I previously wrote a post about Listening for validation changes in AngularJS which with my knowledge at that time required a handy hack to get a reference to the currently scoped form controller (ngForm) for a given input control. I also complained a bit that it seemed that angular didn’t really provide a way to reference the current form controller without this little hack… well, it turns out I was wrong! :)

AngularJS seems kind of like ASP.Net MVC in the early days when there wasn’t much documentation…  It definitely pays off to read through the source code to figure out how to do more complicated things. I had a bit of a ‘light bulb’ moment when I realized that ngForm was itself a directive/controller and had recently noticed that the ‘require’ parameter of setting up a directive allows you to search for controllers in the current directives ancestry (i.e. prefix the required controller with a hat: ^ )

What does the require parameter of a directive do?

Lets face it, the directive documentation for AngularJS is in desperate need of being updated so that human beings can understand it (as noted by the many comments at the bottom). So I’ll try to explain what the ‘require’ parameter actually does and how to use it.

We’ll create a simple custom validation directive which will invalidate a field if the value is “blah”

function blahValidator() {
    return {
        require: 'ngModel',
        link: function(scope, elm, attr, ctrl) {
            var validator = function(value) {
                if (ctrl.$viewValue == "blah") {
                    ctrl.$setValidity('blah', false);
                    return null;
                else {
                    ctrl.$setValidity('blah', true);
                    return value;


You’ll notice that we have a ‘require’ parameter specified for ‘ngModel’. What is happening here is that when we assign this directive to an input field, angular will ensure that the input field also has a defined ng-model attribute on it as well. Then angular will pass in the instance of the ng-model controller to the ‘ctrl’ parameter of the link function.

So, the ‘require’ parameter dictates what the ‘ctrl’ parameter of the link function equals.

You can also require multiple controllers:


NOTE: the ctrl/ctrls parameter in the above 2 examples can be called whatever you want

Special prefixes

Angular has 2 special prefixes for the ‘require’ parameter:

^ = search the current directives ancestry for the controller

? = don’t throw an exception if the required controller is not found, making it ‘optional’ not a requirement

You can also combine them so angular will search the ancestry but it can be optional too such as: ^?ngController'

In the above example, the blahValidator will only work if the directive is declared inside of an ng-controller block.

Referencing the current ng-form

Given the above examples, and knowing the ngForm itself is a controller we should be able to just make a requirement on ngForm and have it injected into the directive. BUT, it wont work the way you expect. For some reason angular references the ngForm controller by the name “form” which i discovered by browsing the source of angular.

So now its easy to get a reference to the containing ngForm controller, all you need to do is add a ‘require’ parameter to your directive that looks like:

require: '^form'
and it will be injected into your ctrl parameter of your link function.