Thoughts from the Wet Coast

The musings of an ASP.NET Developer from Canada's We(s)t Coast

JavaScript for C# Developers: 4. Variable Scope

Category: JavaScript
Last Modified: May 2 2017
Aug 26 2015

As C# developers we think we know what variable scope is all about.  But if I showed you the JavaScript code below, what number would you think would be shown in the alert dialog.

var foo = 1;  function bar(a) {     if (a == 1) {         var foo = 10;     }     alert(foo); }  bar(1);

If you answered 10 then you either guessed right or you understand JavaScript’s variable scoping and you probably don’t need to read any further, but for most C# developers this feels strange.  This is one of those areas where, in my opinion, it was wrong for the creators of JavaScript to make it look like a C language, as this makes us believe that it behaves like a C language. 

In C type languages variables are scoped at the “block” level.  When control enters a block like an if statement or a for loop then new variables can be defined inside that block without affecting the variable(s) in the outer block.  This is demonstrated in the C# code shown below.

public int main() {     int x = 1;     Console.Write(x); // 1     if (true)     {         int x = 2;         Console.Write(x); // 2     }     Console.Write(x); // 1 }

In this example when the control flow enters the if block the variable x is redefined (technically a new variable is created) so it contains the value 2 but once control returns to the main method the original variable x still has its initial value.

In the same code written in JavaScript the value of x at the last statement is 2 because the x variable inside the if block is the same variable as the one outside (see below)

function main() {     var x = 1;     console.log(x); // 1     if (true)     {         var x = 2;         console.log(x); // 2     }     console.log(x); // 2 }

There is, luckily a way we can fake the idea of block level scope because of the flexibility of JavaScript functions.  We use what is called a self invoking or self executing anonymous function to simulate our block.  The variables defined inside this function have function scope within the function.

function main() {     var x = 1;     console.log(x); // 1     if (true)     {         (function () {             var x = 2;             console.log(x); // 2         }());     }     console.log(x); // still 1 }

This approach is quite flexible and can be used anywhere that we need to create a temporary scope for a variable.  But it should not be over-used as a mechanism to make JavaScript work like C#.


The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.