Blurt

JS Variables & Scopes

Just a little post on variable hoisting in Javascript. It’s nothing new, just a simple reminder whenever I context-switch from whichever of the gazillion languages I write in back to ES6. There are a few subtleties regarding var and let/const declarations that everyone writing Javascript should be aware of. :warning:

Hoist or Throw Up

Calling a variable without having it declared will result to a ReferenceError.

function hi () {
console.log(`hello ${sidekick}`);
}
hi ();
// ReferenceError: sidekick is not defined

Variable var declarations are hoisted to the top of a function which means that all declared variables are available anywhere in the function regardless of where they were declared.

function hi () {
// with hoisting sidekick is already available here
console.log(`hello, ${sidekick}`);
var sidekick = 'Morty';
}
hi ();
// hello undefined

Now with hoisting we can only promise that a variable will be accessible. It isn’t defined yet. Nothing meaningful is assigned to it yet. :eyes:.

undefined Until Assigned

Declared variables are undefined unless a value is explicitly assigned to them. Eventhough declarations are hoisted to the top of the block, definitions apply whenever the assignment is handled.

function hi () {
// sidekick is hoisted here, which means it exists
console.log(`hello, ${sidekick}`);
var sidekick = 'Morty'; // but is only assigned here
console.log(`c'mon, ${sidekick}`);
}
hi ();
// hello undefined
// c'mon, Morty

Even if the variable of interest happened to be defined in a parent scope, a hoisted var will be undefined by default within the scope in which it is hoisted.

var sidekick = 'Rick';
function hi () {
// sidekick hoisted to this point and undefined
console.log(`hello, ${sidekick}`);
var sidekick = 'Morty';
console.log(`you don't understand, ${sidekick}`);
}
hi ();
// hello undefined
// you don't understand, Morty

It sometimes helps to imagine that any var variable declaration adds the statement var x = undefined; at the top of the scope.

let it Be

It is important to remember that hoisting is a bit different between var’s and let or const’s. Instead of being hoisted to the top of the function block, let and const are hoisted to the top of the containing block which could be a while or for block or anything else where a block is described in addition to function blocks.

function hi () {
// sidekick is hoisted to this point
if(true) {
var sidekick = 'Pinkie'
console.log(`let's cook, ${sidekick}!`);
}
console.log(`you don't think, ${sidekick}`);
}
hi ();
// let's cook, Pinkman!
// you don't think, Pinkman

In that sense the scoping of let and const statements is a bit more restrictive. A let or const declaration would be limited to the scope of the if-block within which it was declared in our current example leaving someone without its sidekick.

function hi () {
if(true) {
// sidekick plays within this block
let sidekick = 'Pinkman'
console.log(`let's cook, ${sidekick}!`);
}
// there is no sidekick here
console.log(`you don't think, ${sidekick}`);
}
hi ();
// let's cook, Pinkman!
// ReferenceError: sidekick is not defined

A declared variable is set to undefined, even if the parent scope contains a variable by the same name.

Climbing the Scope Ladder

If a variable is not defined in the local scope, javascript climbs up the scope ladder until it arrives at a scope that does define the variable of interest. With var declarations the hoisting boundary is the function.

var sidekick = 'Dr. Watson';
function hi () {
// sidekick hoisted
console.log(`another mystery, ${sidekick}`)
if(true) {
console.log(`another mystery, ${sidekick}`);
if(true) {
console.log(`mystery solved, ${sidekick}?`);
if(true) {
console.log(`the answer ss ${sidekick}`);
var sidekick = 'Sherlock';
}
}
}
}
// another mystery, undefined
// another mystery, undefined
// mystery solved, undefined?
// the answer ss undefined

With let and const declarations the hoisting boundary is defined by the containing block.

var sidekick = 'Dr. Watson';
function hi () {
console.log(`another mystery, ${sidekick}`)
if(true) {
console.log(`another mystery, ${sidekick}`);
if(true) {
console.log(`mystery solved, ${sidekick}?`);
if(true) {
// sidekick hoisted
console.log(`the answer ss ${sidekick}`);
let sidekick = 'Sherlock';
}
}
}
}
// another mystery, Dr. Watson
// another mystery, Dr. Watson
// mystery solved, Dr. Watson?
// the answer ss undefined

It is useful to know the mechanics of hoisting, although for readabilities’ sake it would be advised to not depend on this language feature too much.

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