LeakFeed and

A couple of week ago I discovered LeakFeed, an API to fetch cables from Wikileaks. I immediately thought it would be cool to play a bit with it and create some kind of application. After a couple of failed ideas that didn’t really take off, I decided to exploit my current enthusiasm for Javascript and build something without a server. Other advantages were that I knew Angular, an HTML “power up” written in Javascript (what else?), which I knew it would ease the whole process a lot, and I even got the chance to learn how to use Twitter’s excellent Bootstrap HTML and CSS toolkit.

What I decided to build is a very simple interface to search for leaked cables. I called it LeakyLeaks (see the code on GitHub). Unfortunately the LeakFeed API is quite limited, so I had to limit my original idea. However, I think the result is kind of neat, especially considering the little effort. To build it, I started writing support classes and functions using Test-Driven Development with Jasmine. Once I had that basic functionality up and running I started building the interface with Bootstrap and, at that point, integrating the data from LeakFeed with Angular was so easy it’s almost ridiculous. And as LeakFeed can return the data using JSONP, I didn’t even need a server: all my application is simply a static HTML file with some Javascript code.

All this get-data-from-somewhere-and-display-it is astonishingly simple in Angular. There’s this functionality (“resources”) to declare sources of external data: you define the URLs and methods to get the data from those resources, and then simply call some methods to fetch the data. E.g.: you can get the list of all tags in LeakFeed from http://api.leakfeed.com/v1/cables/tags.json (adding a GET parameter callback with a function name if you want JSONP). Similarly, you can get the list of all offices in LeakFeed from http://api.leakfeed.com/v1/cables/offices.json. In Angular, you can declare a resource to get all this information like this:

this.LeakFeedResourceProxy = $resource(
 { callback: 'JSON_CALLBACK' },
 { getTags:    {method: 'JSON', isArray: true, params: {id: 'tags'}},
   getOffices: {method: 'JSON', isArray: true, params: {id: 'offices'}}}

Once you have declared it, using it is as simple as calling the appropriate method on the object. That is, you can get the tags by calling this.LeakFeedResourceProxy.getTags(), and the offices by calling this.LeakFeedResourceProxy.getOffices(). And when I say “get the tags”, I mean get a list of Javascript objects: no JSON, text or processing involved. If you assign the result of those functions to any property (say, this.availableOffices), you’ll be able to show that information like so (the |officename is a custom filter to show the office names with a special format):

<select id="office" name="office"> \
  <option value=""> ()</option> \

The cool thing is, thanks to Angular’s data binding, anytime the value of that variable changes, the representation in the HTML changes, too. That is, if you assign another value to this.availableOffices the select box will be automatically updated to have the new set of options! But the data binding is two-way, so any changes you make in the UI also get reflected back in the Javascript variables. This further simplifies many tasks and makes programming with Angular a breeze. There are other nice things about Angular (and many nice things about Bootstrap and Jasmine of course!), but I think that’s enough for today :-)