Assets & caching
Last modified on Thu 13 Jan 2022

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.


After the application is built and deployed, there comes a question of caching all the various files that are required by the app.

Application build files in dist directory include:

Paths to assets

Too long, didn't read

Here is a quick summary of how you should define paths to assets in various use cases:

Use case Example
HTML / images <img src="./assets/…">
XHR / fetch http.get('./assets/…")
CSS url() url("^assets/…")

Keep reading for a detailed explanation of how to define paths to assets.

Base href

Angular documentation about deploying applications contains The base tag chapter, describing how hyperlinking works in conjunction with the base href tag. There is another chapter in the Routing subsection - HTML5 URLs and the <base href>.

Loading assets via HTML

To understand how base href affects assets loading, we will take a look at an example of image loading via the <img> element.

When developing locally, the application is hosted by the Webpack DevServer on http://localhost:4200 and the base href is set to /. This means that when, for example, you load an image from the assets directory via <img src="/assets/logo.svg">, the image will be loaded from http://localhost:4200/assets/logo.svg.

A src path that is relative to the current component's source file will also work. For example, if you are working on src/app/components/app.component.html and you want to load the image that is in src/assets/logo.svg you can do it like so: <img src="../../assets/logo.svg"> and it will work. Why and how this works might not be immediately clear. One might think that this works because it makes sense when looking at the logo.svg path relative to AppComponent in the source code directory structure. However, when looking at how the application is built, you realize that the source file directory structure (excluding the assets folder) does not really make any impact on the final build. AppComponent could be placed in any other directory and things would still work. Developers sometimes write such relative src paths because it's what the IDE/editor commonly offers as autocomplete options and that is expected - the autocompletion tools know only about the local source file structure and they are not aware of how the application is served.

The image with src="../../assets/logo.svg" will get loaded, but not because of the source file structure and the path relation between app.component.html and logo.svg files. It would also get loaded if the src was ../../../../../../../assets/logo.svg or some even deeper relative path. At a glance, it is not completely clear why this would work. If we look at src/app/components/app.component.html and ../../../../../../../assets/logo.svg, it is clear that this logo.svg file does not exist for the given path that is relative to the app.component.html file, and yet the image gets loaded. The reason why this works is because when working with relative paths the img src tag is relative to the href value from the base tag. In development, base href will be / and the ../../../../../../../assets/logo.svg relative path will be resolved to /assets/logo.svg and the image will be loaded from http://localhost:4200/assets/logo.svg. This is why any amount of relative segments (../) will work and why ./assets/logo.svg, assets/logo.svg, and /assets/logo.svg will all work just the same.

This might lead to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter if relative imports are used if it works. Not quite - there is an edge case where deep relative paths will not work, and that is if the base href is not /. This can be the case when the backend and the frontend are served from the same domain, but under different paths. For example, and In such cases, the Angular application has to be build with baseHref and deployUrl builder options set to /web/ (it is / by default). When running the local development server, you must also use --serve-path=/web/. It is important to include a trailing / for all of the options or it might not work correctly. Now, the relative path to logo.svg will be resolved differently, because it is no longer resolved relative to base href that is /, it is now resolved relative to /web/. When resolving ../../assets/logo.svg relatively to /web/, you get /assets/logo.svg and the image will get loaded from http://localhost:4200/assets/logo.svg and this will not work. The image is now available on http://localhost:4200/web/assets/logo.svg (or in production).

Here is a quick table with a summary of what works and what does not work for different cases:

base href <img> src path Resolved path Actual URL on which the image is available Works?
/ ../../assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/ ../../../../../../../assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/ ./assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/ /assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/ assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/web/ ../../assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/web/ ../../../../../../../assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/web/ ./assets/logo.svg /web/assets/logo.svg
/web/ /assets/logo.svg /assets/logo.svg
/web/ assets/logo.svg /web/assets/logo.svg



In summary, you must use ./assets/… or assets/… when defining paths for assets loading via HTML in order to make it work in all the cases. We recommend using ./assets/….

Loading assets via JS

The same rules apply when fetching assets via fetch or XHR because both of these APIs respect the base href value when resolving relative paths. For example, when using transloco for fetching translation files, you must use http.get<Translation>(`./assets/i18n/${lang}.json`). assets/… will also work, but /assets will not - just like with images.


Just as for images, the same conclusion applies for defining relative path when using fetch, XHR, src, and href - use ./assets/….

Loading assets via SCSS

Loading images from the assets directory via the url() function is a bit different, because the SCSS transpiler processes SCSS with postcss-loader and the loader will throw an error if it can not find the file if it is defined by a relative URL in the url() function.

The processing that the compiler does on images (and some other assets) also means that they will be fingerprinted and, unless extra precautions are made, there will be duplicates in the final bundle - 1 original copy in dist/assets (e.g. for use in templates with img src) and 1 fingerprinted copy in dist/ (e.g. for use in CSS with url()). This is an issue with Angular CLI and it is not yet clear what the best solution is to avoid duplicate assets for both / and custom base href values. There are currently some hacky solutions, none of which are ideal, as described in this StackOverflow thread (+ another Angular issue on the topic).

If we wanted to set the logo.png image as background-image using url(), relative path is now relative with respect to the source file structure because it is processed by postcss. Transpilation will fail if the relative path leads to a file that does not exist. Absolute paths do not get processed and will always transpile. Here is an overview of what works and what does not work when loading an image (src/assets/logo.png) as background-image via url() from src/app/app.component.scss:

base href Path in url() in source SCSS Path type Path in url() in transpiled CSS Works? Duplicate file in /dist?
/web/ ^assets/logo.png Special assets/logo.png -
/ ^assets/logo.png Special assets/logo.png -
/web/ ~/src/assets/logo.png Relative /web/logo.d808b08ce47c5d0c53cd.png /logo.d808b08ce47c5d0c53cd.png
/web/ ../assets/logo.png Relative /web/logo.d808b08ce47c5d0c53cd.png /logo.d808b08ce47c5d0c53cd.png
/web/ ../../assets/logo.png Relative does not transpile -
/web/ ../../../../../../../assets/logo.png Relative does not transpile -
/web/ ./assets/logo.png Relative does not transpile -
/web/ assets/logo.png Relative does not transpile -
/web/ ~assets/logo.png Relative does not transpile -
/web/ ~/assets/logo.png Relative does not transpile -
/web/ /assets/logo.png Absolute /assets/logo.png -
/ /assets/logo.png Absolute /assets/logo.png -
/web/ /web/assets/logo.png Absolute /web/assets/logo.png -



Conclusion here is a bit different than for <img> and fetch/XHR paths. For SCSS URLs use ^assets/… in order to avoid assets file duplication and make it work for different base href values without the need for modifying URLs in source files. Keep in mind that this solution could easily stop working if there are some breaking changes in Webpack or the Angular CLI. Handbook will be updated with a better solution once and if it is found.


Index file

The entry-point into a Single Page Application (SPA), like Angular, is the index.html file. During the build process, the source src/index.html is taken and updated with links to the generated JS and CSS chunks and placed into dist/[project-name]/index.html.

Fingerprinted links to JS and CSS chunks will be different for each build, and because of that the index.html file will be different as well. Because of this, it is important that the index.html file is not cached permanently on the client and that the client requests cache revalidation. If the client has a stale index.html file, it will try loading stale JS and CSS chunks as well. Those might or might not be in its cache, and depending on this the client might get a completely outdated app or a broken app that is missing some chunks.

Caching Rule #1: Do not cache the built index.html file. Revalidate it each time!

JS and CSS chunks

JS and CSS chunks that are linked to from the index.html file are fingerprinted and because of that they can be cached indefinitely. If we create a new application build, the index.html file will be re-validated and the client will load new chunks.

Caching Rule #2: Cache fingerprinted JS and CSS files with a long expiration time!

Static assets

The tricky part with serving Angular applications is caching the static asset files. Some frameworks, depending on the Webpack configuration and the way that assets are used, fingerprint all images and other static assets. In Angular, static assets, like images and custom fonts, are placed in the src/assets/ directory. This directory gets copied without any modifications to the final application build directory - dist/[project-name]/assets/.

Files from the assets/ directory do not get fingerprinted. Because of this, it is important to set up the correct caching mechanism for serving these files or else the client might be using stale files. There are two solutions:

  1. Well, add fingerprinting to these files!
  2. Utilize the transfer protocol caching mechanism

The first solution is actually a hack, just like fingerprinting JS and CSS chunks is a hack. Ideally, we want to rely on the transfer protocol to handle the caching, without the need for fingerprinting.

In the world of Web, application files are served via the HTTP protocol 99.99% of the time. It makes sense to use the built-in mechanisms offered by HTTP to handle caching of static assets. You can read more about the different caching mechanisms available in HTTP here.

For our use case of static assets serving, we must adopt cache re-validation using ETags. The short description of this method is that the Web server calculates the hash of the file being served and sends that hash to the client together with the file itself. The client can cache this file and when fetching the same file in the future, the client sends that hash value of the cached file in the request headers as well. Depending on whether the hashes match or not, the server can return 200 with the new version of the file or 304 without any payload.

This caching mechanism could also be applied to JS and CSS chunks in a way that would not require fingerprinting those files, but since Angular already fingerprints those files by default, we will leave it as-is.

One small note: if you use relative paths in SCSS, for example for a background image, then that image will get duplicated and fingerprinted. However, if you have an image element in your template, like <img src="/assets/logo.png">, the logo.png file will not be fingerprinted and you are at risk of the client using a stale version of the file! Please check out Loading assets via SCSS sub-chapters that covers this topic and explains how to avoid duplicated files.

Caching Rule #3: Implement cache re-validation using ETags for all static assets!

Cache re-validation implementation

Depending on how the application files are served, implementation details for setting up HTTP caching will be a bit different.

Static file serving

If application files are served statically, the static file server must be configured to serve and cache asset files correctly.

Taking Nginx as an example of a static file server, the configuration file for the site should be updated to enable cache re-validation for the assets/ directory:

    server {
        listen 80 default_server;
        root /var/www;
        location / {
            add_header Cache-Control "no-cache";
            try_files $uri $uri/ /index.html;

Options for the Cache-Control header can be a bit confusing. The name of the option no-cache suggests that there will be no caching, but that is not true. For more details, please check out this article about Demistifying HTTP Caching. A quick quote from the article:

no-cache doesn’t mean “don’t cache”, it means it must revalidate with the server before using the cached resource.

Server-side rendering

If the application uses server-side rendering, then caching should be handled by the Node.js server.

When using Angular Universal, server.ts includes a piece of code in charge of serving the application client build files (this includes index.html, JS and CSS chunks, and files from assets/). This piece of code should be updated to force cache re-validation:

server.get('*.*', express.static(distFolder, {
  etag: true,
  setHeaders: (res) => {
    res.set('Cache-Control', 'no-cache');

This change will actually force re-validation for index.html, JS and CSS chunks as well, not only the assets/ directory.

Keep in mind that if there is a proxy in front of the Node.js SSR server, it should also be configured to handle these caching headers correctly.