JavaScript LogoThe next step in mastering JavaScript closures is being able to “get” or “set” a private variable.

In Part I of this series: JavaScript Closures – The Absolute Basics, I discussed wrapping one function with another, which produces a closure. When that returned function is assigned to a variable, as long as that variable is alive, it (a function) has access to the context of the function that wraps it. This means that the outer (or “wrapping”) function can contain a private member, but the wrapped function has access to it. In that post, the example code consisted of a function that returned the private member.

Let’s take this one step further: we want to be able to “get” and “set” that private member in real time. Consider the following code:

Example # 1

Here is the JsFiddle link:

In Example # 1, we first create a global variable named “drink” that is set equal to “wine”. Our reason for doing this will become apparent in a moment. Next, we have a variable named “foo”, which is set equal to an anonymous function. Here is where the “closure” stuff comes in: That anonymous function (i.e. “foo”) returns an object literal. That object literal contains two properties: “getDrink” and “seDrink”. Both are anonymous functions.

After the declaration of the anonymous function “foo”, we create a variable named “bar” that is equal to the return value of “foo” (i.e. we execute “foo”, and set the variable “bar” equal to that). Because “foo” returns an object literal, it is almost as if we simply did this:

But that does not completely represent what is going on here. Although “bar” is, in fact, equal to an object literal that has two anonymous functions as members, that object literal was returned by a function (and that is a critical detail). Because that object literal was returned by a function, the two anonymous functions that are members of the object literal have access to the function that returned them. Because they will execute in the context of “foo”, they have access to the private scope of “foo”.

Ok, so what does this all mean?

Remember when we created a global variable named “drink”, and set it equal to “wine”? Well, in Example # 1, when we say: “console.log( drink )”, and the output is “wine”, that is because in the global context, “drink” equals “wine”. But there is another variable named “drink” in play. That variable is in the private scope of “foo” and it is set equal to “beer”.

Hang in there, we are getting to the good stuff now…

In Example # 1, when we say: “console.log( bar.getDrink() )” and the output is “beer”, that is because “getDrink()” has access to the private scope of “foo”, and in the private scope of “foo”, “drink” is equal to “beer”. Next, when we say: “console.log( bar.setDrink(“juice”) )”, we are mutating (i.e. changing) the value of the variable “drink” that exists in the private context of “foo”. This is because:

  • “bar” was set equal to the value of whatever “foo” returned
  • “foo” returned an object literal
  • The object literal that “foo” returned contains a member: “setDrink()”
  • “setDrink()” has access to the variable “drink” which is in the private scope of “foo”
  • We change that private variable “drink” to “juice” using “bar.setDrink()”

If you run the jsfiddle link for Example # 1, you will see this all in action (make sure you have your JavaScript console open). Once the code has run, type the following in your JavaScript console: “console.log( bar.getDrink() )” the return value will be “juice”.


There is no such thing as a wasted moment when it comes to understanding closures in JavaScript. This is a powerful feature of the language. In this post, we discussed getting and setting the value of a variable that exists in the private scope of a function that returned an object literal. Stay tuned for more to come on this topic which does, at times, seem complex, but is more than worth the effort, and is an important tool in your JavaScript belt.