Web Programming Foundations

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WEB700 Week 2 Notes


A function is a subprogram, or a smaller portion of code that can be called (i.e., invoked) by another part of your program, another function, or by the environment in response to some user or device action (e.g., clicking a button, a network request, the page closing). Functions can take values (i.e., arguments) and may return a value.

Functions are first-class members of JavaScript, and play a critical role in developing JavaScript programs. JavaScript functions can take other functions as arguments, can return functions as values, can be bound to variables or Object properties, and can even have their own properties. We’ll talk about more of this when we visit JavaScript’s object-oriented features.

Learning to write code in terms of functions takes practice. JavaScript supports functional programming. Web applications are composed of lots of small components that need to get wired together using functions, have to share data (i.e., state), and interoperate with other code in third-party frameworks, libraries, and components.

We use JavaScript functions in a number of ways. First, we encapsulate a series of statements into higher-order logic, giving a name to a set of repeatable steps we can call in different ways and places in our code. Second, we use them to define actions to be performed in response to events. Third, we use them to define behaviours for objects, what is normally called a member function or method. Fourth, we use them to define constructor functions, which are used to create new objects. We’ll look at all of these in the coming weeks.

Before we dive into that , we’ll try to teach you that writing many smaller functions is often better than having a few large ones. Smaller code is easier to test, easier to understand, and generally has fewer bugs.

User-defined Functions

JavaScript has many built-in functions, which we’ll get to below; however, it also allows you to write your own and/or use ones written by other developers (libraries, frameworks). These user-defined functions can take a number of forms.

Important Note: Functions are typically named using the same rules we learned for naming any variable: camelCase and using the set of valid letters, numbers, etc. and avoiding language keywords.

Function Declarations

The first is the function declaration, which looks like this:

// The most basic function, a so-called NO OPERATION function
function noop() {

// square function accepts one parameter `n`, returns its value squared.
function square(n) {
    return n * n;

// add function accepts two parameters, `a` and `b`, returns their sum.
function add(a, b) {
    return a + b;

Here the function keyword initiates a function declaration, followed by a name, a parameter list in round parenthesis, and the function’s body surrounded by curly braces. There is no semi-colon after the function body.

Function Expressions

The second way to create a function is using a function expression. Recall that expressions evaluate to a value: a function expression evaluates to a function Object. The resulting value is often bound (i.e., assigned) to a variable, or used as a parameter.

var noop = function() {};

var square = function(n) {
    return n * n;

var add = function add(a, b) {
    return a + b;

A few things to note:

Parameters and arguments

Function definitions in both cases take parameter lists, which can be empty, single, or multiple in length. Just as with variable declaration, no type information is given:

function emptyParamList() {

function singleParam(oneParameter) {

function multipleParams(one, two, three, four) {

A function can accept any number of arguments when it is called, including none. This would break in many other languages, but not JavaScript:

var a = function(msg) {

a("correct");          // logs "correct"
a("also", "correct");  // logs "also"
a();                   // logs undefined

Because we can invoke a function with any number of arguments, we have to write our functions carefully, and test things before we make assumptions. How can we deal with a caller sending 2 vs. 10 values to our function?

One way we do this is using the built-in arguments Object. Every function has an implicit arguments variable available to it, which is an array-like object containing all the arguments passed to the function. We can use arguments.length to obtain the actual number of arguments passed to the function at runtime, and use array index notation (e.g., arguments[0]) to access an argument:

var a = function(msg) {
    console.log(arguments.length, msg, arguments[0]);

a("correct");          // 1, "correct", "correct"
a("also", "correct");  // 2, "also", "also"
a();                   // 0, undefined, undefined

We can use a loop to access all arguments, no matter the number passed:

function sum() {
    var count = arguments.length;
    var total = 0;
    for(var i = 0; i < count; i++) {
        total += arguments[i];
    return total;

sum(1);          // 1
sum(1, 2);       // 3
sum(1, 2, 3, 4); // 10

You may have wondered previously how console.log() can work with one, two, three, or more arguments. The answer is that all JavaScript functions work this way, and you can use it to “overload” your functions with different argument patterns, making them useful in more than one scenario.

JavaScript version note: in newer versions of JavaScript, we can also use Rest Parameters, which allow us to specify that all final arguments to a function, no matter how many, should appear within the function as an Array. There are some advantages to not using arguments, which rest parameters provide. We can convert the example above to:

function sum(...numbers) {
    var total = 0;
    for(var i = 0; i < numbers.length; i++) {
        total += numbers[i];
    return total;

Passing Functions as Parameters

Because JavaScript allows us to bind function objects (i.e., result of function expressions) to variables, it is common to create functions without names, but immediately pass them to functions as arguments. The only way to use this function is via the argument name:

// The parameter `fn` will be a function, and `n` a number
function execute(fn, n) {
    // Call the function referred to by the argument (i.e, variable) `fn`, passing `n` as its argument
    return fn(n);

// 1. Call the `execute` function, passing an anonymous function, which squares its argument, and the value 3
execute(function(n) {
    return n * n;
}, 3); // returns 9

// 2. declare a method to "double" the value of its argument
var doubleIt = function(num) {
    return num * 2;

// Again call `execute`, but this time pass `doubleIt` as the function argument
execute(doubleIt, 3); // returns 6

Dealing with Optional and Missing Arguments

Because we can change the number of arguments we pass to a function at runtime, we also have to deal with missing data, or optional parameters. Consider the case of a function to calculate a player’s score in a video game. In some cases we may want to double a value, for example, as a bonus for doing some action a third time in a row:

function updateScore(currentScore, value, bonus) {
    return bonus ? currentScore + value * bonus : currentScore + value;

updateScore(10, 3);
updateScore(10, 3);
updateScore(10, 3, 2);

Here we call updateScore three different times, sometimes with 2 arguments, and once with 3. Our updateScore function has been written so it will work in both cases. We’ve used a conditional ternary operator to decide whether or not to add an extra bonus score. When we say bonus ? ... : ... we are checking to see if the bonus argument is truthy or falsy–did the caller provide a value for it? If they did, we do one thing, if not, we do another.

Here’s another common way you’ll see code like this written, using a default value:

function updateScore(currentScore, value, bonus) {
    // See if `bonus` is truthy (has a value or is undefined) and use it, or default to 1
    bonus = bonus || 1;
    return currentScore + value * bonus;

In this case, before we use the value of bonus, we do an extra check to see if it actually has a value or not. If it does, we use that value as is; but if it doesn’t, we instead assign it a value of 1. Then, our calculation will always work, since multiplying the value by 1 will be the same as not using a bonus.

The idiom bonus = bonus || 1 is very common in JavaScript. It uses the Logical Or Operator || to test whether bonus evaluates to a value or not, and prefers that value if possible to the fallback default of 1. We could also have written it out using if statements like these:

function updateScore(currentScore, value, bonus) {
    if(bonus) {
        return currentScore + value * bonus;
    return currentScore + value;

// OR

function updateScore(currentScore, value, bonus) {
    if(!bonus) {
        bonus = 1;
    return currentScore + value * bonus;

JavaScript programmers tend to use the bonus = bonus || 1 pattern because it is less repetitive, using less code, and therefore less likely to introduce bugs. We could shorten it even further to this:

function updateScore(currentScore, value, bonus) {
    return currentScore + value * (bonus || 1);

JavaScript version note: newer versions of JavaScript also support Default Parameters, which allows us to specify a default value for any named parameter when declared. This frees us from having to check for, and set default values in the function body. Using default parameters, we could convert our code above to this:

function updateScore(currentScore, value, bonus = 1) {
    return currentScore + value * bonus;

Return Value

Functions always return a value, whether implicitly or explicitly. If the return keyword is used, the expression following it is returned from the function. If it is omitted, the function will return undefined:

function implicitReturnUndefined() {
    // no return keyword, the function will return `undefined` anyway

function explicitReturnUndefined() {
    // return keyword, but no expression given, which is also `undefined`

function explicitReturn() {
    return 1;
    // return keyword, followed by `Number` expression evalutes to `Number`

function explicitReturn2() {
    return "Hello" + " World!";
    // return keyword, followed by expression evaluating to a `String`

Built-in/Global Functions

JavaScript provides a number of built-in global functions for working with its data types, for example:

Most of JavaScripts “standard library” comes in the form of methods on global objects vs. global functions. A method is a function that is bound to a variable belonging to an object, also known as a property. There are a number of standard built-in objects available; the following list highlights some of the common ones that we will be using in this course (see below for String and Array):


JavaScript variables are declared with the var keyword. We often assign a value when we declare it, though we don’t have to do both at once:

var x;      // declared, no assignment (value is `undefined`)
x = 7;      // assignment of previously declared variable
var y = x;  // declaration and assignment combined

A variable always has a scope, which is the location(s) in the code where it is usable. Consider the variables total and value, as well as the add function below:

var total = 7;                    // global variable, accessible everywhere

function add(n) {
    var value = total + n;        // local variable, accessible within `add` function only 
    return value;

console.log("Total is", total);   // Works, because `total` is in the same scope
console.log("Value is", value);   // `undefined`, since `value` isn't defined in this scope
console.log("New Total", add(16)) // Works, because `add` is defined in the same scope

Unlike most programming languages, which use block scope, JavaScript variables have function scope:

In many languages, we are told to declare variables when we need them. However, in JavaScript we tend to define our variables at the top of our functions. We don’t strictly need to do this, due to hoisting. JavaScript will hoist or raise all variable declarations it finds in a function to the top of their scope:

function f() {
    var y = x + 1;
    var x = 2;

At runtime, this will be transformed into the following:

function f() {
    var x;          // declaration is hoisted (but not assignment) to the top

    var y = x + 1;  // `NaN`, since `undefined` + 1 can't be resolved
    x = 2;          // note: `x` is not declared above, only the assignment is now here

This also happens when we forget to declare a local variable:

function f() {
    x = 2;          // `x` is assigned a value, but not declared 
    return x + 1;

At runtime, this will be transformed into the following:

var x;              // `x` is not found in the scope of `f`, so it becomes global

function f() {
    x = 2;
    return x + 1;

The previous example introduces another important concept with JavaScript scopes, namely, that scopes can be nested within one another. Hoisting is moving variable declarations to the beginning of a scope. For example, function declarations are hoisted completely, which means we can call a function before we declare it.

f(); // this will work, as f's declaration gets hoisted
function f() {}
f(); // this will also work, because f has been declared as you expect.

g(); // this will not work, since g's declaration will be hoisted, but not the assignment.
var g = function() {};

In general, declare and define things before you need them.

Overwriting Variables in Child Scopes

Since variables have function scope, and because functions can be nested, we have to be careful when naming our variables and arguments so as to not overwrite a variable in a parent scope. Or, we can use this to temporarily do exactly that. In both cases, we need to understand how nested scopes work. Consider the the following code, where a variable named x is used in three different scopes. What will be printed to the console when child is called?

var x = 1;

function parent() {
    var x = 2;

    function child(x) {


The first declaration of x creates a global variable (i.e., available in every scope). Then, in parent we re-declare x, creating a new local variable, which overwrites (or hides) the global variable x in this scope (i.e., within the body of parent). Next, we define yet another scope for child, which also uses x as the name of its only argument (essentially another local variable). When we do child(3), we are binding the value 3 to the x argument defined for the scope of child, and in so doing yet again overwriting the parent x. In the end, the console will show 3.

We can do this in error as well, and cause unexpected behaviour:

var total = 50;

function increase(n) {
    var total = n + n;


Here we expect to see 100 but instead will get 50 on the console. The problem is that we have redefined, and thus overwritten total inside the increase function. During the call to increase, the new local variable total will be used, and then go out of scope. After the function completes, the original global variable total will again be used.


A closure is a function that has closed over a scope, retaining it even after it would otherwise disappear through the normal rules of execution. In the following function, the variable x goes out of scope as soon as the function finishes executing:

function f() {
    var x = 7;
    return x * 2;
    // After this return, and f completes, `x` will no longer be available.

In JavaScript, functions have access not only to their own local variables, but also to any variables in their parents’ scope. That is, if a variable is used (referenced) but not declared in a function, JavaScript will visit the parent scope to find the variable. This can happen for any number of child/parent levels up to the global level.

The following is an example of this, and probably one you’ve seen before:

var x = 7;

function f() {
    return x * 2;  // `x` not declared here, JS will look in the parent scope (global)

Consider this example:

function parent() {
    var x = 7;

    function child() {
        return x * 2;

    return child();

Here x is used in child, but declared in parent. The child function has access to all variables in its own scope, plus those in the parent scope. This nesting of scopes relies on JavaScript’s function scope rules, and allows us to share data.

Sometimes we need to capture data in a parent scope, and retain it for a longer period of time than would otherwise be granted for a given invocation. Consider this example:

function createAccumulator(value) {
    return function(n) {
        value += n;
        return value;

var add = createAccumulator(10);
add(1)   // returns 11
add(2)   // returns 13

Here the createAccumulator function takes an argument value, the initial value to use for an accumulator function. It returns an anonymous function which takes a value n (a Number) and adds it to the value before returning it. The add function is created by invoking createAccumulator with the initial value of 10. The function that is returned by createAccumulator has access to value in its parent’s scope. Normally, value would be destroyed as soon as createAccumulator finished executing. However, we have created a closure to capture the variable value in a scope that is now attached to the function we’re creating and returning. As long as the returned function exists (i.e., as long as add holds on to it), the variable value will continue to exist in our child function’s scope: the variables that existed when this function was created continue to live on like a memory, attached to the lifetime of the returned function.

Closures make it possible to associate some data (i.e., the environment) with a function that can then operate on that data. We see similar strategies in pure object-oriented languages, where data (properties) can be associated with an object, and functions (methods) can then operate on that data. Closures play a somewhat similar role, however, they are more lightweight and allow for dynamic (i.e., runtime) associations.

By connecting data and functionality, closures help to reduce global variables, provide ways to “hide” data, allow a mechanism for creating private “methods”, avoid overwriting other variables in unexpected ways.

As we go further with JavaScript and web programming, we will encounter many instances where closures can be used to manage variable lifetimes, and associated functions with specific objects. For now, be aware of their existence, and know that it is an advanced concept that will take some time to fully master. This is only our first exposure to it.

Introduction to Objects and Object-Oriented Programming

In object-oriented languages like JavaScript, we are able to combine data and functionality into higher order types, which both contain data and allow us to work with that data. In other words, we can pass data around in a program, and all the functionality that works on that data travels with it.

One way to think about Objects is to imagine that the data and the functions for working with that data are combined into one more powerful type.

Fortunately for us, the JavaScript language comes with a number of standard, “built-in” Objects that we use regularly. Today, we will discuss the built-in String and Array Objects.

JavaScript’s String Object

A String is an Object with various properties and methods we can use for working with lists in JavaScript.

Declaring JavaScript Strings

Here are a few examples of how you can declare a String in JavaScript, first using a string literal, followed by a call to the new operator and the String object’s constructor function:

 * JavaScript String Literals
var s = 'some text';  // single-quotes
var s1 = "some text"; // double-quotes
var s2 = `some text`; // template literal using back-ticks
var unicode = "中文 español Deutsch English देवनागरी العربية português বাংলা русский 日本語 ਪੰਜਾਬੀ 한국어 தமிழ் עברית" // non-ASCII characters

 * JavaScript String Constructor: `new String()` creates a new instance of a String
var s3 = new String("Some Text");
var s4 = new String('Some Text'); 

If we want to convert other types to a String, we have a few options:

var x = 17;
var s = '' + x;        // concatenate with a string (the empty string)
var s2 = String(x);    // convert to String. Note: the `new` operator is not used here
var s3 = x.toString(); // use a type's .toString() method

Whether you use a literal or the constructor function, in all cases you will be able to use the various functionality of the String type.

String Properties and Methods

JavaScript Version Note: modern JavaScript also supports template literals, also sometimes called template strings. Template literals use back-ticks instead of single- or double-quotes, and allow you to interpolate JavaScript expressions. For example:

var a = 1;
var s = "The value is " + (1 * 6);
var templateVersion = `The value is ${1*6}` 

JavaScript’s Array Object

An Array is an Object with various properties and methods we can use for working with lists in JavaScript.

Declaring JavaScript Arrays

Like creating a String, we can create an Array in JavaScript using either a literal or the Array constructor function:

var arr = new Array(1, 2, 3); // array constructor
var arr2 = [1, 2, 3]; // array literal

Like arrays in C, a JavaScript Array has a length, and items contained within it can be accessed via an index:

var arr = [1, 2, 3];
var len = arr.length; // len is 3
var item0 = arr[0]; // item0 is 1

Unlike languages such as C, a JavaScript Array can contain any type of data, including mixed types:

var list = [0, "1", "two", true];

JavaScript Arrays can also contain holes (i.e., be missing certain elements), change size dynamically at runtime, and we don’t need to specify an initial size:

var arr = [];  // empty array
arr[5] = 56;   // element 5 now contains 56, and arr's length is now 6

NOTE: a JavaScript Array is really a map, which is a data structure that associates values with unique keys (often called a key-value pair). JavaScript arrays are a special kind of map that uses numbers for the keys, which makes them look and behave very much like arrays in other languages. We will encounter this map structure again when we look at how to create Objects.

Array Properties and Methods

Methods that modify the original array

Methods that do not modify the original array

Methods for iterating across the elements in an Array

There are more Array methods you can learn as you progress with JavaScript, but these will get you started.