering the involved pages. AngularJS enhances this with two-way data binding. Below we’ll look at what two-way data binding is, and how it differs from the traditional data processing approach.
The Traditional Approach
Most web frameworks focus on one-way data binding. This involves reading the input from the DOM, serializing the data, sending it to the server, waiting for the process to finish, then modifying the DOM to indicate any errors, or reloading the DOM if the call is successful. While this provides a traditional web application all the time it needs to perform data processing, this benefit is only really applicable to web apps with highly complex data structures. If your application has a simpler data format, with relatively flat models, then the extra work can needlessly complicate the process. Furthermore, all models need to wait for server confirmation before their data can be updated, meaning that related data depending upon those models won’t have the latest information.
Tying Together the UI and the Model
AngularJS addresses this with two-way data binding. With two-way data binding, the user interface changes are immediately reflected in the underlying data model, and vice-versa. This allows the data model to serve as an atomic unit that the view of the application can always depend upon to be accurate. Many web frameworks implement this type of data binding with a complex series of event listeners and event handlers – an approach that can quickly become fragile. AngularJS, on the other hand, makes this approach to data a primary part of its architecture. Instead of creating a series of callbacks to handle the changing data, AngularJS does this automatically without any needed intervention by the programmer
Benefits and Considerations
The primary benefit of two-way data binding is that updates to (and retrievals from) the underlying data store happen more or less automatically. When the data store updates, the UI updates as well. This allows you to remove a lot of logic from the front-end display code, particularly when making effective use of AngularJS’s declarative approach to UI presentation. In essence, it allows for true data encapsulation on the front-end, reducing the need to do complex and destructive manipulation of the DOM.
While this solves a lot of problems with a website’s presentation architecture, there are some disadvantages to take into consideration. First, AngularJS uses a dirty-checking approach that can be slow in some browsers – not a problem for thin presentation pages, but any page with heavy processing may run into problems in older browsers. Additionally, two-way binding is only truly beneficial for relatively simple objects. Any data that requires heavy parsing work, or extensive manipulation and processing, will simply not work well with two-way binding. Additionally, some uses of Angular – such as using the same binding directive more than once – can break the data binding process.
While the traditional approach to data binding has a lot of benefits when it comes to performing complex data manipulations and calculations, it can introduce some problems with respect to the design of the web application’s front-end architecture. With AngularJS’s use of two-way data binding, your application can greatly simplify its presentation layer, allowing the UI to be built off of a cleaner, less-destructive approach to DOM presentation. While it isn’t useful in every situation, the two-way data binding AngularJS provides can greatly ease web application development, and reduce the pain faced by your front-end developers.
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