AngularJS digest loop walkthrough


  • $scope.$watch(watchExpression, callback, [deep compare])
  • $scope.$digest()
  • $scope.$apply([exp])

two way data binding

Angular has some magic under its hood. it enables binding DOM to real js variables.

Angular uses a loop, named the "digest loop", which is called after any change of a variable - calling callbacks which update the DOM.

For example, the ng-model directive attaches a keyup eventListener to this input:

<input ng-model="variable" />

Every time the keyup event fires, the digest loop starts.

At some point, the digest loop iterates over a callback which updates the contents of this span:


The basic life-cycle of this example, summarizes (very Schematically) how angular works::

  1. Angular scans html
    • ng-model directive creates a keyup listener on input
    • expression inside span adds a callback to digest cycle
  2. User interacts with input
    • keyup listener starts digest cycle
    • digest cycle calles the callback
    • Callback updates span's contents

$digest and $watch

Implementing two-way-data-binding, to achieve the result from the previous example, could be done with two core functions:

  • $digest is called after a user interaction (binding DOM=>variable)
  • $watch sets a callback to be called after variable changes (binding variable=>DOM)

note: this is example is a demonstration, not the actual angular code

<input id="input"/>
<span id="span"></span>

The two functions we need:

var $watches = [];
function $digest(){
        var val = $w.val();
        if($w.prevVal !== val){
            $w.callback(val, $w.prevVal);
            $w.prevVal = val;
function $watch(val, callback){
    $watches.push({val:val, callback:callback, prevVal: val() })

Now we could now use these functions to hook up a variable to the DOM (angular comes with built-in directives which will do this for you):

var realVar;    
//this is usually done by ng-model directive
}, true);

//this is usually done with {{expressions}} or ng-bind directive
$watch(function(){return realVar},function(val){
    span1.innerHTML = val;

Off-course, the real implementations are more complex, and support parameters such as which element to bind to, and what variable to use

A running example could be found here:

the $scope tree

The previous example is good enough when we need to bind a single html element, to a single variable.

In reality - we need to bind many elements to many variables:

<span ng-repeat="number in [1,2,3,4,5]">{{number}}</span>

This ng-repeat binds 5 elements to 5 variables called number, with a different value for each of them!

The way angular achieves this behavior is using a separate context for each element which needs separate variables. This context is called a scope.

Each scope contains properties, which are the variables bound to the DOM, and the $digest and $watch functions are implemented as methods of the scope.

The DOM is a tree, and variables need to be used in different levels of the tree:

    <input ng-model="" />
    <span ng-repeat="number in [1,2,3,4,5]">{{number}} {{}}</span>

But as we saw, the context(or scope) of variables inside ng-repeat is different to the context above it. To solve this - angular implements scopes as a tree.

Each scope has an array of children, and calling its $digest method will run all of its children's $digest method.

This way - after changing the input - $digest is called for the div's scope, which then runs the $digest for its 5 children - which will update its content.

A simple implementation for a scope, could look like this:

function $scope(){
    this.$children = [];
    this.$watches = [];

$scope.prototype.$digest = function(){
        var val = $w.val();
        if($w.prevVal !== val){
            $w.callback(val, $w.prevVal);
          $w.prevVal = val;

$scope.prototype.$watch = function(val, callback){
    this.$watches.push({val:val, callback:callback, prevVal: val() })

note: this is example is a demonstration, not the actual angular code