Routing – Angular



Routing is essential. Many modern web applications host too much information for one page. Users should not have to scroll through an entire application’s worth of content either. An application needs to split itself into distinguishable sections.An Angular best practice is to load and configure the router in a separate, top-level module that is dedicated to routing and imported by the root AppModule.

Users prioritize necessary information. Routing helps them find the application section with such information. Any other information useful to other users may exist on an entirely separate route. With routing, both users can find what they need quickly. Irrelevant details stay obscured behind irrelevant routes.

Routing excels at sorting and restricting access to application data. Sensitive data should never display to unauthorized users. Between every route the application may intervene. It can examine a user’s session for authentication purposes. This examination determines what the route renders if it should render at all. Routing gives developers the perfect chance to verify a user before proceeding.

Creating a list of routes promotes organization as well. In terms of development, it keeps the developer thinking in distinguishable sections. Users benefit from this too, but more-so developers when navigating the application code. A list of programmatic routers paints an accurate model of the application’s front end.

As for Angular, routing takes up its own entire library within the framework. All modern front-end frameworks support routing, and Angular is no different. Routing happens from the client-side using either hash or location routing. Both styles allow the client to manage its own routes. No additional assistance from the server is necessary past the initial request.

The web browser rarely refreshes using client-side routing. Web browser utilities such as bookmarks, history, and the address bar still work despite no refreshing. This makes for a slick routing experience that does not mess up the browser. No more jumpy page reloads while routing to a different page.

Angular adds on a layer of abstraction over the core technologies used for routing. This article intends to explain this abstraction. There exists two routing strategies in Angular: path location and hash. This article focuses on the path location strategy since its the default option.

Plus, path location may deprecate hash routing following the full release of Angular Universal. Regardless, the two strategies are very similar in implementation. Learning one learns the other. Time to get started!

RouterModule Setup

Routing utilities export with RouterModule available from @angular/router. It is not part of the core library since not all applications require routing. The most conventional way to introduce routing is as its own feature module.

As route complexity grows, having it as its own module will promote the root module’s simplicity. Keeping it stupid simple without compromising functionality constitutes good design for modules.

import { NgModule } from '@angular/core'; import { RouterModule, Routes } from '@angular/router'; import { AComponent } from '../../components/a/a.component'; import { BComponent } from '../../components/b/b.component'; // an array of soon-to-be routes! const routes: Routes = []; @NgModule({ imports: [ RouterModule.forRoot(routes) ], exports: [ RouterModule ] }) export class AppRoutingModule { }

.forRoot(...) is a class function available from the RouterModule class. The function accepts an array of Route objects as Routes. .forRoot(...) configures routes for eager-loading while its alternative .forChild(...) configures for lazy-loading.

Eager-loading meaning the routes load their content into the application from the get-go. Lazy-loading happens on-demand. The focus of this article is eager-loading. It is the default approach for loading in an application. The RouterModule class definition looks something like the next block of code.

@NgModule({ // … lots of metadata ... }) export class RouterModule { forRoot(routes: Routes) { // … configuration for eagerly loaded routes … } forChild(routes: Routes) { // … configuration for lazily loaded routes … } }

Do not worry about the configuration details the example omits with comments. Having a general understanding will do for now.

Notice how AppRoutingModule imports the RouterModule while also exporting it. This makes sense given AppRoutingModule is a feature module. It imports into the root module as a feature module. It exposes RouterModule directives, interfaces, and services to the root component tree.

This explains why AppRoutingModule must export RouterModule. It does so for the sake of the root module’s underlying component tree. It needs access to those routing utilities!

import { BrowserModule } from '@angular/platform-browser'; import { NgModule } from '@angular/core'; import { AppComponent } from './app.component'; import { AComponent } from './components/a/a.component'; import { BComponent } from './components/b/b.component'; import { AppRoutingModule } from './modules/app-routing/app-routing.module'; @NgModule({ declarations: [ AppComponent, AComponent, BComponent ], imports: [ AppRoutingModule, // routing feature module BrowserModule ], providers: [], bootstrap: [ AppComponent ] }) export class AppModule { }

The AppRoutingModule token imports from the very top. Its token inserts into the root module’s imports array. The root component tree may now utilize the RouterModule library. That includes its directives, interfaces, and services as already mentioned. Big thanks goes to AppRoutingModule for exporting RouterModule!

The RouterModule utilities will come in handy for the root’s components. The basic HTML for AppComponent makes use of one directive: router-outlet.

<!-- app.component.html --> <ul> <!-- routerLink(s) here --> </ul> <router-outlet></router-outlet> <!-- routed content appends here (AFTER THE ELEMENT, NOT IN IT!) -->

routerLink is an attribute directive of RouterModule. It will attach to each element of <ul></ul> once the routes are setup. router-outlet is a component directive with interesting behavior. It acts more as a marker for displaying routed content. Routed content results from navigation to a specific route. Usually that means a single component as configured in AppRoutingModule

The routed content renders right after <router-outlet></router-outlet>. Nothing renders inside of it. This does not make too much of a considerable difference. That said, do not expect router-outlet to behave like a container for routed content. It is merely a marker for appending routed content to the Document Object Model (DOM).

Basic Routing

The previous section establishes the basic setup for routing. Before actual routing can happen, a few more things must be addressed

The first question to address is what routes will this application consume? Well, there are two components: AComponent and BComponent. Each one should have its own route. They can render from AppComponent’s router-outlet depending on the current route location.

The route location (or path) defines what appends to a website’s origin (e.g. http://localhost:4200) through a series of slashes (/).

// … same imports from before … const routes: Routes = [ { path: 'A', component: AComponent }, { path: 'B', component: BComponent } ]; @NgModule({ imports: [ RouterModule.forRoot(routes) ], exports: [ RouterModule ] }) export class AppRoutingModule { }

http://localhost:4200/A renders AComponent from AppComponent’s router-outlet. http://localhost:4200/B renders BComponent. You need a way to route to these locations without using the address bar though. An application should not rely upon a web browser’s address bar for navigation.

The global CSS (Cascading Style-sheets) supplements the HTML below it. An application’s router link ought to have a pleasant appearance. This CSS applies to all other examples too.

/* global styles.css */ ul li { cursor: pointer; display: inline-block; padding: 20px; margin: 5px; background-color: whitesmoke; border-radius: 5px; border: 1px solid black; } ul li:hover { background-color: lightgrey; }
<!-- app.component.html --> <ul> <li routerLink="/A">Go to A!</li> <li routerLink="/B">Go to B!</li> </ul> <router-outlet></router-outlet>

This is basic routing! Clicking either of the routerLink elments routes the web address. It reassigns it without refreshing the web browser. Angular’s Router maps the routed address to the Routes configured in AppRoutingModule. It matches the address to the path property of a single Route object within the array. First match always wins, so match-all routes should lie at the very end of the Routes array.

Match-all routes prevent the application from crashing if it cannot match the current route. This can happen from the address bar where the user may type in any route. For this, Angular provides a wildcard path value ** that accepts all routes. This route usually renders a PageNotFoundComponent component displaying “Error 404: Page not found”.

// … PageNotFoundComponent imported along with everything else … const routes: Routes = [ { path: 'A', component: AComponent }, { path: 'B', component: BComponent }, { path: '', redirectTo: 'A', pathMatch: 'full' }, { path: '**', component: PageNotFoundComponent } ];

The Route object containing redirectTo keeps the PageNotFoundComponent from rendering as a result of http://localhost:4200. This is the applications home route. To fix this, redirectTo reroutes the home route to http://localhost:4200/A. http://localhost:4200/A indirectly becomes the application’s new home route.

The pathMatch: 'full' tells the Route object to match against the home route (http://localhost:4200). It matches the empty path.

These two new Route objects go at the end of the array since first match wins. The last array element (path: '**') always matches, so it goes last.

There is one last thing worth addressing before moving on. How does the user know where he or she is in the application relative to the current route? Sure there may be content specific to the route, but how is user supposed to make that connection? There should be some form of highlighting applied to the routerLinks. That way, the user will know which route is active for the given web page.

This is an easy fix. When you click a routerLink element, Angular’s Router assigns focus to it. This focus can trigger certain styles which provide useful feedback to the user. The routerLinkActive directive can track this focus for the developer.

<!-- app.component.html --> <ul> <li routerLink="/A" routerLinkActive="active">Go to A!</li> <li routerLink="/B" routerLinkActive="active">Go to B!</li> </ul> <router-outlet></router-outlet>

The right assignment of routerLinkActive represents a string of classes. This example portrays only one class (.active), but any number of space-delimited classes may apply. When the Router assigns focus to a routerLink, the space-delimited classes apply to the host element. When the focus shifts away, the classes get removed automatically.

/* global styles.css */ .active { background-color: lightgrey !important; }

Users can now easily recognize how the current route and the page content coincide. lightgrey highlighting applies to the routerLink matching the current route. !important ensures the highlighting overrides inline stylings.

Parameterized Routes

Routes do not have to be completely hard-coded. They can contain dynamic variables referenceable from the component corresponding the Route object. These variables are declared as parameters when writing the route’s path.

Route parameters are either optional or mandatory for matching a particular Route. It depends on how a route writes its parameters. Two strategies exist: matrix and traditional parameterization.

Traditional parameterization begins from the Routes array configured in AppRoutingModule.

const routes: Routes = [ // … other routes … { path: 'B', component: BComponent }, { path: 'B/:parameter', component: BComponent }, // … other routes … ];

Focus on the two BComponent routes. Parameterization will eventually occur in both routes.

Traditional parameterization occurs in the second BComponent Route. B/:parameter contains the parameter parameter as indicated with the :. Whatever follows the colon marks the parameter’s name. The parameter parameter is necessary for the second BComponent Route to match.

parameter reads in the value of whatever gets passed into the route. Routing to http://localhost:4200/B/randomValue will assign parameter the value of randomValue. This value can include anything besides another /. For example, http://localhost:4200/B/randomValue/blahBlah will not trigger the second BComponent Route. The PageNotFoundComponent renders instead.

BComponent can reference route parameters from its component class. Both approaches to parameterization (matrix and traditional) yield the same results in BComponent. Before seeing BComponent, examine the matrix form of parameterization below.

// app.component.ts import { Component } from '@angular/core'; import { Router } from '@angular/router'; @Component({ selector: 'app-root', templateUrl: './app.component.html' }) export class AppComponent { constructor(private router: Router) { } routeMatrixParam(value: string) { if (value) this.router.navigate(['B', { parameter: value }]); // matrix parameter else this.router.navigate(['B']); } routeAddressParam(value: string) { this.router.navigate(['B', value]); } }

Angular’s dependency injection system provides an instantiation of the Router. This lets the component programmatically route. The .navigate(...) function accepts an array of values that resolves to a routable path. Something like .navigate(['path', 'to', 'something']) resolves to http://localhost:4200/path/to/something. .navigate(...) adds path-delimiting / marks when normalizing the array into a routable path.

The second form of parameterization occurs in routeMatrixParam(...). See this line of code: this.router.navigate(['B', { parameter: value }]). This form of parameter is a matrix parameter. Its value is optional for the first BComponent Route to match (/B). The Route matches regardless of the parameter’s presence in the path.

The routeAddressParam(...) resolves a route that matches the http://localhost:4200/B/randomValue parameterization approach. This traditional strategy needs a parameter to match the second BComponent route (B/:parameter).

The matrix strategy concerns routeMatrixParam(...). With or without a matrix parameter in its path, the first BComponent route still matches. The parameter parameter passes to BComponent just like with the traditional approach.

To make full sense of the above code, here is the corresponding template HTML.

// app.component.html <ul> <li routerLink="/A">Go to A!</li> <li> <input #matrixInput> <button (click)="routeMatrixParam(matrixInput.value)">Matrix!</button> </li> <li> <input #paramInput> <button (click)="routeAddressParam(paramInput.value)">Param!</button> </li> </ul> <router-outlet></router-outlet>

In the template, values are accepted as text input. The input injects it into the route path as a parameter. Two separate sets of boxes exist for each parameterization strategy (traditional and matrix). With all the pieces coming together, it is time to examine the BComponent component class.

// b.component.ts import { Component, OnInit } from '@angular/core'; import { ActivatedRoute, ParamMap } from '@angular/router'; @Component({ selector: 'app-b', template: ` <p>Route param: {{ currParam }}</p> ` }) export class BComponent implements OnInit { currParam: string = ""; constructor(private route: ActivatedRoute) { } ngOnInit() { this.route.params.subscribe((param: ParamMap) => { this.currParam = param['parameter']; }); } }

BComponent results from either of two BComponent routes in AppRoutingModule. ActivatedRoute instantiates into a set of useful information pertaining to the current route. That is, the route that caused BComponent to render. ActivatedRoute instantiates via dependency injection targeting the class constructor.

The .params field of ActivatedRoute.params returns an Observable which emits the route parameters. Notice how the two different parameterization approaches result in the parameter parameter. The returned Observable emits it as a key-value pair inside of a ParamMap object.

Between the two parameterization approaches, the parameter parameter resolved identically. The value emits from ActivatedRoute.params despite the approach to parameterization.

The address bar distinguishes the final results of each approach. Matrix parameterization (optional for Route match) yields the address: http://localhost:4200/B;parameter=randomValue. Traditional parameterization (required for Route match) yields: http://localhost:4200/B/randomValue.

Either way, the same BComponent results. The actual difference: a different BComponent Route matches. This entirely depends upon the parameterization strategy. The matrix approach ensures parameters are optional for Route matching. The traditional approach requires them.

Nested Routes

Routes may form a hierarchy. In the DOM, this involves one parent router-outlet rendering at least one child router-outlet. In the address bar, it looks like this: http://localhost/parentRoutes/childRoutes. In the Routes configuration, the children: [] property denotes a Route object as having nested (child) routes.

import { NgModule } from '@angular/core'; import { RouterModule, Routes } from '@angular/router'; import { NestComponent } from '../../components/nest/nest.component'; import { AComponent } from '../../components/nest/a/a.component'; import { BComponent } from '../../components/nest/b/b.component'; const routes: Routes = [ { path: 'nest', component: NestComponent, children: [ { path: 'A', component: AComponent }, { path: 'B', component: BComponent } ] } ]; @NgModule({ imports: [ RouterModule.forRoot(routes) ], exports: [ RouterModule ] }) export class AppRoutingModule { }
// nest.component.ts import { Component } from '@angular/core'; @Component({ selector: 'app-nest', template: ` <ul> <li routerLink="./A">Go to A!</li> <li routerLink="./B">Go to B!</li> </ul> <router-outlet></router-outlet> ` }) export class NestComponent { }

NestComponent renders a router-outlet after rendering itself from another root-level router-outlet in AppComponent. The router-outlet of NestComponent’s template may render either AComponent (/nest/A) or BComponent (/nest/B).

The AppRoutingModule reflects this nesting in NestComponent’s Route object. The children: [] field holds an array of Route objects. These Route object may also nest routes in their children: [] fields. This can continue for however many layers of nested routes. The above example shows two layers of nesting.

Each routerLink contains a ./ as compared to /. The . ensures that the routerLink appends to the route path. The routerLink completely replaces the path otherwise. After routing to /nest, . expands into /nest.

This is useful for routing to either /nest/A or /nest/B from the .nest route. A and B constitute nested routes of /nest. Routing to /A or /B returns PageNotFound. /nest must prepend the two routes.

Take a look at the AppComponent containing the root-level router-outlet in its template. AppComponent is the first layer of nesting while NestComponent is the second.

import { Component } from '@angular/core'; @Component({ selector: 'app-root', template: ` <ul> <li routerLink="/nest">Go to nested routes!</li> <li routerLink="/">Back out of the nested routes!</li> </ul> <router-outlet></router-outlet> ` }) export class AppComponent { }

Inside the nest Route object, the children: [] contains two more nested routes. They result in AComponent and BComponent when routing from /nest as previously discussed. These components are very simple for the sake of demonstration. <li routerLink="/">...</li> lets you navigate out of the nest routes to reset the example by navigating to the home route.

import { Component } from '@angular/core'; @Component({ selector: 'app-a', template: ` <p>a works!</p> ` }) export class AComponent { }
import { Component } from '@angular/core'; @Component({ selector: 'app-b', template: ` <p>b works!</p> ` }) export class BComponent { }

The children: [] array accepts Route object as elements. children: [] can apply to any of these elements as well. The children of these elements can continue nesting. This pattern may continue for however many layers of nesting. Insert a router-outlet into the template for every layer of nested routing.

Routing techniques apply regardless of a Route object’s level of nesting. The parameterization techniques differ in only one aspect. Child routes can only access their parent’s parameters via ActivatedRoute.parent.params. ActivatedRoute.params targets the same level of nested routes. This excludes parent-level routes and their parameters.

Route guards are especially suited for nested routing. One Route object can restrict access to all its nested (child) routes.

Guarded Routes

Web applications often consist of public and private data. Both types of data tend to have their own pages with guarded routes. These routes allow/restrict access depending on the user’s privileges. Unauthorized users may interact with a guarded route. The route should block the user if he or she attempts to access its routed content.

Angular provides a bundle of authentication guards that can attach to any route. These methods trigger automatically depending on how the user interacts with the guarded route.

  • canActivate(...) – fires when the user attempts to access a route
  • canActivateChild(...) – fires when the user attempts to access a route’s nested (child) routes
  • canDeactivate(...) – fires when the user attempts to leave a route

Angular’s guard methods are available from @angular/router. To help them authenticate, they may optionally receive a few parameters. Such parameters do not inject via dependency injection. Under the hood, each value gets passed in as an argument to the invoked guard method.

  • ActivatedRouteSnapshot – available to all three
  • RouterStateSnapshot – available to all three
  • Component – available to canDeactivate(...)

ActivatedRouteSnapshot provides access to the route parameters of the guarded route. RouterStateSnapshot exposes the URL (uniform resource locator) web address matching the route. Component references the component rendered by the route.

To guard a route, a class implementing the guard methods needs to first exist as a service. The service can inject into AppRoutingModule to guard its Routes. The token value for the service may inject into any one Route object.

import { NgModule } from '@angular/core'; import { RouterModule, Routes } from '@angular/router'; import { AuthService } from '../../services/auth.service'; import { UserService } from '../../services/user.service'; import { PrivateNestComponent } from '../../components/private-nest/private-nest.component'; import { PrivateAComponent } from '../../components/private-nest/private-a/private-a.component'; import { PrivateBComponent } from '../../components/private-nest/private-b/private-b.component'; const routes: Routes = [ { path: 'private-nest', component: PrivateNestComponent, canActivate: [ AuthService ], // !!! canActivateChild: [ AuthService ], // !!! canDeactivate: [ AuthService ], // !!! children: [ { path: 'private-A', component: PrivateAComponent }, { path: 'private-B', component: PrivateBComponent } ] } ]; @NgModule({ imports: [ RouterModule.forRoot(routes) ], exports: [ RouterModule ], providers: [ AuthService, UserService ] }) export class AppRoutingModule { }

canActivate, canActivateChild, and canDeactivate implement from AuthService. The service implementation will be shown shortly alongside the UserService implementation.

UserService provides the information needed to authenticate a user. The AuthService guard method implementations perform the authentication. AppRoutingModule must include the two services into its providers array. This is so the module’s injector knows how to instantiate them.

Nested routes exist off of the /private-nest path. The Route object for /private-nest contains a few more new fields. Their names should look familiar as they mirror their corresponding guard methods.

Each field fires its namesake’s method implementation inside of the service when triggered. Any number of services can populate this array too. The method implementation of each service gets tested. They must return a boolean value or an Observable that emits a boolean value.

See the AuthService and UserService implementations below.

// user.service.ts import { Injectable } from '@angular/core'; import { Router } from '@angular/router'; class TheUser { constructor(public isLoggedIn: boolean = false) { } toggleLogin() { this.isLoggedIn = true; } toggleLogout() { this.isLoggedIn = false; } } const globalUser = new TheUser(); @Injectable({ providedIn: 'root' }) export class UserService { theUser: TheUser = globalUser; constructor(private router: Router) { } get isLoggedIn() { return this.theUser.isLoggedIn; } login() { this.theUser.toggleLogin(); } logout() { this.theUser.toggleLogout(); this.router.navigate(['/']); } }

The same instance of TheUser gets passed with each instantiation of UserService. TheUser provides access to isLoggedIn determining the user’s login status. Two other public methods let the UserService toggle the value of isLoggedIn. This is so the user can log in and out.

You can think of TheUser as a global instance. UserService is a instantiable interface that configures this global. Changes to TheUser from one UserService instantiation apply to every other UserService instance. UserService implements into AuthService to provide access to isLoggedIn of TheUser for authentication.

import { Component, Injectable } from '@angular/core'; import { CanActivate, CanActivateChild, CanDeactivate, ActivatedRouteSnapshot, RouterStateSnapshot } from '@angular/router'; import { UserService } from './user.service'; @Injectable({ providedIn: 'root' }) export class AuthService implements CanActivate, CanActivateChild, CanDeactivate<Component> { constructor(private user: UserService) {} canActivate(route: ActivatedRouteSnapshot, state: RouterStateSnapshot) { if (this.user.isLoggedIn) return true; else return false; } canActivateChild(route: ActivatedRouteSnapshot, state: RouterStateSnapshot) { return this.canActivate(route, state); } canDeactivate(component: Component, route: ActivatedRouteSnapshot, state: RouterStateSnapshot) { if (!this.user.isLoggedIn || window.confirm('Leave the nest?')) return true; else return false; } }

AuthService implements every guard method imported from @angular/router. Each guard method maps to a corresponding field in the PrivateNestComponent’s Route object. An instance of UserService instantiates from the AuthService constructor. AuthService determines if a user may proceed using isLoggedIn exposed by UserService.

Returning false from a guard instructs the route to block the user from routing. A return value of true lets the user proceed to his route destination. If more than one service authenticates, they all must return true to permit access. canActivateChild guards the child routes of PrivateNestComponent. This guard method accounts for users bypassing PrivateNestComponent through the address bar.

Guard method parameters pass in automatically upon invocation. While the example does not make use of them, they do supply useful information from the route. The developer can use this information to help authenticate the user.

AppComponent also instantiates UserService for direct use in its template. The UserService instantiation of AppComponent and AuthService reference the same user class (TheUser).

import { Component } from '@angular/core'; import { UserService } from './services/user.service'; @Component({ selector: 'app-root', template: ` <ul> <li routerLink="/private-nest">Enter the secret nest!</li> <li routerLink="/">Leave the secret nest!</li> <li *ngIf="user.isLoggedIn"><button (click)="user.logout()">LOGOUT</button></li> <li *ngIf="!user.isLoggedIn"><button (click)="user.login()">LOGIN</button></li> </ul> <router-outlet></router-outlet> ` }) export class AppComponent { constructor(private user: UserService) { } }

UserService handles all the logic for AppComponent. AppComponent mostly concerns its template. A UserService does instantiate as user from the class constructor. user data determines the template’s functionality.


Routing strikes a fine balance between organizing and restricting sections of the application. A smaller application such as a blog or tribute page may not require any routing. Even then, including a little bit of hash routing could not hurt. A user may only want to reference part of the page after all.

Angular applies its own routing library built on top of the HTML5 history API. This API omits hash routing to instead use the pushState(...) and replaceState(...) methods. They change the web address URL without refreshing the page. The default path location routing strategy in Angular works this way. Setting RouterModule.forRoot(routes, { useHash: true }) enables hash routing if preferred.

This article focused on the default path location strategy. Regardless of the strategy, many routing utilities are available to route an application. The RouterModule exposes these utilities through its exports. Basic, parameterized, nested, and guarded routes are all possible utilizing RouterModule. For more advanced implementations including lazily-loaded routes, see the below links.



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