scope and contextSometimes the concepts of scope and context are misunderstood in JavaScript. It is important to understand that they are not the same thing. This is particularly important inside of a method.

In JavaScript, the concept of scope refers to the visibility of variables. On the other hand, the concept of context is used to mean: “the object to which a method belongs”. That may sound like an odd statement, but it is accurate. The only time we care about context is inside a function. Period. Inside a function, the “this” keyword is very important. It refers to the object to which that function belongs. In other words, every function is a property of some object. In client-side JavaScript (i.e. in a browser), if you declare a function at the top of your code, then that function is a property of the window object. So, inside of that function, the “this” keyword refers to the window object. If you create a new object (let’s call it: “myObject”) and add a method (i.e. a property that happens to be a function), then inside of that function, the “this” keyword refers to the object (i.e. “myObject”).

So the main issue is that inside of a method, object properties and variables can sometimes be confused. In short; when the JavaScript “var” keyword is used, that is a variable. A variable will not be a property of an object (except in the global scope, which is for another discussion). But inside a method, any variable created using the JavaScript “var” keyword will be private to that method. So this means that it is not possible to access that variable from outside the method. But inside of a method, you have access to all of the properties of the object to which that method belongs. And you access these properties using the JavaScript “this” keyword. So, for example; if myObject.greeting = “Hello” and myObject.greet is a method, then inside myObject.greet, if I reference this.greeting, I should get the string: “Hello”. And if I have declared a variable named “speed” inside of myObject.greet, I would access it simply by referring to “speed” (i.e. I would not use the JavaScript “this” keyword). Also, a big difference between variables and properties in a method is that properties are always public. That is to say: all object properties can be seen and in most cases modified. But a private variable inside of a method is completely hidden from the outside world. And only our code inside of the method has access to that variable.

Try it yourself !

In above example, we start out by creating a property on the window object named: “foo”. This “foo” object is the result of an immediately invoked function expression (aka: “IIFE“). The reason that we take this approach is so that we can have a private variable: count. Our getCount method as access to that private count variable.

There is also a count property on the “foo” object. This property is available publicly. That is to say: we are able to make changes to the count property, whereas the count variable is not available outside of the IIFE. Our getCount method has access to the count variable, but that is the only way we can reach it.

When we call foo.getCount() without passing any arguments, then it increments the count property and returns it. This is CONTEXT. By using the JavaScript “this” keyword inside of the getCount method, we are leveraging the concept of context. Conversely, when we call foo.getCount(“scope”), then the count variable is incremented and returned. This is SCOPE. It is very important to understand the difference between scope and context in JavaScript.

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