Understanding JavaScript - Scope - Part 1

April 10,2020☕️☕️ 6 min read

This is the first part of Understanding JavaScript - Scope Series.

You can read the second and third part using link provided at end of this blog.

Scope in JavaScipt? Most of the time, it’s just the basics that we get wrong. Even the most experienced JavaScript developers will say that JS is interpreted language not compiled. Unfortunately,it’s not true. JavaScript is compiled like most of the language with static types like C++, Java, etc.. Every line in JavaScript will be complied before being executed, In statically typed languages like Java, we distribute class files or in C++ where we distribute binary files to the end-user, whereas in JavaScript we distribute Source Javascript file directly and its compiled and then executed each time it was triggered.

For the first time it will compile all variables and function declarations.Meaning, store variable declarations(it may be in micro seconds, but it compiles) and then each lines will be executed/interpreted one by one.

You may now wonder, what is the relation between Javascript compilation and Scope in JavaScript?

To understand the Scope in JavaScript completely, we need to understand how JavaScript compiler works.

Let’s start with Variables, It’s safe to define functionality of a variable in JavaScript is to say the compiler, where it is declared, how is it defined or is it in the same lexical scope? and so. Then Scope means where to look for things in the JavaScript environment.

And the scope of JavaScript is at the atomic level or say at a function level, to understand this better lets look at the following snippet of code.

var foo = "bar"; //line 1

function bar() { //line 3
  var foo = "baz"; //line 4

  function baz(foo) { //line 6
    foo = "bam"; //line 7
    bam = "yay"; //line 8

Looks like a normal function, But!!!

Yes,as we seen already, first JS will compile and the interpreted. If you look closer there is two function scope and one global or bubble scope. We will consider those as globalScope, functionBarScope, functionBazScope. functionBazScope is local to functionBarScope and it is defined/local to this or globalScope.

At Line 1 globalScope will define a new variable called foo.

At Line 3 is have a new function called bar, which will be added to the globalScope.Since this is a function, it will recursively enter and do the same for each declarations.

At Line 4 we have a new variable called foo declared inside functionBarScope

At Line 6 we have a new function called baz declared inside functionBarScope

Next declaration is also at Line 6, function baz has a named parameter(argument) called foo, which is same as defining a local variable inside function baz, so again at Line 6, variable declaration foo added to the function scope functionBazScope.

And there is no more variable or function declarations, so JavaScript compilation comes to end.

If we see, all Left Hand Side(LHS) assignments are compiled.

Let’s now run the execute the code, meaning we will now see all RHS(Right Hand Side) part of the code and how it is interpreted by JavaScript engine.

var foo = "bar"; //line 1

function bar() { //line 3
  var foo = "baz"; //line 4

  function baz(foo) { //line 6
    foo = "bam"; //line 7
    bam = "yay"; //line 8
  baz(); //line10
bar(); //line12

At Line 1, we have a variable assignment. JS Engine will ask the current atomic scope, which is now globalScope has a variable foo defined, so we can assign the value to that variable.

Line 3 will be skipped, as it is a method/function and it is not being called/triggered.

Next will be at line 12, which is calling the method bar in current scope and we have a method called bar available in globalScope.

Next execution will be at line 4, inside the function. As JS has atomic scope, now scope of exceution is set at functionBarScope.

At line 4, there is a variable assignment for foo and it is available in functionBarScope.

Line 6 will be skipped for now.

At line 10, we will call method baz

Now at line 7, again a variable assignment for foo, which is available in functionBazScope as a named parameter.

Line 8, variable assignment for bam, which is a LHS operation. Here the variable is not available in scope called functionBazScope.

It will not throw, not defined error, wondering why? because the file doesn’t have use strict.

Now, JS engine will see next nested scope, which is functionBarScope for the variable declaration for bam, even this scope doesn’t have the variable defined.

Again, next atomic scope, here it will look in global scope / window for the variable declaration bam, which is not present.

Again, It will not throw, not defined error because global scope without strict mode will work differently, now global scope will create a variable called bam for us in global scope and say I have a declaration for that variable. Now assignment will happen at global scope.

So all the executions are done for line 12.

Now line 13, will print bar, because in the current scope the value is not changed.

Now at line 14, this will print yay , as it defined in global scope while executing the function baz.

Now at line 15, what do you think it will happen?

Will is create a function in the global scope, as this is not in strict mode? No

Will it throw an error saying, not defined? Yes, but why?

This is not an LHS operation, wondering how to differentiate LHS and RHS operation, the operation, apart from variable/method definition without equal to(=) operator is considered as RHS Operation.

So, JavaScript engine will look for a method definition baz in current scope i.e, global scope and it is not available in the global scope, So it throws Uncaught ReferenceError: baz is not defined error.

We can visualize each scopes that is globalScope, functionBarScope, functionBazScope as following.

globalScope = {
  foo, //globalScope
  bar : {
    foo, //functionBarScope
    baz: {
      foo //functionBazScope
  bam //globalScope

Hope this helps you to understand the basics of Scope in JS and gives you some understanding on how JavaScript behaves with/without strict mode. Still there are some different behaviour if we use eval and there is a lot more ground to be covered in lexical scoping.

Part 2 of this blog available at - Understanding JavaScript - Scope - Part 2

Part 3 of this blog available at - Understanding JavaScript - Scope - Part 3