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JavaScript Functions
Posted on May 27, 2019 in JavaScript by Matt Jennings

Note: Information below was taken from Eloquent JavaScript, 3rd edition, Chapter 3 Functions.

Function Definition

A function definition is a regular binding where the value of the binding is a function. For example, this code defines square to refer to a function that produces the square of a given number:

A function is created with an expression that starts with the keyword function. Functions have a set of parameters (in this case, only x) and a body, which contains the statements that are to be executed when the function is called.

return statement determines the value the function returns. When control comes across such a statement, it immediately jumps out of the current function and gives the returned value to the code that called the function. A return keyword without an expression after it will cause the function to return undefined. Functions that don’t have a return statement at all, such as makeNoise, similarly return undefined.

Parameters to a function behave like regular bindings, but their initial values are given by the caller of the function, not the code in the function itself.

Bindings and scopes

Each binding has a scope, which is the part of the program in which the binding is visible. For bindings defined outside of any function or block, the scope is the whole program—you can refer to such bindings wherever you want. These are called global.

But bindings created for function parameters or declared inside a function can be referenced only in that function, so they are known as local bindings. Every time the function is called, new instances of these bindings are created.

Bindings declared with let and const are in fact local to the block that they are declared in, so if you create one of those inside of a loop, the code before and after the loop cannot “see” it.

In pre-2015 JavaScript, only functions created new scopes, so old-style bindings, created with the var keyword, are visible throughout the whole function that they appear in—or throughout the global scope, if they are not in a function.

Nested scope

JavaScript distinguishes not just global and local bindings. Blocks and functions can be created inside other blocks and functions, producing multiple degrees of locality.

For example, this function—which outputs the ingredients needed to make a batch of hummus—has another function inside it:

Functions as values

A function value can do all the things that other values can do—you can use it in arbitrary expressions, not just call it. It is possible to store a function value in a new binding, pass it as an argument to a function, and so on. Similarly, a binding that holds a function is still just a regular binding and can, if not constant, be assigned a new value, like so:

Function Declaration

This is a function declaration. The statement defines the binding square and points it at the given function. It is slightly easier to write and doesn’t require a semicolon after the function.

There is one subtlety with this form of function definition.

The preceding code works, even though the function is defined below the code that uses it. Function declarations are not part of the regular top-to-bottom flow of control. They are conceptually moved to the top of their scope and can be used by all the code in that scope. This is sometimes useful because it offers the freedom to order code in a way that seems meaningful, without worrying about having to define all functions before they are used.

Arrow functions

There’s a third notation for functions, which looks very different from the others. Instead of the function keyword, it uses an arrow (=>) made up of an equal sign and a greater-than character (not to be confused with the greater-than-or-equal operator, which is written >=).

When there is only one parameter name, you can omit the parentheses around the parameter list. If the body is a single expression, rather than a block in braces, that expression will be returned from the function. So, these two definitions of square do the same thing:

The call stack

The way control flows through functions is somewhat involved. Let’s take a closer look at it. Here is a simple program that makes a few function calls:

Because a function has to jump back to the place that called it when it returns, the computer must remember the context from which the call happened. In one case, console.log has to return to the greet function when it is done. In the other case, it returns to the end of the program.

The place where the computer stores this context is the call stack. Every time a function is called, the current context is stored on top of this stack. When a function returns, it removes the top context from the stack and uses that context to continue execution.

Storing this stack requires space in the computer’s memory. When the stack grows too big, the computer will fail with a message like “out of stack space” or “too much recursion”. The following code illustrates this by asking the computer a really hard question that causes an infinite back-and-forth between two functions. Rather, it would be infinite, if the computer had an infinite stack. As it is, we will run out of space, or “blow the stack”.

Optional Arguments

The following code is allowed and executes without any problem:

We defined square with only one parameter. Yet when we call it with three, the language doesn’t complain. It ignores the extra arguments and computes the square of the first one.

Closure

This is allowed and works as you’d hope—both instances of the binding can still be accessed. This situation is a good demonstration of the fact that local bindings are created anew for every call, and different calls can’t trample on one another’s local bindings.

This feature—being able to reference a specific instance of a local binding in an enclosing scope—is called closure. A function that references bindings from local scopes around it is called a closure. This behavior not only frees you from having to worry about lifetimes of bindings but also makes it possible to use function values in some creative ways.

Recursion

It is perfectly okay for a function to call itself, as long as it doesn’t do it so often that it overflows the stack. A function that calls itself is called recursive. Recursion allows some functions to be written in a different style. Take, for example, this alternative implementation of power:

Functions and side effects

pure function is a specific kind of value-producing function that not only has no side effects but also doesn’t rely on side effects from other code—for example, it doesn’t read global bindings whose value might change.

A pure function has the pleasant property that, when called with the same arguments, it always produces the same value (and doesn’t do anything else). A call to such a function can be substituted by its return value without changing the meaning of the code. When you are not sure that a pure function is working correctly, you can test it by simply calling it and know that if it works in that context, it will work in any context. Nonpure functions tend to require more scaffolding to test.

Recursion

Bean counting

Next, write a function called countChar that behaves like countBs, except it takes a second argument that indicates the character that is to be counted (rather than counting only uppercase “B” characters). Rewrite countBs to make use of this new function.

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