Getting Started with Django REST Framework (DRF) and AngularJS (Part 4)

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series geared toward getting started with Django Rest Framework (DRF) and AngularJS. The goal of this series is to create an extensive, RESTful web application that uses DRF as a backend DB/API service and AngularJS as a frontend service connecting to the API.

Read Previous Posts:


This post focuses on getting started with AngularJS, with topics covering

This guide uses AngularJS 1.5.7 and Angular UI Router 0.3.1. Further, this guide assumes you have Node.js and npm installed on your system.

A Recap and an Introduction to AngularJS

Last we met, we finished the API for the Retail module of our Django backend application. The Retail module contains information about store chains, individual store locations, and employees working within each store. The API provides access to each of these resources in a RESTful manner.

Our project goal is to create a frontend application that can be deployed separately from the backend application. Now that we have an API defined and working, we can start working on the AngularJS client that will utilize the API! AngularJS is a front-end framework that provides two-way data binding between HTML and Javascript to dynamically display data. It allows us to clearly define application components and tie the components to the HTML templates.

Our Angular application will run on a Node server. The Node server will be a very simple application that serves the Angular application to the user and that is all. Angular will take care of the URL routing so that it may act as a single page application.

Client Project Setup

First thing's first - we need to setup our client application that will house both the code for the Node server and the code for the Angular application. To start, create the following directory structure within drf-sample.

├── client/
│   ├── bower.json
│   ├── index.html
│   ├── package.json
│   ├── public/
│   │   ├── app.js
│   │   ├── appRoutes.js
│   │   └── components/
└── └── server.js

This structure contains a a lot, so it is worthwhile to go over the main function of each part as we setup our client project.

  • package.json - Specifies overall project dependencies
  • bower.json - Specifies AngularJS dependencies
  • index.html - Acts as the entry point for our Angular application
  • server.js - Serves the Angular application to the user
  • public/app.js - Defines all modules associated with the Angular application
  • public/appRoutes.js - Defines how a user can reach each application module
  • public/components/ - Hold the source code for application module

To setup the project, we need to define and install our project dependencies. First, configure package.json to download express for our Node server and bower so we can install our Angular dependencies.


  "name": "drf-sample-client",
  "description": "A sample Angular application",
  "dependencies": {
    "express": "^4.13.4"

Note: There are a number of fields possible in package.json left out of this example. The package.json documentation does a great job at explaining what can be defined here. For the purpose of this guide, the important takeaway is the dependencies section stating that we want to download express.

Since we already have npm installed, we can install all of our project dependencies.

client$ cd client/
drf-sample/client$ npm install
drf-sample/client$ npm install -g bower

node_modules is created within the client directory and contains the contents of the installed express package. Now that we have bower downloaded, we can use it to install the angular dependencies. First, define the angular dependencies in bower.json.


  "name": "drf-sample-client",
  "description": "A sample Angular application",
  "dependencies": {
    "angular": "^1.5.7",
    "angular-ui-router": "^0.3.1",
    "angular-bootstrap": "^1.3.3"

Note: There are a number of fields possible in bower.json left out of this example. The bower.json documentation does a great job at explaining what can be defined here. For the purpose of this guide, the important takeaway is the dependencies section stating that we want to download angular, angular-ui-router, and angular-bootstrap.

Next, install the dependencies using bower.

drf-sample/client$ bower install --config.interactive=false --allow-root

bower_components is created within the client directory and contains the contents of the installed angular components.

It's that easy! We have downloaded all of our required dependencies, so now we can start coding our frontend server.

The Node Server

The Node server is a very simple application that serves our Angular application to users. We will be using express, a minimalist web framework, to specify a directory and port for which to serve the application. To start, edit the server.js file to contain the server code:


var express = require('express');
var server = express();

var port = process.env.PORT || 8081;
console.log('Use port ' + port + ' to connect to this server');

exports = module.exports = server;

This code creates a new express instance, defines the directory to look for as the entry point (in our case it's the current directory), defines a port to run the server on, and exports the express instance so that we can access it from outside the file. With this setup we can run the server using the following:

drf-sample/client$ node server.js 
Use port 8081 to connect to this server

Unfortunately, if you visit localhost:8081 you will see a blank page. There isn't anything to serve until the Angular application is created.

Angular Application Setup

This is where things get a bit more complex. The structure of AngularJS applications isn't necessarily difficult, but there are a few individual parts that come together to make the whole.

AngularJS applications are made up of modules. These modules are encapsulated pieces of code that perform specific functions within the application. We will be building a component for our Retail application. Eventually, this module will query for Retail information from the Retail API and display information about retailers. For the purpose of this post, however, we will just be printing the standard "Hello World" to the page to prove that the application has been created correctly.

First, define the Angular Retail module. Add the following retail module files to the components directory:

└── retail/
    ├── controllers/
    │   └── retail.control.js
    ├── services/
    └── templates/
        └── retail.template

Angular modules can typically be split into three main parts: controllers, services, and templates. Templates contain the HTML code shown to the user. Controllers are JS files that define dynamic content displayed by the templates through $scope variables. Services are helper JS files typically used to define classes, contact external APIs, etc.

Full Application Definition

Since Angular applications are just a combination of modules, there are a few modules that we need to define. First, the retail module will hold all controller, service, and template code that involves the Retail API. Then we need to define the main application module that uses retail.

Alter app.js with the following:


'use strict';

var retail = angular.module("retail", []);

    .module('SampleApplication', [

Here we created an angular module named retail. Nothing is defined as part of this module yet, but having the module available will come in handy later. Second, the SampleApplication module is created. This will act as the main module that brings together all other modules within the application. appRoutes and retail are dependencies for SampleApplication. Don't worry about appRoutes for now, we will get to that later. Let's start on the retail module.

Controllers and Templates

As a first pass, the retail module will have two parts: a controller and a template. This is a good place to start since they are so directly connected. Modify the retail controller and template files with the following:


    .controller('RetailController', ['$scope', function($scope) {
        $scope.message = "Hello World";


<div ng-controller="RetailController">
        {{ message }}

So, what is going on here? By using retail.controller we are stating that this controller is defined as part of the retail module from app.js. The controller is given the name "RetailController". $scope is injected into the controller so the controller has access to it. Think of $scope as a link that connects templates to controllers. Any vairables defined on $scope in the controller can be used by corresponding templates and vice versa. The $scope.message variable is defined within the controller. Any template using "RetailController" can view and alter the message variable.

The template defines a div with the ng-controller directive pointing to "RetailController". You can read more about directives here. This provides the template use of "RetailController" and the message variable. By placing message in {{ }} tags, the template displays text stored by the variable instead of a static string. Whenever the $scope.message variable changes in the controller it will render on the template automatically thanks to variable binding!

Note: Notice we don't have to specify $scope when using variables in the template. Any variables used in a template will automatically be assumed to be on $scope.

Great! We have our basic retail control module defined, but we still need a way for the user to access it.

Application Routing

This is where appRoutes.js comes into play. appRoutes.js defines states of the Angular application based on the URL the user visits. When the user visits a new URL, appRoutes determines the template and controller that should be used by that URL. Alter appRoutes.js with the following:


    .module('appRoutes', ["ui.router"])
    .config(['$stateProvider', '$urlRouterProvider', function($stateProvider, $urlRouterProvider) {

        name: 'retail',
        url: '/',
        templateUrl: 'public/components/retail/templates/retail.template',
        controller: 'RetailController'


Here, another module is defined: appRoutes . This module has a dependency on ui.router so that we can use $stateProvider to alter application states.

One state is defined in appRoutes: "retail". When users visit the base URL for our application, /, we want them to see the Retail control module using the retail template and controller.

Further, appRoutes states that users should be redirected to / when they visit a URL that has not explicitly defined.

The First Page

Remember index.html? Well that file in the entry point to the Angular application. Add the following code to index.html.


<!DOCTYPE html>
<html ng-app="SampleApplication">
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Angular Sample - Retail Application</title>

        <!--  Angular Setup -->
        <script src="bower_components/angular/angular.js"></script>
        <script src="bower_components/angular-ui-router/release/angular-ui-router.js"></script>

        <!-- Application Setup -->
        <script src="public/appRoutes.js"></script>
        <script src="public/app.js"></script>

        <!--  Controllers -->
        <script src="public/components/retail/controllers/retail.control.js"></script>
        <!-- The dynamic templates will be served within this div -->

At heart index.html is just the beginning to a standard page, but there are a few key differences. First, the ng-app directive is used to specify that SampleApplication will be the angular application for this page. Next, there are multiple script elements to import everything we need for the application. It's important to import all non-template parts of the application here, including the angular.js and angular-ui-router.js packages from bower.

Lastly, the ui-view directive is being used to dynamically place our application states into the page. When the user changes URLs within our page appRoutes determines which module is should be rendered and displays it in place of ui-view. This, in essence, is how the single page application works. Views are dynamically determined by the Angular router.

That's it! If we run node server.js then we can visit the page that we created!


Looking Forward

We now have a fully functional AngularJS application. It's simple, yes, but it lays the foundation for the rest of the application. Next time we can start utilizing the Retail API and displaying the API results for the user!

Tim Butler

I'm a Software Maven at TrackMaven.

I specialize in Python backend development through Django and Django Rest Framework. Want to get in touch? Feel free to drop me an email.