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AngularJS Directive Life Cycle

Posted by Rohit Chodvadia On 06 Mar 2017

One of the most capable, extensible and popular javascript frameworks is AngularJS, and one of the most useful components of the AngularJS framework is something called a directive.

AngularJS provides many useful directives and, even more importantly, it provides a rich framework for creating custom directives.

Four Functions of the AngularJS Directive Life Cycle

In a directive's life cycle, there are four distinct functions that can execute if they are defined. Each enables the developer to control and customize the directive at different points of the life cycle.

The four functions are: compilecontrollerpre-link and post-Link.

  • Thecompile function allows the directive to manipulate the DOM before it is compiled and linked thereby allowing it to add/remove/change directives, as well as, add/remove/change other DOM elements.
  • Thecontroller function facilitates directive communication. Sibling and child directives can request the controller of their siblings and parents to communicate information.
  • Thepre-link function allows for private $scope manipulation before the post-link process begins.
  • Thepost-link method is the primary workhorse method of the directive.

 In the declaration of the directive, the four functions are defined like this.

.directive("directiveName",function () {

    return {

      controller: function() {

        // controller code here...


      compile: {

        // compile code here...

        return {

          pre: function() {

            // pre-link code here...


          post: function() {

            // post-link code here...








Sample Directive example:- Click me



Example Explanation

HTML snippet

<div ng-repeat="i in [0,1,2]">


        <div> triveni global software services</div>



Notice the directive appears once inside an ng-repeat and will need to render three times. The directive also contains some inner content.

What we want to focus on is how and when the various directive functions execute, as well as the arguments to the compile and linking functions.

To see what happens, consider following directive definition.

app.directive("simple", function(){

   return {

     restrict: "EA",


     template:"<div>{{label}}<div ng-transclude></div></div>",


     compile: function(element, attributes){


         return {

             pre: function(scope, element, attributes, controller, transcludeFn){



             post: function(scope, element, attributes, controller, transcludeFn){





     controller: function($scope){





Compile Executes Once

The first function to execute in the simple directive during view rendering will be the compile function. The compile function will receive the simple element as a jqLite reference, and the element contents will look like the content in the picture below.

Notice how Angular has already added the directive template, but has not performed any transclusion or setup the data binding.


At this point it is safe for the code inside the compile function to manipulate the element, however it is not a place where you want the code to wire up event handlers. The element passed to compile in this scenario will be an element that the framework clones three times because we are working inside an ngRepeat. It will be the clones of this element the framework places into the DOM, and these clones are not available until the linking functions start to run. The idea behind the compilation step is to allow for one time DOM manipulation before the cloning – a performance optimization.


This compile function in the sample above returns an object with the pre and post linking functions. However, many times we don’t need to hook into the compilation phase, so we can have a link function instead of a compile function.


app.directive("simple", function(){

    return {


        link: function(scope, element, attributes){



        controller: function($scope, $element){





A link function will behave like the post-link function described below.


Loop Three Times

Since the ngRepeat requires three copies of simple, we will now execute the following functions once for each instance. The order is controller, pre, then post.


Controller Function Executes

The first function to execute for each instance is the controller function. It is here where the code can initialize a scope object as any good controller function will do.


Note the controller can also take an $element argument and receive a reference to the simple element clone that will appear in the DOM.


Pre-link Executes

Element In Angular Pre LinkBy the time we reach the pre-link function (the function attached to the pre property of the object returned from compile), we’ll have both a scope initialized by the controller function, and a reference to a real element that will appear in the DOM.



However, we still don’t have transcluded content and the template isn’t linked to the scope because the bindings aren’t setup.


The pre link function is only useful in a couple special scenarios, which is why you can return a function from compile instead of an object and the function will be considered by the framework as the post link function.


The element will look just like the element in the previous picture because the framework hasn’t performed the transclusion or setup data binding, but it is the element that will live in the DOM, unlike the element reference in compile.


However, we try to keep controllers from referencing elements directly. You generally want to limit direct element interaction to the post link function.


Post-link Executes

Element in AngularJS Post LinkPost link is the last function to execute. Now the transclusion is complete, the template is linked to a scope, and the view will update with data bound values after the next digest cycle .

In post-link it is safe to manipulate the DOM, attach event handlers, inspect child elements, and setup observations on attributes and watches on the scope.



What is a directive? To put it simply, directives are JavaScript functions that manipulate and add behaviors to HTML DOM elements. Directives can be very simplistic or extremely complicated. Therefore, getting a solid grasp on their many options and functions that manipulate them is critical. Directives have many mysterious features when you first come across them, but with some time and experiments like these you can at least figure out the working pieces.