Juri Strumpflohner


In-depth: How do CDK Portals work?

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Juri Strumpflohner

In the last article we were exploring how to leverage the Angular Material CDK portals for placing some piece of template from a component to some other location within our app. CDK portals make this a no-brainer. Wondering how they work? In this article we dive deeper to uncover how its internals work and how we could simply implement it by ourselves.

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/0a5VbkqqFFE

Contents are based on Angular version >= 5.0.0

Quick recap on CDK Portals

As shown in the previous article, we need two parts to render a template into a DOM element: the portal host and portal. In this article we’re going to look into what the portal host and portal actually do and how we can emulate their implementation.

// Create a portalHost from a DOM element
this.portalHost = new DomPortalHost(

// create a template portal that takes the reference to
// our ng-template
this.portal = new TemplatePortal(

// Attach portal to host

So the #page-actions-container that we’re passing to our DomPortalHost is the DOM element on our page to which we want to render our content. The next step is to grab the actual content, basically an <ng-template #pageActions> which we can get a reference to using Angular’s @ViewChild('pageActions') and store it in the pageActionsTmplRef variable. Once we have that, we can define our TemplatePortal, passing it our reference to the template as well as a reference to the viewContainer, which we simply inject using Angular’s DI. Finally, we need to attach our “portal” to our “portal host” to render the content on the page.

Creating our own TemplatePortal

Let’s start with the TemplatePortal. First of all we need to define the view, which in Angular we do in the component’s template:

    template: `
      <ng-template #pageActions>
        <button type="button" ...>
export class PageActionsComponent {...}

<ng-template> won’t be rendered by Angular but serves rather as a means to define a view that we can reference. As you can see I applied a so-called “page variable” which can be accessed from within our PageActionsComponent using the ViewChild:

export class PageActionsComponent implements AfterViewInit {
    @ViewChild('pageActions') portalActionsTmplRef;
    ngAfterViewInit() {
      // access the portalActionsTmplRef here

The ViewChild will be accessible in the ngAfterViewInit lifecycle hook. Having a reference to our ng-template, we now need to create a so-called EmbeddedViewRef. An EmbeddedViewRef is a grouping of DOM elements which we can then be passed along to the container (our portal host) where they should ultimately be rendered. To create it, we need to use the createEmbeddedView(..) function of the ViewContainerRef. The latter can just be injected using Angular’s DI:

export class PageActionsComponent implements AfterViewInit {
    @ViewChild('pageActions') portalActionsTmplRef;
    constructor(private viewContainerRef: ViewContainerRef) {}
    ngAfterViewInit() {
      const viewRef = viewContainer.createEmbeddedView(this.portalActionsTmplRef);

We directly pass it our reference to the ng-template into the createEmbeddedView(..) function. Moreover we execute change detection on our in-memory view.

Note that the createEmbeddedView(..) takes an optional 2nd parameter, a context object which can be used to pass data to our view being rendered.

The viewRef variable now contains an in-memory rendered view, allowing us to pass it along to a “Portal host” which is responsible for placing it onto the DOM.

Creating our own PortalHost

The portal host is nothing too complicated either, but rather just a wrapper around a DOM element serving us as the placeholder where to render our content. As such, it needs to manage

  • the location where to render the view, in the form of a DOM Element.
  • the template to render, in the form of a TemplateRef

Implementing our own PortalHost is relatively easy. To grab an instance of a DOM element, we can use the native DOM API:

const outletElement = document.querySelector('#page-actions-container');

This gives us the DOM element which we can then use to append our view.

We will get the view to be rendered from our implementation of the TemplatePortal we’ve seen before, in the form of an EmbeddedViewRef. The EmbeddedViewRef consists of one or more “nodes”. Take for instance the following view:

  <button>Click me</button>

In this case our view consists of a <span> element as well as a <button>, all of which have to be attached to the target DOM element (in our case outletElement).

Luckily the EmbeddedViewRef, has a property rootNodes which is an array of all the DOM elements it embraces. Thus, we can iterate over that array, and leverage the appendChild(…) function on our outletElement to insert the various nodes into the DOM:

// viewRef is the variable containing our instance of
// the EmbeddedViewRef
viewRef.rootNodes.forEach(rootNode => outletElement.appendChild(rootNode));

How is Angular able to run Change Detection on the embedded view?

If you paid attention, then you’ve seen that we’re creating the EmbeddedViewRef using an instance of the ViewContainerRef that we get via Angular’s dependency injection from the PageActionsComponent. That view container is actually part of the PageActionsComponent and as a result, also our embedded view.

It just happens, that in our case the nodes of the EmbeddedViewRef are rendered somewhere else on the page, namely inside our outletElement. Still, whenever Angular runs CD on our PageActionsComponent, it will execute it as well on our embedded view ref.

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Putting all together and attach it to the DOM

We have now all the pieces together, the functionality of the TemplatePortal as well as the PortalHost. If we put all of them together in our ngAfterViewInit(..) it could look as simple as this:

ngAfterViewInit(): void {
  // render the View
  const viewRef = this.viewContainerRef.createEmbeddedView(this.portalActionsTmplRef);

  // grab the DOM element
  const outletElement = document.querySelector('#page-actions-container');
  // attach the view to the DOM element that matches our selector
  viewRef.rootNodes.forEach(rootNode => outletElement.appendChild(rootNode));

Cleaning up

Clearly, we should also take care of removing again the elements from the DOM, whenever the parent component gets destroyed. To remove an attached view, the remove(index) function of the ViewContainer an be used.

ngOnDestroy() {
  // get the index of where our view resides inside the
  // ViewContainer
  const index = this.viewContainer.indexOf(this.viewRef);
  if (index !== -1) {


Wrapping up, I changed the adapted the implementation from the previous article using CDKPortals to rather use our own implementation of portals. You can find the entire source code on Stackblitz.

Hint: open the src/app/shared/page-actions/page-actions.component.ts file.

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