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JavaScript Quick Tip: Named functions for sane debugging

sunnysingh profile image Sunny Singh Originally published at sunnysingh.io ・2 min read

Debugging is not something that you think about at the time of writing your code, but doing so can drammatically save you from frustration later.

One simple way of doing this is to use named functions over anonymous functions. If you're unfamiliar, take a look at the following code block:

// These two are anonymous functions
function() {}
() => {}

// These two are named functions
function doSomething() {}
const doSomething = () => {}

In a typical app you'll have functions calling other functions. Some functions may even be called from an event listener such as on window load. See this example.

function Page() {
  window.addEventListener('load', function() {
    console.log('Page loaded!');
    Page.init();
  });
}

function App() {
  Page();
}

App();

Notice an error in the code? When you try to run it you will get the following in the developer tools console.

index.js:4 Uncaught TypeError: Page.init is not a function
    at index.js:4

(anonymous)   @ index.js:4
load (async)
Page          @ index.js:2
App           @ index.js:9

This is the expanded console message, and is known as a stack trace. Do you see our named functions such as Page and App? What about the event handler function from window.addEventListener? Ugh oh, it's "anonymous". Imagine if there were multiple anonymous functions calling other anonymous functions. That wouldn't form a useful stack trace for debugging.

Let's fix this by adding the name pageLoadHandler to our function.

function Page() {
  window.addEventListener('load', function pageLoadHandler() {
    console.log('Page loaded!');
    Page.init();
  });
}

function App() {
  Page();
}

App();

There's still an error with this code, so if I run it I now get the following.

Uncaught TypeError: Page.init is not a function
    at pageLoadHandler (index.js:4)

pageLoadHandler @ index.js:4
load (async)
Page            @ index.js:2
App             @ index.js:9

Now the error message is useful even without the expanded stack trace because we can see it's coming directly from pageLoadHandler. If we were to call another function from here though, the stack trace would no longer show just (anonymous).

You may still want to create anonymous functions when doing simple callbacks to array methods like .map() or .filter(), and as long as the parent functions have a name I don't see an issue with that. Being aware of how anonymous functions affect the stack trace helps you make those decisions for a sane debugging experience later on.

Note: This article was originally written for my personal blog. I am republishing it here for the amazing DEV community.

Discussion

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jorluiseptor profile image
Jorge Sepulveda

Thanks! That's exactly what I was seeing and spent extra time figuring out where the error was.

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sunnysingh profile image
Sunny Singh Author

Glad it helped Jorge!

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mandrewdarts profile image
M. Andrew Darts

Great tip! Thanks for breaking it down 🤘

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beernutz profile image
beernutz

I wonder if there is any downside to doing this? Is the function instantiated differently? Does it use more memory? Either way I DO like the idea.

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sunnysingh profile image
Sunny Singh Author

I don't think there are performance downsides to using named functions except in scenarios where you want to micro-optimize within a framework or tool. Even if there are, a compiler or minifier can surely fix that without having to manually change your code.

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adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

TDD (test driven development) would hopefully help you think about debugging before logic. I confess I am guilty of DDT (development driven tests) 🤣. Dry British whit for you there.

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sunnysingh profile image
Sunny Singh Author

Yeah TDD can help with that for sure, but I definitely still do DDT as well haha.