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Carlo Gino Catapang
Carlo Gino Catapang

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at codegino.com

You probably don't know how JavaScript hoisting works

What we used to know

According to w3schools

"Hoisting is JavaScript's default behavior of moving declarations to the top."

If we take that description literally, given the following code

hello = 'hello';

console.log(hello)

var hello;
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JavaScript will rearrange the code for us to this one.

var hello; // hoisted variable

hello = 'hello';

console.log(hello)
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Or, with a slightly more complex example

var hello = "goodbye";
world = "world";

greet1();
greet2();

function greet1() {
  var world = "WORLD!";
  console.log(hello, world);
}

function greet2() {
  greet2();
  var hello = "hello";
  greet2();

  function greet2() {
    console.log(hello, world);
  }
}

var world;
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JavaScript will magically rearrange the variables and function declarations; then, it will run from top to bottom.

var hello; // hoisted variable
var world; // hoisted variable

hello = "goodbye";
world = "world";

function greet1() { // hoisted function
  var world = "WORLD!";
  console.log(hello, world);
}

function greet2() { // hoisted function
  var hello; // hoisted variable
  greet2();

  function greet2() { // hoisted function
    console.log(hello, world);
  }

  hello = "hello";
  greet2();
}

greet1();
greet2();
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That's what I used to believe, and it's a good mental model, but it's not accurate.

If you think that let and const will solve the issue because they do not hoist, you are in for a treat.

What is hoisting?

Unfortunately, no hoisting JavaScript exists, as in the magical movement of declarations to the top. The word hoist does not even exist in the old ECMAScript specification.

Hoisting is more of a mental model to help us understand how JavaScript let us use a function or variable before they are declared.

So what now?

As an alternative mental model, think that JavaScript is doing two phases before we get the output.

  1. Creation Phase - When we put our declarations in the Environment Record
  2. Execution Phase - When we run line by line to do what we already know(creating variables, running functions, etc.)

Let's try running this code using the alternative approach.

var hello = "goodbye";
world = "world";

greet1();
greet2();

function greet1() {
  var world = "WORLD!";
  console.log(hello, world);
}

function greet2() {
  greet2();
  var hello = "hello";
  greet2();

  function greet2() {
    console.log(hello, world);
  }
}

var world;
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Output


undefined "world"
"hello" "world"
"goodbye" "WORLD!"

Creation Phase

  1. Start with an empty global scope Environment Record(red)
  2. Line 1 has a variable declaration; add it to the red(global) scope
  3. Line 7 has a function declaration; add it to the red scope
  4. Because line 7 is a function declaration, create a new Function Environment Record(green)
  5. Line 8 has a variable declaration; add it to the green scope
  6. Line 12 has a function declaration; add it to the red scope
  7. Because line 12 is a function declaration, create a new Function Environment Record(blue)
  8. Line 14 has a variable declaration; add it to the blue scope
  9. Line 17 has a function declaration; add it to the blue scope
  10. Because line 17 is a function declaration, create a new Function Environment Record(yellow)
  11. No more formal declarations; move on to the next phase

Imagine the Creation Phase as making an execution plan. It can help us visualize what the execution context will look like. It can even tell us if there is an undeclared keyword.

Execution Phase

Variable creation

  1. Find hello in the red scope
  2. Since the variable exists in the red scope, create the variable in the Global(red) Execution Context with the default value undefined
  3. Assign the value "goodbye" to variable hello in the red(global) Execution Context

NOTE

Regarding Step 2, setting the variable's default value to undefined is why we will get a functionName is not a function error when we call a function expression before it is declared.

Examples of a function expression below

functionName()

var functionName = function functionName() {/**/};
// OR
const functionName = () => {/**/};
// OR
let functionName = function () {/**/};
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What if there is an undeclared entity?

An error is thrown if a variable, function, class, etc., is missing in the Environment Record.

  1. Try to find worldz in the Environment Record
  2. If it cannot be found, throw an error
  3. Log Uncaught ReferenceError: worldz is not defined

Let's go back to the normal flow.

Invoking the global greet1

  1. Find greet1 in the red scope
  2. Since the function exists in the red scope, create reference in the Global(red) Execution Context
  3. greet1 is invoked, which will create a green Execution Context
  4. Find world in the Environment record
  5. Since the variable exists in the green scope, create the variable in the green Execution Context with the default value undefined
  6. Assign the value "WORLD!" to variable world in the green Execution Context

Invoking console.log inside greet1

It's time to invoke console.log, but where is it coming from?

  1. Find console in the green scope
  2. Since it does not exist in the green scope, go one level up
  3. Find console in the red scope
  4. Luckily, console exists in the Global Environment Record, so we can label it as red
  5. We already have access to the console object in the Global Execution Context.
  6. Find hello in the green scope
  7. Since it does not exist in the green scope, go one level up
  8. Find hello in the red scope
  9. hello exists in the red scope, and it already has the value of "goodbye"
  10. Find world in the green scope
  11. world exists in the green scope, and it already has the value of "WORLD!"
  12. After invoking console.log it will log "goodble" "WORLD!"
  13. End of greet1 Execution Context;

I'm now omitting some of the steps for brevity.

Running greet2 and the shadowed greet1

  1. The function greet2 is in the red scope so create a function reference in the Global Execution Context
  2. Invoke greet2 and create a blue Execution Context
  3. Find greet1 in the blue scope
  4. Since the function exists in the blue scope, create a function reference in the blue Execution Context
  5. Invoke greet1 and create a yellow Execution Context

Invoking console.log inside the shadowed greet1

  1. Since we did not overwrite console, we already know that console is in the global scope
  2. Same as before, the value is resolved by going one step up until we get the matching scope and Execution Context
  3. hello has a value of undefined because it points to the blue Execution Context
  4. world has a value of "world" because it points to the red Execution Context
  5. After invoking console.log it will log undefined "world"
  6. End of the inner greet1 Execution Context;

Updating the value of hello inside greet2

  1. Assign the value "hello" to the hello variable in blue Execution Context
  2. Run inner greet1 again to create a new yellow Execution Context

Running the shadowed greet1, AGAIN!

  1. After running greet1 the first time, we already have colored what the scopes in line 18 will be.
  2. The second time we run the function, we already know which box to look at.
  3. console is in red
  4. hello is in blue
  5. world is in red
  6. So the console will output "hello" "world"

How about let and const?

There is the misconception that we can use let and const to avoid the issue of hoisting. The thing is, let and const both "hoist", but they get an unaccessible reference instead of undefined initially.

  1. Because we declare world in line number 22, lines 1-21 are considered to be its TDZ(Temporal Dead Zone)
  2. In line number 2, we are trying to access the variable world
  3. Since line number 2 is in the TDZ, we throw Uncaught ReferenceError: Cannot access 'world' before initialization

If you are not convinced, try running the code snippet below.

{
  console.log(typeof nonExistingVarible); // undefined
  console.log(typeof hello); // Cannot access 'hello' before initialization

  let hello = "hello";
  // const hello = "hello"; // same result as using `let`
}
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Conclusion

Having a better mental model is essential to be a better JavaScript developer. Instead of blaming the "weird" behavior of JavaScript, we can actually use them to our advantage.

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