Arrow functions revisited

Let’s revisit arrow functions.

Arrow functions are not just a “shorthand” for writing small stuff.

JavaScript is full of situations where we need to write a small function, that’s executed somewhere else.

For instance:

  • arr.forEach(func)func is executed by forEach for every array item.
  • setTimeout(func)func is executed by the built-in scheduler.
  • …there are more.

It’s in the very spirit of JavaScript to create a function and pass it somewhere.

And in such functions we usually don’t want to leave the current context.

Arrow functions have no “this”

As we remember from the chapter Object methods, "this", arrow functions do not have this. If this is accessed, it is taken from the outside.

For instance, we can use it to iterate inside an object method:

let group = {
  title: "Our Group",
  students: ["John", "Pete", "Alice"],

  showList() {
    this.students.forEach(
      student => alert(this.title + ': ' + student)
    );
  }
};

group.showList();

Here in forEach, the arrow function is used, so this.title in it is exactly the same as in the outer method showList. That is: group.title.

If we used a “regular” function, there would be an error:

let group = {
  title: "Our Group",
  students: ["John", "Pete", "Alice"],

  showList() {
    this.students.forEach(function(student) {
      // Error: Cannot read property 'title' of undefined
      alert(this.title + ': ' + student)
    });
  }
};

group.showList();

The error occurs because forEach runs functions with this=undefined by default, so the attempt to access undefined.title is made.

That doesn’t affect arrow functions, because they just don’t have this.

Arrow functions can’t run with new

Not having this naturally means another limitation: arrow functions can’t be used as constructors. They can’t be called with new.

Arrow functions VS bind

There’s a subtle difference between an arrow function => and a regular function called with .bind(this):

  • .bind(this) creates a “bound version” of the function.
  • The arrow => doesn’t create any binding. The function simply doesn’t have this. The lookup of this is made exactly the same way as a regular variable search: in the outer lexical environment.

Arrows have no “arguments”

Arrow functions also have no arguments variable.

That’s great for decorators, when we need to forward a call with the current this and arguments.

For instance, defer(f, ms) gets a function and returns a wrapper around it that delays the call by ms milliseconds:

function defer(f, ms) {
  return function() {
    setTimeout(() => f.apply(this, arguments), ms)
  };
}

function sayHi(who) {
  alert('Hello, ' + who);
}

let sayHiDeferred = defer(sayHi, 2000);
sayHiDeferred("John"); // Hello, John after 2 seconds

The same without an arrow function would look like:

function defer(f, ms) {
  return function(...args) {
    let ctx = this;
    setTimeout(function() {
      return f.apply(ctx, args);
    }, ms);
  };
}

Here we had to create additional variables args and ctx so that the function inside setTimeout could take them.

Summary

Arrow functions:

  • Do not have this.
  • Do not have arguments.
  • Can’t be called with new.
  • (They also don’t have super, but we didn’t study it. Will be in the chapter Class inheritance, super).

That’s because they are meant for short pieces of code that does not have their own “context”, but rather works in the current one. And they really shine in that use case.

Tutorial map

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