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Tiberius Mairura
Tiberius Mairura

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Hoisting in JavaScript

JavaScript is treacherous in many confusing ways and hoisting is just one of those things that tripped me a lot when I started learning and writing JavaScript.

In JavaScript, hoisting is a phenomenon where the JavaScript interpreter behaves as if it lifts the declarations of variables, functions and classes to the top of their scope before their execution. If you think about it, it means that JavaScript makes these declarations available for use before their existence.

Variable Hoisting

Variables are hoisted but they are initialized with a value of undefined by default instead of the actual value you have assigned them.

This is, however, only possible with the var keyword. Trying to access variables declared with let or const before they exist will result in JS throwing a ReferenceError.

Let us have a look at these behaviours:

console.log(name); //=> undefined
var name = "Anjette";
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In the snippet above, we are trying to access a variable name declared with the var keyword.

Although the variable has been assigned the value of Anjette, we get undefined instead. Why?

This is because the variable is being hoisted but its initialization is not. Instead, JS assigns it a default value, undefined.

The code above is equivalent to the following example:

var name; // default value is `undefined
console.log(name); //=> undefined
name = "Anjette";
console.log(name); //=> Anjette
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Hoisting with the let or const syntax shows different behaviour. Let's look at the example below:

console.log(name); //=> ReferenceError: Cannot access 'name' before initialization
let name = "Anjette";
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In the above example, we have the variable declared with the let keyword. When we try to access it before the declaration, we get a ReferenceError.

Although the variable is hoisted, unlike the variable declared with the var keyword, it is not assigned the default value of undefined.

And that is why we get the ReferenceError instead of the default value of undefined.

For the same reason, the variables declared with the const keyword will behave the same as those with let.

Hoisting in Functions

When it comes to functions, hoisting makes it possible to access and safely use functions before they are declared or "exist".

//=> Access function before declaration
sayHello(); //=> Hello

//=> Function after declaration
function sayHello() {
  console.log("Hello");
}
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Note that the code above does not cause any errors. Instead, it executes successfully giving us the expected result.

This is because the function declaration has been moved to the top of its declaration i.e hoisted.

However, function expressions do not have the privilege of using this hoisting effect. Let us see how the function expression behaves.

Function expression with let

Trying to access a function expression before it exists will cause JS to throw a ReferenceError.

//=> Access function before declaration
sayHello(); //=> ReferenceError: Cannot access 'sayHello' before initialization

console.log(sayHello); //=> ReferenceError: Cannot access 'sayHello' before initialization

//=> Function after declaration
let sayHello = function () {
  console.log("Hello");
};
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In the snippet above, sayHello() cannot be accessed. The reason for the ReferenceError is because of the way hoisting behaves with the let or const keyword as discussed above.

Function expression with var

//=> Access function before declaration
sayHello(); //=> TypeError: sayHello is not a function
console.log(sayHello); //=> undefined
//=> Function after declaration
var sayHello = function () {
  console.log("Hello");
};
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With the var keyword, the variable name sayHello is hoisted, but its initialization is not. SayHello has a value of undefined before its initialization which is set by JS. That is why we see a TypeError when trying to invoke the function.

// => Access the variable name
console.log(sayHello); //=> undefined

//=> Function after declaration
var sayHello = function () {
  console.log("Hello");
};
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What about classes?

Just like their cousins, functions, classes are also hoisted and thus their references can be accessed before their declaration.

However, similar to variables declared with let or const, they are not initialized and thus trying to use the hoisted class causes JS to throw a ReferenceError.

class expressions i.e when a class is assigned to a variable, the variable will be hoisted but its initialization will not be hoisted.

Because hoisting can lead to unpredictable behaviours, avoid depending on or using it in practice.

Key Takeaways

  • Hoisting is the behaviour where the JavaScript interpreter lifts declarations to the top of the program
  • A variable declared with the var keyword is hoisted but initialized with a default value of undefined.
  • Variables declared with the let or const keyword are hoisted but are not initialized with a default value of undefined. Thus access them before initialization throws a ReferenceError.
  • Hoist makes functions, variables and classes available before their declaration
  • Functions declared with the function keyword are hoisted and can be safely used before their declarations.
  • Function expressions are not hoisted. However, the variables assigned to them are hoisted.
  • Classes are also hoisted but they are not initialized.

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Thecodingobare

Awesome read

12 Rarely Used Javascript APIs You Need

>> Check out this classic DEV post <<