How to prevent name collisions in Angular providers

by Pascal Precht on May 23, 2016, last updated on Mar 3, 2017
11 minute read

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Contents are based on Angular version >= 2.x unless explicitely stated differently.

If you’ve read our article series on everything dependency injection in Angular, you’ve probably realized that Angular is doing a pretty good job on that. We can either use string or type tokens to make dependencies available to the injector. However, when using string tokens, there’s a possibility of running into naming collisions because… well, maybe someone else has used the same token for a different provider. In this article, we’re going to learn how so-called “opaque tokens” solve this problem.

UPDATE: Since Angular version 4.x OpaqueToken is considered deprecated in favour of InjectionToken. Learn about the differences here.

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Before we jump into the actual problem we want to solve, let’s first recap the differences between a string token and a type token.

String Tokens vs Type Tokens

Angular DI injects singleton instances which are created by provider-registered factories. And it is these instances that are injected at runtime. In order to configure your application DI and associate a factory with a token, we have to setup providers. A couple weeks ago we blogged how providers can be created using Map literals, if you haven’t read this one yet we recommend to check it out, as this article pretty much builds up on that one.

The bottom line is that a provider token can be either a string or a type. Depending on our use case, we want to use one or the other. For example, if we have a DataService class, and all we want to do is inject an instance of that class when we ask for a dependency of that type, we would use DataService as a provider token like this:

@Component({
  selector: 'my-component',
  providers: [
    {provide: DataService, useClass: DataService}
  ]
})
class MyComponent {

  constructor(private dataService: DataService) {}
}

Since the token matches the dependency instance-type and the provider strategy is useClass, we can also use the shorthand version, as:

providers: [DataService]

Angular has many shorthand versions (DI, annotations, etc); and the above code is just one example of those.

Now this is cool, as long as we have classes (or types) to represent the things we want to work with. However, sometimes we need to create other objects that don’t necessarily need to be put in a class representation. We could, for example, have a configuration object that we want to inject into our application. This configuration object can be a simple object literal where there is no type involved.

const CONFIG = {
  apiUrl: 'http://my.api.com',
  theme: 'suicid-squad',
  title: 'My awesome app'
};

Or maybe, we have a primitive value we want to make injectable, like a string or a boolean value.

const FEATURE_ENABLED = true;

In these cases, we can’t use the String or Boolean type, as this would set a default value for the place where we ask for dependencies of these types. And we really don’t want to introduce a new type just to represent these values.

That’s where string tokens come into play. They allow us to make objects available via DI without introducing an actual type:

let featureEnabledToken = 'featureEnabled';
let configToken = 'config';

...
providers: [
  { provide: featureEnabledToken, useValue: FEATURE_ENABLED },
  { provide: configToken, useValue: CONFIG }
]

Basically all we do is, instead of using a type, we use a simple string as a token. We can inject this dependency using the @Inject() decorator likes this:

import { Inject } from [email protected]/core';

class MyComponent {

  constructor(
    @Inject(featureEnabledToken) private featureEnabled,
    @Inject(configToken) private config
  ) {...}
}

Note: that above we used @Inject(featureEnabledToken) private featureEnabled without any typing information; e.g. private featureEnabled:boolean.

Okay awesome, we can use strings and types as tokens to inject dependencies in our application. Unfortunately, using string tokens like this opens up potential risks for naming collisions.

The problem with string tokens

Let’s get back to our config string token for a second. “config” is a pretty general name, so we probably could’ve done better naming this thing in the first place. However, even if we come up with a more distinguishable name, it is easily possible that someone else will use the same string as a token. Providers are flattened, meaning that, if there are multiple providers with the same token, the last one wins.

And there is another concept that allows us to define multiple providers for the same token. Those are multi providers, and we’ve written about them here.

Let’s say we use some sort of third-party library that comes with a set of providers defined like this:

export const THIRD_PARTY_LIB_PROVIDERS = [
  { provide: 'config', useClass: ThirdParyConfig }
];

Even though it’s not a common pattern to use a string token with a class, it’s totally possible to do that, but we really just want to demonstrate the problem here. We can import and use these third-party providers like this:

import THIRD_PARTY_LIB_PROVIDERS from './third-party-lib';

...
providers = [
  DataService,
  THIRD_PARTY_LIB_PROVIDERS
]

Okay, so far so good. Very often, we don’t really know what’s defined behind other library providers unless we check out the documentation or the source code. Let’s assume we also don’t know this time, that there’s a string token for config, and we try to add our own provider like this:

...
providers = [
  DataService,
  THIRD_PARTY_LIB_PROVIDERS,
  { provide: configToken, useValue: CONFIG }
]

This will pretty much break our third-party library, because now, the thing that gets injected for the config string token is a different object than what the library expects. We basically ran into a naming collision.

Opaque Tokens to the rescue

Luckily, Angular anticipated such scenarios. It comes with a type called OpaqueToken that basically allows us to create string-based tokens without running into any collisions.

Creating an OpaqueToken is easy. All we need to do is to import and use it. Here’s what the third-party providers collection looks like using OpaqueToken:

import { OpaqueToken } from [email protected]/core';

const CONFIG_TOKEN = new OpaqueToken('config');

export const THIRDPARTYLIBPROVIDERS = [
  { provide: CONFIG_TOKEN, useClass: ThirdPartyConfig }
];

Of course, this is an implementation detail and we usually shouldn’t have to care about what APIs are used inside a third-party library. Let’s assume we’ve created an OpaqueToken for our config token as well.

import { OpaqueToken } from [email protected]/core';
import THIRDPARTYLIBPROVIDERS from './third-party-lib';

const MY_CONFIG_TOKEN = new OpaqueToken('config');

...
providers = [
  DataService,
  THIRDPARTYLIBPROVIDERS,
  { provide: MY_CONFIG_TOKEN, useValue: CONFIG }
]

Running this code will show us that, even though our application seems to use the exact same string token for different providers, Angular’s DI is still smart enough to figure out which dependency we’re interested in. As if we’d have two different tokens. And technically, this is exactly what happens.

Why it works

If we take a look at the implementation of OpaqueToken we’ll realize that it’s just a simple class with only a .toString() method.

export class OpaqueToken {

  constructor(private _desc: string) {}

  toString(): string { return `Token ${this._desc}`; }
}

toString() gets called when an error is thrown in case we’re asking for a dependency that doesn’t have a provider. All it does is add a tiny bit more information to the error message.

However, the secret sauce is, that we’re creating actual object instances of OpaqueToken as opposed to simple string primitives. That’s why Angular’s DI is able to distinguish between our opaque tokens, even though they are based on the same string, because these instances are never the same.

We can easily double-check the equality of two opaque tokens like this:

const TOKEN_A = new OpaqueToken('token');
const TOKEN_B = new OpaqueToken('token');

TOKEN_A === TOKEN_B // false

InjectionToken since Angular 4.x

Since Angular version 4.x there’s a new, even a little bit better, way of achieving this. InjectionToken does pretty much the same thing as OpaqueToken (in fact, it derives from it). However, it allows to attach type info on the token via TypeScript generics, plus, it adds a little bit of sugar that makes the developer’s life a bit more pleasant when creating factory providers that come with their own dependencies.

Let’s take a look at the following provider configuration for DataService:

const API_URL = new OpaqueToken('apiUrl');


providers: [
  {
    provide: DataService,
    useFactory: (http, apiUrl) => {
      // create data service
    },
    deps: [
      Http,
      new Inject(API_URL)
    ]
  }
]

We’re using a factory function that will create a DataService instance using http and apiUrl. To ensure Angular knows what http and apiUrl are, we add the corresponding DI token to the provider configuration’s deps property. Notice how we can just add the Http token. However, apiUrl is providing using an OpaqueToken, and since it since a type, we have to use the Inject() constructor (equivalent of @Inject() inside constructors).

While this works perfectly fine, developers often ran into errors when they forgot to call new Inject() on the token. That’s why since Angular 4.x we don’t have to do this anymore. We can replace all OpaqueToken instances with InjectionToken instances and everything would work exactly the same way, except for the fact that we don’t have to call new Inject() in factory provider dependencies anymore. Also, notice the generic. It’s the type of what the injector is going to return.

In other words, the code above can then be written like this:

const API_URL = new InjectionToken<string>('apiUrl'); // generic defines return value of injector


providers: [
  {
    provide: DataService,
    useFactory: (http, apiUrl) => {
      // create data service
    },
    deps: [
      Http,
      API_URL // no `new Inject()` needed!
    ]
  }
]

Cool right? As of version 4.x OpaqueToken is considered deprecated.

Conclusion

Opaque tokens are distinguishable and prevent us from running into naming collisions. In addition, they provide a bit better error messages. Whenever we create a token that is not a type, OpaqueToken should be used. If we’re using Angular in version >= 4.x, we use InjectionToken instead.

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