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Using CoffeeScript with AngularJS

Posted by on Sep 09, 2015

JavaScript is an incredibly flexible language, allowing for nearly any imaginable programming style to be used. JavaScript allows you to approach programming from any of a number of paradigms, including procedural programming, object-oriented programming, declarative programming like that used in AngularJS, and even functional programming. However, many newer languages like Ruby, Haskell, and Python have introduced programming idioms that have proven particularly useful as these languages have evolved. Many developers lamented that this kind of functionality was not available in JavaScript, and consigned themselves to sometimes complicated work-arounds. Below we’ll look at CoffeeScript, which allows developers to use many of these new features in a JavaScript-like language which can later be compiled into a form that the application can use.

Introducing CoffeeScript

CoffeeScript is a programming language that can be easily compiled into JavaScript. It was developed by Jeremy Ashkenas, among others, and incorporates many features of languages like Ruby, Haskell, and Python into a JavaScript-like syntax. Originally CoffeeScript was compiled in Ruby, but the latest versions have compilers written on CoffeeScript itself, as well as compilers available as NodeJS utilities. It adds a number of features to JavaScript, such as:

  • Easy function definitions
  • Lambda functionality
  • Simplified class declarations
  • Syntactically-significant whitespace

However, it’s important to note that the core precept of CoffeeScript is “It’s just JavaScript.” For every line of CoffeeScript, there is a JavaScript equivalent. This means that, should you choose, you can easily mix JavaScript and CoffeeScript as you see fit within your application. CoffeeScript simply offers a more concise way to accomplish much of the same functionality already available in JavaScript.

Using CoffeeScript with AngularJS

Luckily CoffeeScript, being a superset of JavaScript, is fully compatible with AngularJS. The concise syntax makes many of the anonymous functions needed for AngularJS applications easier to read, maintain, and troubleshoot, while the simplified class definitions result in code that, with the same functionality, requires far fewer lines to operate. However, it’s important to note that the marriage of CoffeeScript and AngularJS isn’t perfect. Some of the features of CoffeeScript – such as the prevention of accidental global variables via a wrapper function – have the capability to break AngularJS code, making integration more challenging with existing code bases. Additionally, while generators such as Yeoman do support the instantiation and initialization of CoffeeScript for AngularJS applications, such support is often not well documented or supported. This will change over time, though, as the usage of CoffeeScript grows within the AngularJS community.

Conclusion

CoffeeScript is a popular JavaScript variant that adds syntactic sugar to JavaScript code, resulting in programs that are more concise and more clearly-formatted. Its built-in support for functional and declarative programming concepts bring many of the concepts of modern languages into JavaScript in an easy-to-use manner, but such flexibility and utility doesn’t come without a price. Some features of CoffeeScript can cause problems with AngularJS apps, meaning that any integration needs to be carefully considered and managed. Overall, CoffeeScript offers benefits in formatting, readability, and verbosity, but its integration with AngularJS is not yet flawless.

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