Extending $resource in AngularJS

I’ve recently dived into the brave new world (for me) of AngularJS, for a development project for a client. I always enjoy learning new tools and frameworks, especially when there are good design principles and practices that I can apply to both the new project and filter back into existing code.

In this project, we have an existing backend that is delivering data through a RESTful JSON interface. And this is what $resource was designed for. The front end is a HTML document embedded in an existing thick-client application window. Yes, this is the real world.

The data returned by $resource can be either a single item, or an array of items — a collection. $resource automatically wraps each item in the array with the “class” of the single item, which is nice. This makes it trivial to extend items with helper functions, such as, in my case, a time conversion function for a specific field in the JSON data (pseudocode):

angular.module('appServices').factory('Widget', ['$resource',
  function($resource) {
    var Widget= $resource('/data/widgets/:widgetId.json', {}, {
      query: {method:'GET', params:{widgetId:''}, isArray:true}
    });

    Widget.prototype.createTimeInMinutes = function() {
      var m = moment(this.createDateTime);
      return m.hours()*60 + m.minutes();
    };
    
...

However, finding a way to extend the collection was also of interest to me. For example, to add an itemById function which would return a single item from the array identified by a unique identifier field. This is of course me applying my existing object-oriented brain to a Angular (FWIW, this post was the best intro to Angular that I have found, even though it’s about coming from jQuery and not from an OO world).

It seemed nice to me to be able to write something like collection.itemById(), or item.createTimeInMinutes(), associating these functions with the data that they manipulate. Object orientation doing what it does best.  While I was aware of advice around the dangers of extending built-in object prototypes — monkey-patching, I really wasn’t sure that the same concerns applied to extending an ‘instance’ of Array.

There were several answers on Stack Overflow that related to this, in some way, and helped me think through the problem. I (and others) came up with several possible solutions, none of which were completely beautiful to me:

  1. Extend the array returned from $resource.  This is actually hard to do, but in theory possible with transformResponse. Unfortunately, because AngularJS does not preserve extensions to Array objects, you lose those extensions very easily. I won’t add the code here because it is ultimately unhelpful.
  2. Wrap the array in a helper object, when loading in the controller:
    Resource.query().$promise.then(function(collection) {
      $scope.collection = new CollectionWrapper(collection);
    });

    This worked, again, but added a layer of muck to every collection which was unpalatable to me, and pushed implementation into the controller, which just felt like the wrong plce.

  3. Add a helper object:
    var CollectionHelper = {
      itemById = function(collection, id) {
        ...
      }
    };
    
    ...
    
    var item = CollectionHelper.itemById(collection, id);

    Again, this didn’t feel clean, or quite right, although it worked well enough.

  4. Finally, James suggested using a filter.
    angular.module('myapp').filter('byId', function() {
        return function(collection, id) {
          ...
        }
      });
    
    ...
    
    var item = $filter('byId')(collection, id);
    // or you can go directly if injected:
    var item = byIdFilter(collection,id);
    // and within the template you can use:
    {{collection | byId:id }}
    

This last is certainly the most Angular way of doing it.  I’m still not 100% satisfied, because filters have global scope, which means that we need to give them ugly names like collectionDoWonk, instead of just doWonk.

Is this the best way to skin this cat?

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