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Posted 2 Jul 2015
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JavaScript Summary

, 25 Jul 2016
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A short summary of JavaScript's main features, including a discussion of the different kinds of JS objects, basic data structures, functions as first class citizens, and code patterns for implementing classes. "In over 20 years programming this is the single best overview of any language ever!"
In over 20 years programming this is the single best overview of any language ever!
[Comment by Member 11032252]

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Types and Data Literals
  3. Variable Scope
  4. Strict Mode
  5. Different Kinds of Objects
  6. Array Lists
  7. Maps
  8. Four Important Types of Data Structures
  9. Procedures and Functions
  10. Defining and Using Classes
  11. The LocalStorage API
  12. Further Reading

Introduction

JavaScript is a dynamic functional object-oriented programming language that can be used for

  1. Enriching a web page by

    • generating browser-specific HTML content or CSS styling,

    • inserting dynamic HTML content,

    • producing special audio-visual effects (animations).

  2. Enriching a web user interface by

    • implementing advanced user interface components,

    • validating user input on the client side,

    • automatically pre-filling certain form fields.

  3. Implementing a front-end web application with local or remote data storage, as described in the book Building Front-End Web Apps with Plain JavaScript.

  4. Implementing a front-end component for a distributed web application with remote data storage managed by a back-end component, which is a server-side program that is traditionally written in a server-side language such as PHP, Java or C#, but can nowadays also be written in JavaScript with NodeJS.

  5. Implementing a complete distributed web application where both the front-end and the back-end components are JavaScript programs.

The version of JavaScript that is currently supported by web browsers is called "ECMAScript 5.1", or simply "ES5", but the next two versions, called "ES6" and "ES7" (or "ES 2015" and "ES 2016", as new versions are planned on a yearly basis), with lots of added functionality and improved syntaxes, are around the corner (and already partially supported by current browsers and back-end JS environments).

This article, which is also available as a PDF file, has been extracted from the book Building Front-End Web Apps with Plain JavaScript, which is available as an open access online book. It tries to take all important points of the classical JavaScript summary by Douglas Crockford into consideration.

Types and Data Literals

JavaScript has three primitive data types: string, number and boolean, and we can test if a variable v holds a value of such a type with the help of typeof(v) as, for instance, in typeof(v)==="number".

There are five basic reference types: Object, Array, Function, Date and RegExp. Arrays, functions, dates and regular expressions are special types of objects, but, conceptually, dates and regular expressions are primitive data values, and happen to be implemented in the form of wrapper objects.

The types of variables, array elements, function parameters and return values are not declared and are normally not checked by JavaScript engines. Type conversion (casting) is performed automatically.

The value of a variable may be

  1. a data value: either a string, a number, or a boolean;

  2. an object reference: either referencing an ordinary object, or an array, function, date, or regular expression;

  3. the special data value null, which is typically used as a default value for initializing an object variable;

  4. the special data value undefined, which is the implicit initial value of all variables that have been declared but not initialized.

A string is a sequence of Unicode characters. String literals, like "Hello world!", 'A3F0', or the empty string "", are enclosed in single or double quotes. Two string expressions can be concatenated with the + operator, and checked for equality with the triple equality operator:

if (firstName + lastName === "James Bond") ...

The number of characters of a string can be obtained by applying the length attribute to a string:

console.log( "Hello world!".length);  // 12

All numeric data values are represented in 64-bit floating point format with an optional exponent (like in the numeric data literal 3.1e10). There is no explicit type distinction between integers and floating point numbers. If a numeric expression cannot be evaluated to a number, its value is set to NaN ("not a number"), which can be tested with the built-in predicate isNaN( expr).

Unfortunately, a built-in function, Number.isInteger, for testing if a number is an integer has only been added in ES6, so a polyfill is needed for using it in browsers that do not yet support it. For making sure that a numeric value is an integer, or that a string representing a number is converted to an integer, one has to apply the predefined function parseInt. Similarly, a string representing a decimal number can be converted to this number with parseFloat. For converting a number n to a string, the best method is using String(n).

Like in Java, there are two pre-defined Boolean data literals, true and false, and the Boolean operator symbols are the exclamation mark ! for NOT, the double ampersand && for AND, and the double bar || for OR. When a non-Boolean value is used in a condition, or as an operand of a Boolean expression, it is implicitly converted into a Boolean value according to the following rules. The empty string, the (numerical) data literal 0, as well as undefined and null, are mapped to false, and all other values are mapped to true. This conversion can be performed explicitly with the help of the double negation operation !!.

For equality and inequality testing, always use the triple equality symbols === and !== instead of the double equality symbols == and !=. Otherwise, for instance, the number 2 would be the same as the string "2", since the condition (2 == "2") evaluates to true in JavaScript.

Assigning an empty array literal, as in var a = [], is the same as invoking the Array() constructor without arguments, as in var a = new Array().

Assigning an empty object literal, as in var o = {}, is the same as invoking the Object() constructor without arguments, as in var o = new Object(). Notice, however, that an empty object literal {} is not really empty, as it contains properties and methods inherited from Object.prototype. So, a truly empty object has to be created with null as prototype, like in var o = Object.create( null).

Table 1: Type testing and conversions
Type Test if x of type Convert to string Convert string to type
string typeof(x)==="string" n.a. n.a.
boolean typeof(x)==="boolean" String(x) Boolean(y)
(floating point) number typeof(x)==="number" String(x) parseFloat(y)
integer Number.isInteger(x)*) String(x) parseInt(y)
Object typeof(x)==="object" x.toString() or JSON.stringify(x) JSON.parse(y)
Array Array.isArray(x) x.toString() or JSON.stringify(x) y.split() or JSON.parse(y)
Function typeof(x)==="function" x.toString() new Function(y)
Date x instanceof Date x.toISOString() new Date(y)
RegExp x instanceof RegExp x.toString() new RegExp(y)

*) May require a polyfill.

Variable Scope

In the current version of JavaScript, ES5, there are only two kinds of scope for variables: the global scope (with window as the context object) and function scope, but no block scope. Consequently, declaring a variable within a code block is confusing and should be avoided. For instance, although this is a frequently used pattern, even by experienced JavaScript programmers, it is a pitfall to declare the counter variable of a for loop in the loop, as in

function foo() {
  for (var i=0; i < 10; i++) {
    ...  // do something with i
  }
}

Instead, and this is exactly how JavaScript is interpreting this code, we should write:

function foo() {
  var i=0;
  for (i=0; i < 10; i++) {
    ...  // do something with i
  }
}

All variables should be declared at the beginning of a function. Only in the next version of JavaScript, ES6, block scope will be supported by means of a new form of variable declaration with the keyword let.

Strict Mode

Starting from ES5, we can use strict mode for getting more runtime error checking. For instance, in strict mode, all variables must be declared. An assignment to an undeclared variable throws an exception.

We can turn strict mode on by typing the following statement as the first line in a JavaScript file or inside a <script> element:

'use strict';

It is generally recommended that you use strict mode, except your code depends on libraries that are incompatible with strict mode.

Different Kinds of Objects

A JS object is essentially a set of name-value-pairs, also called slots, where names can be property names, function names or keys of a (hash) map. Objects can be created in an ad-hoc manner, using JavaScript's object literal notation (JSON), without instantiating a class:

var person1 = { lastName:"Smith", firstName:"Tom"};
var o1 = Object.create( null);  // an empty object with no slots

JS objects are different from classical OO/UML objects. In particular, they need not instantiate a class. And they can have their own (instance-level) methods in the form of method slots, so they do not only have (ordinary) property slots, but also method slots. In addition they may also have key-value slots. So, they may have three different kinds of slots, while classical objects only have property slots.

Whenever the name in a slot is an admissible JavaScript identifier, the slot may be either a property slot, a method slot or a key-value slot. Otherwise, if the name is some other type of string (in particular when it contains any blank space), then the slot represents a key-value slot, which is a map element, as explained below.

The name in a property slot may denote either

  1. a data-valued property, in which case the value is a data value or, more generally, a data-valued expression;

    or

  2. an object-valued property, in which case the value is an object reference or, more generally, an object expression.

The name in a method slot denotes a JS function (better called method), and its value is a JS function definition expression.

Object properties can be accessed in two ways:

  1. Using the dot notation (like in C++/Java):

    person1.lastName = "Smith"
  2. Using a map notation:

    person1["lastName"] = "Smith"

JS objects can be used in many different ways for different purposes. Here are five different use cases for, or possible meanings of, JS objects:

  1. A record is a set of property slots like, for instance,

    var myRecord = {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith", age:26}
  2. A map (also called 'associative array', 'dictionary', 'hash map' or 'hash table' in other languages) supports look-ups of values based on keys like, for instance,

    var numeral2number = {"one":"1", "two":"2", "three":"3"}

    which associates the value "1" with the key "one", "2" with "two", etc. A key need not be a valid JavaScript identifier, but can be any kind of string (e.g. it may contain blank spaces).

  3. An untyped object does not instantiate a class. It may have property slots and function slots like, for instance,

    var person1 = { 
      lastName: "Smith", 
      firstName: "Tom",
      getFullName: function () {
        return this.firstName +" "+ this.lastName; 
      }  
    };
  4. A namespace may be defined in the form of an untyped object referenced by a global object variable, the name of which represents a namespace prefix. For instance, the following object variable provides the main namespace of an application based on the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture paradigm where we have three subnamespaces corresponding to the three parts of an MVC application:

    var myApp = { model:{}, view:{}, ctrl:{} };

    A more advanced namespace mechanism can be obtained by using an mmediately invoked JS function expression, as explained below.

  5. A typed object instantiates a class that is defined either by a JavaScript constructor function or by a factory object. See the section “Defining and using classes” below.

Array Lists

A JS array represents, in fact, the logical data structure of an array list, which is a list where each list item can be accessed via an index number (like the elements of an array). Using the term 'array' without saying 'JavaScript array' creates a terminological ambiguity. But for simplicity, we will sometimes just say 'array' instead of 'JavaScript array'.

A variable may be initialized with a JavaScript array literal:

var a = [1,2,3];

Because they are array lists, JS arrays can grow dynamically: it is possible to use indexes that are greater than the length of the array. For instance, after the array variable initialization above, the array held by the variable a has the length 3, but still we can assign a fifth array element like in

a[4] = 7;

The contents of an array a are processed with the help of a standard for loop with a counter variable counting from the first array index 0 to the last array index, which is a.length-1:

for (i=0; i < a.length; i++) { ...}

Since arrays are special types of objects, we sometimes need a method for finding out if a variable represents an array. We can test, if a variable a represents an array with Array.isArray( a).

For adding a new element to an array, we append it to the array using the push operation as in:

a.push( newElement);

For deleting an element at position i from an array a, we use the pre-defined array method splice as in:

a.splice( i, 1);

For searching a value v in an array a, we can use the pre-defined array method indexOf, which returns the position, if found, or -1, otherwise, as in:

if (a.indexOf(v) > -1)  ...

For looping over an array a, we have two options: for loops, or the array method forEach. In any case, we can use a for loop, as in the following example:

var i=0;
for (i=0; i < a.length; i++) {
  console.log( a[i]);
}

If performance doesn't matter, that is, if a is sufficiently small (say, it does not contain more than a few hundred elements), we can use the pre-defined array method forEach, as in the following example, where the parameter elem iteratively assumes each element of the array a as its value:

a.forEach( function (elem) {
  console.log( elem);
}) 

For cloning an array a, we can use the array function slice in the following way:

var clone = a.slice(0);

Maps

A map (also called 'hash map' or 'associative array') provides a mapping from keys to their associated values. The keys of a JS map are string literals that may include blank spaces like in:

var myTranslation = { 
    "my house": "mein Haus", 
    "my boat": "mein Boot", 
    "my horse": "mein Pferd"
}

A map is processed with the help of a special loop where we loop over all keys of the map using the pre-defined function Object.keys(m), which returns an array of all keys of a map m. For instance,

var i=0, key="", keys=[];
keys = Object.keys( myTranslation);
for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
  key = keys[i];
  alert('The translation of '+ key +' is '+ myTranslation[key]);
}

For adding a new entry to a map, we simply associate the new value with its key as in:

myTranslation["my car"] = "mein Auto";

For deleting an entry from a map, we can use the pre-defined delete operator as in:

delete myTranslation["my boat"];

For searching in a map if it contains an entry for a certain key value, such as for testing if the translation map contains an entry for "my bike" we can check the following:

if ("my bike" in myTranslation)  ...

For looping over a map m, we first convert it to an array of its keys with the help of the predefined Object.keys method, and then we can use either a for loop or the forEach method. The following example shows how to loop with for:

var i=0, key="", keys=[];
keys = Object.keys( m);
for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
  key = keys[i];
  console.log( m[key]);
}

Again, if m is sufficiently small, we can use the forEach method, as in the following example:

Object.keys( m).forEach( function (key) {
  console.log( m[key]);
}) 

Notice that using the forEach method is more concise.

For cloning a map m, we can use the composition of JSON.stringify and JSON.parse. We first serialize m to a string representation with JSON.stringify, and then de-serialize the string representation to a map object with JSON.parse:

var clone = JSON.parse( JSON.stringify( m))

Notice that this method works well if the map contains only simple data values or (possibly nested) arrays/maps containing simple data values. In other cases, e.g. if the map contains Date objects, we have to write our own clone method.

Four Important Types of Data Structures

In summary, the four iportant types of data structures supported by JavaScript are:

  1. array lists, such as ["one","two","three"], which are special JS objects called 'arrays', but since they are dynamic, they are rather array lists as defined in the Java programming language.

  2. records, which are special JS objects, such as {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith"}, as discussed above,

  3. maps, which are also special JS objects, such as {"one":1, "two":2, "three":3}, as discussed above,

  4. entity tables, like for instance the Table 2 shown below, which are special maps where the values are entity records with a standard ID (or primary key) slot, such that the keys of the map are the standard IDs of these entity records.

Table 2: An entity table representing a collection of books
Key Value
006251587X { isbn:"006251587X," title:"Weaving the Web", year:2000 }
0465026567 { isbn:"0465026567," title:"Gödel, Escher, Bach", year:1999 }
0465030793 { isbn:"0465030793," title:"I Am A Strange Loop", year:2008 }

Notice that our distinction between maps, records and entity tables in JavaScript is a purely conceptual distinction, which is not supported by the JavaScript execution semantics. For a JavaScript engine, both {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith"} and {"one":1, "two":2, "three":3} are just objects, and it would interpret the map-style object {"one":1, "two":2, "three":3} in the same way as the record-style object {one:1, two:2, three:3}. But conceptually, {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith"} is a record because firstName and lastName are intended to denote properties (or 'fields'), while {"one":1, "two":2, "three":3} is a map because "one" and "two" are not intended to denote properties/fields, but are just arbitrary string values used as keys in a map.

Making such conceptual distinctions helps in the logical deign of a program, and mapping them to syntactic distinctions, even if they are not interpreted differently, helps to better understand the intended computational meaning of the code and therfore improves its readbility.

Procedures and Functions

As shown in Figure 1 below, JS functions are special JS objects, having an optional name property and a length property providing their number of parameters. If a variable v references a function can be tested with

if (typeof( v) === "function") {...}

Since JS functions are JS objects, they can be stored in variables, passed as arguments to functions, returned by functions, have properties and can be changed dynamically. Therefore, functions are first-class citizens, and JavaScript can be viewed as a functional programming language,

The general form of a function definition is an assignment of a function expression to a variable:

var myFunction = function theNameOfMyFunction () {...}

where theNameOfMyFunction is optional. When it is omitted, the function is anonymous. In any case, functions are invoked via a variable that references the function. In the above case, this means that the function is invoked with myFunction(), and not with theNameOfMyFunction().

Anonymous function expressions are called lambda expressions (or shorter lambdas) in other programming languages.

As an example of an anonymous function expression being passed as an argument in the invocation of another (higher-order) function, we can take a comparison function being passed to the pre-defined function sort for sorting the elements of an array list. Such a comparison function must return a negative number if its first argument is considered smaller than its second argument, it must return 0 if both arguments are of the same rank, and it must return a positive number if the second argument is considered smaller than the first one. In the following example, we sort a list of lists of 2 numbers in lexicographic order:

var list = [[1,2],[1,3],[1,1],[2,1]]; 
list.sort( function (x,y) { 
  return ((x[0] === y[0]) ? x[1]-y[1] : x[0]-y[0]);
});

A function declaration has the following form:

function theNameOfMyFunction () {...}

It is equivalent to the following named function definition:

var theNameOfMyFunction = function theNameOfMyFunction () {...}

that is, it creates both a function with name theNameOfMyFunction and a variable theNameOfMyFunction referencing this function.

JS functions can have inner functions. The closure mechanism allows a JS function using variables (except this) from its outer scope, and a function created in a closure remembers the environment in which it was created. In the following example, there is no need to pass the outer scope variable result to the inner function via a parameter, as it is readily available:

var sum = function (numbers) {
  var result = 0;
  numbers.forEach( function (n) {
      result += n;
  });
  return result;
};
console.log( sum([1,2,3,4]));

When a method/function is executed, we can access its arguments within its body by using the built-in arguments object, which is "array-like" in the sense that it has indexed elements and a length property, and we can iterate over it with a normal for loop, but since it's not an instance of Array, the JS array methods (such as the forEach looping method) cannot be applied to it. The arguments object contains an element for each argument passed to the method. This allows defining a method without parameters and invoking it with any number of arguments, like so:

var sum = function () {
  var result = 0, i=0;
  for (i=0; i < arguments.length; i++) {
    result = result + arguments[i];
  }
  return result;
};
console.log( sum(0,1,1,2,3,5,8));  // 20

A method defined on the prototype of a constructor function, which can be invoked on all objects created with that constructor, such as Array.prototype.forEach, where Array represents the constructor, has to be invoked with an instance of the class as context object referenced by the this variable (see also the next section on classes). In the following example, the array numbers is the context object in the invocation of forEach:

var numbers = [1,2,3];  // create an instance of Array
numbers.forEach( function (n) {
  console.log( n);
});

Whenever such a prototype method is to be invoked not with a context object, but with an object as an ordinary argument, we can do this with the help of the JS function call method that takes an object, on which the method is invoked, as its first parameter, followed by the parameters of the method to be invoked. For instance, we can apply the forEach looping method to the array-like object arguments in the following way:

var sum = function () {
  var result = 0;
  Array.prototype.forEach.call( arguments, function (n) {
    result = result + n;
  });
  return result;
};

A variant of the Function.prototype.call method, taking all arguments of the method to be invoked as a single array argument, is Function.prototype.apply.

Whenever a method defined for a prototype is to be invoked without a context object, or when a method defined in the context of an object is to be invoked without its context object, we can bind its this variable to a given object with the help of the JS function bind method (Function.prototype.bind). This allows creating a shortcut for invoking a method, as in var querySel = document.querySelector.bind( document), which allows to use querySel instead of document.querySelector.

The option of immediately invoked JS function expressions can be used for obtaining a namespace mechanism that is superior to using a plain namespace object, since it can be controlled which variables and methods are globally exposed and which are not. This mechanism is also the basis for JS module concepts. In the following example, we define a namespace for the model code part of an app, which exposes some variables and the model classes in the form of constructor functions:

myApp.model = function () {
  var appName = "My app's name";
  var someNonExposedVariable = ...;
  function ModelClass1 () {...}
  function ModelClass2 () {...}
  function someNonExposedMethod (...) {...}
  return {
    appName: appName,
    ModelClass1: ModelClass1,
    ModelClass2: ModelClass2
  }
}();  // immediately invoked

This pattern has been proposed in the WebPlatform.org artcile JavaScript best practices.

Defining and Using Classes

The concept of a class is fundamental in object-oriented programming. Objects instantiate (or are classified by) a class. A class defines the properties and methods (as a blueprint) for the objects created with it. Having a class concept is essential for being able to implement a data model in the form of model classes in modern software applications, especially within a Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture. However, classes and their inheritance/extension mechanism are over-used in classical OO languages, such as in Java, where all variables and procedures have to be defined in the context of a class and, consequently, classes are not only used for implementing object types (or model classes), but also as containers for many other purposes in these languages. This is not the case in JavaScript where we have the freedom to use classes for implementing object types only, while keeping method libraries in namespace objects.

Any code pattern for defining classes in JavaScript should satisfy five requirements. First of all, (1) it should allow to define a class name, a set of (instance-level) properties, preferably with the option to keep them 'private', a set of (instance-level) methods, and a set of class-level properties and methods. It's desirable that properties can be declared with a range/type, and with other meta-data, such as constraints. There should also be two introspection features: (2) an is-instance-of predicate that can be used for checking if an object is a direct or non-direct instance of a class, and (3) an instance-level property for retrieving the direct type of an object. In addition, it is desirable to have a third introspection feature for retrieving the direct supertype of a class. And finally, there should be two inheritance mechanisms: (4) property inheritance and (5) method inheritance (with method overriding). In addition, it is desirable to have support for multiple inheritance and multiple classifications, for allowing objects to play several roles at the same time by instantiating several role classes.

There is no explicit class concept in JavaScript. Different code patterns for defining classes in JavaScript have been proposed and are being used in different frameworks. But they do often not satisfy the five requirements listed above. The two most important approaches for defining classes are:

  1. In the form of a constructor function that achieves method inheritance via the prototype chain and allows to create new instances of a class with the help of the new operator. This is the classical approach recommended by Mozilla in their JavaScript Guide (and implemented in the ES6 class syntax).

  2. In the form of a factory object that uses the predefined Object.create method for creating new instances of a class. In this approach, the constructor-based inheritance mechanism has to be replaced by another mechanism. Eric Elliott has argued that factory-based classes are a viable alternative to constructor-based classes in JavaScript (in fact, he even condemns the use of classical inheritance and constructor-based classes, throwing out the baby with the bath water).

When building an app, we can use both types of classes, depending on the requirements of the app. Since we often need to define class hierarchies, and not just single classes, we have to make sure, however, that we don't mix these two alternative approaches within the same class hierarchy. While the factory-based approach, as exemplified by the mODELcLASSjs library, has many advantages, which are summarized in Table 3, the constructor-based approach enjoys the advantage of higher performance object creation.

Table 3. Required and desirable features of JS code patterns for classes
Class feature Constructor-based approach Factory-based approach mODELcLASSjs
Define properties and methods yes yes yes
is-instance-of predicate yes yes yes
direct type property yes yes yes
direct supertype property of classes no possibly yes
Property inheritance yes yes yes
Method inheritance yes yes yes
Multiple inheritance no possibly yes
Multiple classifications no possibly yes
Allow object pools no yes yes

Constructor-based classes in ES6

Only in ES6, a user-friendly syntax for defining constructor-based classes has been introduced (with the new keywords class, constructor, static, extends and super).  This new syntax allows defining a simple class hierarchy in three steps.

In Step 1.a), a base class Person is defined with two properties, firstName and lastName, as well as with an (instance-level) method toString and a static (class-level) method checkLastName:

class Person {
  constructor( first, last) {
    this.firstName = first;
    this.lastName = last;
  }
  toString() {
    return this.firstName + " " +
        this.lastName;
  }
  static checkLastName( ln) {
    if (typeof(ln)!=="string" || 
        ln.trim()==="") {
      console.log("Error: " +
          "invalid last name!");
    }
  }
}

In Step 1.b), class-level ("static") properties are defined:

Person.instances = {};

Finally, in Step 2, a subclass is defined with additional properties and methods that possibly override the corresponding superclass methods:

class Student extends Person {
  constructor( first, last, studNo) {
    super.constructor( first, last);
    this.studNo = studNo; 
  }
  // method overrides superclass method
  toString() {
    return super.toString() + "(" +
        this.studNo +")";
  }
}

Constructor-based classes in ES5

In ES5, we can define a constructor-based class hierarchy in the form of constructor functions, following a code pattern recommended by Mozilla in their JavaScript Guide. This code pattern requires seven steps for defining a simple class hierarchy. Because such a complex pattern is quite unwieldy, it can be preferable to use a library like cLASSjs for facilitating the definition of constructor-based classes and class hierarchies.

Step 1.a) First define the constructor function that implicitly defines the properties of the class by assigning them the values of the constructor parameters when a new object is created:

function Person( first, last) {
  this.firstName = first; 
  this.lastName = last; 
}

Notice that within a constructor, the special variable this refers to the new object that is created when the constructor is invoked.

Step 1.b) Next, define the instance-level methods of the class as method slots of the object referenced by the constructor's prototype property:

Person.prototype.toString = function () {
  return this.firstName + " " + this.lastName;
}

Step 1.c) Class-level ("static") methods can be defined as method slots of the constructor function itself (recall that, since JS functions are objects, they can have slots), as in

Person.checkLastName = function (ln) {
  if (typeof(ln)!=="string" || ln.trim()==="") {
    console.log("Error: invalid last name!");
  }
}

Step 1.d) Finally, define class-level ("static") properties as property slots of the constructor function:

Person.instances = {};

Step 2.a): Define a subclass with additional properties:

function Student( first, last, studNo) {
  // invoke superclass constructor
  Person.call( this, first, last);
  // define and assign additional properties
  this.studNo = studNo;  
}

By invoking the supertype constructor with Person.call( this, ...) for any new object created, and referenced by this, as an instance of the subtype Student, we achieve that the property slots created in the supertype constructor (firstName and lastName) are also created for the subtype instance, along the entire chain of supertypes within a given class hierarchy. In this way we set up a property inheritance mechanism that makes sure that the own properties defined for an object on creation include the own properties defined by the supertype constructors.

In Step 2b), we set up a mechanism for method inheritance via the constructor's prototype property. We assign a new object created from the supertype's prototype object to the prototype property of the subtype constructor and adjust the prototype's constructor property:

// Student inherits from Person
Student.prototype = Object.create( 
    Person.prototype);
// adjust the subtype's constructor property
Student.prototype.constructor = Student;

With Object.create( Person.prototype) we create a new object with Person.prototype as its prototype and without any own property slots. By assigning this object to the prototype property of the subclass constructor, we achieve that the methods defined in, and inherited from, the superclass are also available for objects instantiating the subclass. This mechanism of chaining the prototypes takes care of method inheritance. Notice that setting Student.prototype to Object.create( Person.prototype) is preferable over setting it to new Person(), which was the way to achieve the same in the time before ES5.

Step 2c): Define a subclass method that overrides a superclass method:

Student.prototype.toString = function () {
  return Person.prototype.toString.call( this) +
      "(" + this.studNo + ")";
};

An instance of a constructor-based class is created by applying the new operator to the constructor function and providing suitable arguments for the constructor parameters:

var pers1 = new Person("Tom","Smith");

The method toString is invoked on the object pers1 of type Person by using the 'dot notation':

alert("The full name of the person are: " + 
     pers1.toString());

When an object o is created with o = new C(...), where C references a named function with name "C", the type (or class) name of o can be retrieved with the introspective expression o.constructor.name, which returns "C". However, the Function::name property used in this expression is supported by all browsers except Internet Explorer up to version 11.

JavaScript's prototype feature

In JavaScript, a prototype is an object with method slots (and sometimes also property slots) that can be inherited by other objects via JavaScript's method/property slot look-up mechanism. This mechanism follows the prototype chain defined by the (in ES5 still unofficial) built-in reference property __proto__ (with a double underscore prefix and suffix) for finding methods or properties. As shown below in Figure 1, every constructor function has a reference to a prototype as the value of its reference property prototype. When a new object is created with the help of new, its __proto__ property is set to the constructor's prototype. For instance, after creating a new object with f = new Foo(), it holds that Object.getPrototypeOf(f), which is the same as f.__proto__, is equal to Foo.prototype. Consequently, changes to the slots of Foo.prototype affect all objects that were created with new Foo(). While every object has a __proto__ property slot (except Object), only objects constructed with new have a constructor property slot.

Figure 1. The built-in JavaScript classes Object and Function.

Factory-based classes

In this approach we define a JS object Person (actually representing a class) with a special create method that invokes the predefined Object.create method for creating objects of type Person:

var Person = {
  name: "Person",
  properties: {
    firstName: {range:"NonEmptyString", label:"First name", 
        writable: true, enumerable: true},
    lastName: {range:"NonEmptyString", label:"Last name", 
        writable: true, enumerable: true}
  },
  methods: {
    getFullName: function () {
      return this.firstName +" "+ this.lastName; 
    }
  },
  create: function (slots) {
    // create object
    var obj = Object.create( this.methods, this.properties);
    // add special property for *direct type* of object
    Object.defineProperty( obj, "type", 
        {value: this, writable: false, enumerable: true});
    // initialize object
    Object.keys( slots).forEach( function (prop) {
      if (prop in this.properties) obj[prop] = slots[prop];
    })
    return obj;
  }
};

Notice that the JS object Person actually represents a factory-based class. An instance of such a factory-based class is created by invoking its create method:

var pers1 = Person.create( {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith"});

The method getFullName is invoked on the object pers1 of type Person by using the 'dot notation', like in the constructor-based approach:

alert("The full name of the person are: " + pers1.getFullName());

Notice that each property declaration for an object created with Object.create has to include the 'descriptors' writable: true and enumerable: true, as in lines 5 and 7 of the Person object definition above.

In a general approach, like in the mODELcLASSjs library for model-based development, we would not repeatedly define the create method in each class definition, but rather have a generic constructor function for defining factory-based classes. Such a factory class constructor, like mODELcLASS, would also provide an inheritance mechanism by merging the own properties and methods with the properties and methods of the superclass.

JavaScript as an Object-Oriented Language

JavaScript is object-oriented, but in a different way than classical OO programming languages such as Java and C++. There is no explicit class concept in JavaScript. Rather, classes have to be defined in the form of special objects: either as constructor functions or as factory objects.

However, objects can also be created without instantiating a class, in which case they are untyped, and properties as well as methods can be defined for specific objects independently of any class definition. At run time, properties and methods can be added to, or removed from, any object and class. This dynamism of JavaScript allows powerful forms of meta-programming, such as defining your own concepts of classes or enumerations.

The LocalStorage API

For a front-end app, we need to be able to store data persistently on the front-end device. Modern web browsers provide two technologies for this purpose: the simpler one is called Local Storage, and the more powerful one is called IndexDB.

A Local Storage database is created per browser and per origin, which is defined by the combination of protocol and domain name. For instance, http://example.com and http://www.example.com are different origins because they have different domain names, while http://www.example.com and https://www.example.com are different origins because of their different protocols (HTTP versus HTTPS).

The Local Storage database managed by the browser and associated with an app (via its origin) is exposed as the built-in JavaScript object localStorage with the methods getItem, setItem, removeItem and clear. However, instead of invoking getItem and setItem, it is more convenient to handle localStorage as a map, writing to it by assigning a value to a key as in localStorage["id"] = 2901465, and retrieving data by reading the map as in var id = localStorage["id"].

The following example shows how to create an entity table and save its serialization to Local Storage:

var people = {};
people["2901465"] = {id: 2901465, name:"Tom"};
people["3305579"] = {id: 3305579, name:"Su"};
people["6492003"] = {id: 6492003, name:"Pete"};
try {
  localStorage["personTable"] = JSON.stringify( people);
} catch (e) {
  alert("Error when writing to Local Storage\n" + e);
}

Notice that we have used the predefined method JSON.stringify for serializing the entity table people into a string that is assigned as the value of the localStorage key "personTable". We can retrieve the table with the help of the predefined de-serialization method JSON.parse in the following way:

var people = {};
try {
  people = JSON.parse( localStorage["personTable"]);
} catch (e) {
  alert("Error when reading from Local Storage\n" + e);        
}

Further Reading

Good open access books about JavaScript are

History

  • July 25, 2016: Improved order of defining/using the term "slot", added table of contents.
  • May 4, 2016: Added a new section on the localStorage API.
  • March 7, 2016: Improved explanation of data structures, added topic "method overriding", a hyperlink and additional subheadings to section on classes.
  • January 15, 2016: New hyperlink added; improved comparison table and explanations in the section "Defining and using classes".
  • November 9, 2015: Added a paragraph about the string datatype; added paragraphs about "arguments", call/apply and bind in the section about JS functions; added sidebar about ES6 classes, improved discussion of constructor-based classes.
  • October 21, 2015: Added Date and RegExp, added Table 1 "Type testing and conversions", corrected links.
  • September 20, 2015: Added ES 2015+2016 hint, parseFloat, Function::name, Function::length, example for entity tables, paragraph about cloning maps.
  • August 31, 2015, added requirements for class code patterns and explanation of subtyping with constructor-based classes, and a diagram.
  • July 16, 2015, added further explanations about defining and using classes in JS
  • July 7, 2015, added 1) link to Crockford's classcial survey, 2) remarks about isInteger and about number-to-string conversion. 3) link to CP article on mODELcLASSjs
  • July 2, 2015, first version
  • January 15, 2016: New hyperlink added; improved comparison table and explanations in the section "Defining and using classes".
  • November 9, 2015: Added a paragraph about the string datatype; added paragraphs about "arguments", call/apply and bind in the section about JS functions; added sidebar about ES6 classes, improved discussion of constructor-based classes.
  • October 21, 2015: Added Date and RegExp, added Table 1 "Type testing and conversions", corrected links.
  • September 20, 2015: Added ES 2015+2016 hint, parseFloat, Function::name, Function::length, example for entity tables, paragraph about cloning maps.
  • August 31, 2015, added requirements for class code patterns and explanation of subtyping with constructor-based classes, and a diagram.
  • July 16, 2015, added further explanations about defining and using classes in JS
  • July 7, 2015, added 1) link to Crockford's classcial survey, 2) remarks about isInteger and about number-to-string conversion. 3) link to CP article on mODELcLASSjs
  • July 2, 2015, first version

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Gerd Wagner
Instructor / Trainer
Germany Germany
Researcher, developer, instructor and cat lover.
Co-Founder of http://web-engineering.info

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