JavaScript Corners – Part 1

Recently I’ve been trying to write a simple JavaScript compiler, and it’s lead me to think more deeply about some JavaScript behavior that I previously would not have thought about, and I’d like to share that with my JavaScript readers.

Take a look at the following code JavaScript code, and try to figure out what it outputs to the console (I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t output any errors):

The function code first calls foo – but which foo?

Perhaps it executes the foo 1. After all, there can only be one function called foo, and so the others may not bind correctly after the first one is declared, so the first remains the “real one”.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s not the first definition of foo that “wins”, but the last one. So could it be foo 5?

But the last definition of foo a variable named “foo”, not a function. So which wins when it comes to binding a symbol: variables or functions? Or are they treated equally?

If variable are somehow considered “second prize” to functions when it comes to finding which value matches which name, then it wouldn’t be foo 5 that wins, but rather foo 4, since foo 4 actually  has a function named foo, whereas foo 5 is only a variable named foo that holds an anonymous function.

But foo 4 is not declared at the outer scope of the function. Could it be that declarations at the outer scope win against declarations that are declared in some kind of nested scope? Perhaps then the answer might then be foo 2, since foo 2 is the last function that is actually named foo and declared in the outer block?

The only one we’ve completely ruled out, that it can’t possibly be, is foo 3. The function foo 3 is not the first foo, and not the last. It is not declared in the outer block (and if non-outer-block declarations could win then foo 4 would win). It is also nested inside a block that is only executed on a condition, and the condition is always false so the block is clearly never executed, and thus the function is never declared anyway.

So it can’t be foo 3, but it could be any of the others. Which do you think is it?

You may have guessed it based on my harpings-on. The answer, when I execute the script using node, is indeed foo 3.

In JavaScript, the nested scope is not really a nested scope. All local var and function declarations are at the function scope of the whole parent function. If you’ve been working in JavaScript for a while, you probably already know this. The fact that it’s in a “false” condition block has nothing to do with it, since function declarations are not “statements” to be executed in the sequence of the program (and if they were, then this whole snippet would fail).

What was interesting to me is that it must be the case when function and variable names clash, the functions seem to always win.

The foo 4 function is a little misleading. Just because the function has a name, doesn’t mean that it’s attached to the function scope, because in the case of foo 4 the function is a function expression. These are not even part of the function’s namespace, as you can see if you execute the following snippet, and see that it gives you an error:

Does "use strict" cure this strange behavior, and somehow give a parse failure? On my machine when I change the function to have "use strict", it doesn’t give any errors, but it does change the output to foo 2 instead of foo 3. I found this quite unexpected.

This is all interesting behavior. These things don’t affect everyday JavaScript much, but they are fun and interesting corner cases to consider, and help us understand the language more deeply.

Let me know what you think about this in the comments. Hopefully I’ll continue this series with more of the interesting corner cases that I find along the way.


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