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Jesse Wei
Jesse Wei

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Javascript Prototype: Prototype Chain and Shadowing

In part 1 of the series, we learned the basics of Javascript prototype. We saw why it is important to understand it, what a prototype really is and looked at some relevant terms.

In this part, we'll continue our journey by diving a bit deeper into prototype and have a look at what prototype chain and property shadowing are.

Table of Contents

Prototype Chain

Every object in JavaScript has a prototype, which is either an object itself or null. When a property or method is accessed on an object, JavaScript will first look for that property on the object itself. If it is not found, it will search its prototype. This continues until the property is found or the uppermost prototype, which is null, is reached. This process is called prototype chain.

As an example, let's say we have the following code:

let vehicle = {
  run() {
    return 'run, run, run!'
let car = {
  drive() {
    return 'drive, drive, drive!'
let myCar = {
  broken: true
} // TypeError: is not a function // TypeError: is not a function
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When we try to access the drive() and run() methods on myCar, we get an error. This is no surprise, as myCar does not have these methods defined on it.

Let's add the following code before calling the methods:

Object.setPrototypeOf(car, vehicle) // add this
Object.setPrototypeOf(myCar, car) // and this // => 'drive, drive, drive!' // => 'run, run, run!'
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Now the errors are gone and we get the expected results from calling the methods. But wait, myCar still does not have these methods defined on it, does it?

Because we set the prototype of car to vehicle and the prototype of myCar to car, now when Javascript does not find the method drive() on myCar, it traverses up to its prototype (car) where it finds and calls the method. This is prototype chain in action and Javascript follows the chain to find and call run() too.

Prototype chain

Prototype chain

Please note that the image above does not show the full story. The prototype chain can actually go even further beyond vehicle until it reaches null.

full prototype chain

Full prototype chain

Near the top of the chain we have Object.prototype which is itself an object with methods like hasOwnProperty, toString and valueOf. As any objects down the chain inherit these methods, we can access these methods on vehicle, car and myCar.

For example,

myCar.hasOwnProperty('broken') // => true
myCar.hasOwnProperty('drive') // => false
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Please note that setting the prototype of an object with Object.setPrototypeOf() is slow as explained here. Instead, it's recommended we create new objects with the desired prototype using Object.create().

const myNewCar = Object.create(car)
Object.getPrototypeOf(myNewCar) === car // => true
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Property Shadowing

Property shadowing sounds abstract and daunting but it is actually a very simple concept. It basically describes what happens when an object and its prototype both define a property with the same name.

Because in a prototype chain the object is traversed before its prototype, we know the property defined on the object itself will be accessed or called (in case of a function) before Javascript reaches its prototype.

Considering the previous example after the prototype of myCar is set to car:

car = {
  drive() { // body of drive method },
  price: 100000 // add this
myCar = {
  broken: true,
  price: 50000 // add this
myCar.price // => 50000
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In this case, we say the price on myCar shadowed the price property on the prototype of myCar.


In this part of the series, we looked at how prototype chain works and what property shadowing is.

If you followed along, you should've had a pretty solid idea on Javascript prototype. But there's just much more about it and in the next part, let's explore concepts like constructors, classes and inheritance which are all built upon the concept of prototype.

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