The “class” construct allows one to define prototype-based classes with a clean, nice-looking syntax. It also introduces great new features which are useful for object-oriented programming.

The “class” syntax

The class syntax is versatile, we’ll start with a simple example first.

Here’s a prototype-based class User:

function User(name) {
  this.name = name;
}

User.prototype.sayHi = function() {
  alert(this.name);
}

let user = new User("John");
user.sayHi();

…And here’s the same using class syntax:

class User {

  constructor(name) {
    this.name = name;
  }

  sayHi() {
    alert(this.name);
  }

}

let user = new User("John");
user.sayHi();

It’s easy to see that these two examples are alike. Be sure to note that methods in a class do not have a comma between them. A common pitfall for novice developers is to put a comma between class methods, which would result in a syntax error. The notation here is not to be confused with object literals. Within the class syntactical sugar, no commas are required.

What is a class?

So, what exactly is a class? We may think that it defines a new language-level entity, but that would be wrong.

In Javascript, a class is a kind of a function.

The definition class User {...} creates a function under the same name and puts the methods into User.prototype. So the structure is similar.

This is demonstrated in the following code, which you can run yourself:

class User {
  constructor(name) { this.name = name; }
  sayHi() { alert(this.name); }
}

// proof: User is a function
alert(typeof User); // function

// proof: User is the "constructor" function
alert(User === User.prototype.constructor); // true

// proof: there are two methods in its "prototype"
alert(Object.getOwnPropertyNames(User.prototype)); // constructor, sayHi

Abstractly, we can illustrate this process of class User creating a function as:

Class is a special syntax to define a constructor together with its prototype methods. In addition to its basic operation, the Class syntax brings many other features with it which we’ll explore later.

Class Expression

Just like functions, classes can be defined inside another expression, passed around, returned etc.

Here’s a class-returning function – otherwise known as a “class factory”:

function makeClass(phrase) {
  // declare a class and return it
  return class {
    sayHi() {
      alert(phrase);
    };
  };
}

let User = makeClass("Hello");

new User().sayHi(); // Hello

That’s quite normal if we recall that class is just a special form of a function-with-prototype definition.

And, like Named Function Expressions, such classes also may have a name, that is visible inside that class only:

// "Named Class Expression" (alas, no such term, but that's what's going on)
let User = class MyClass {
  sayHi() {
    alert(MyClass); // MyClass is visible only inside the class
  }
};

new User().sayHi(); // works, shows MyClass definition

alert(MyClass); // error, MyClass not visible outside of the class

Differences between classes and functions

Classes have some differences compared to regular functions:

Constructors require new
Unlike a regular function, a class constructor can’t be called without new:
class User {
  constructor() {}
}

alert(typeof User); // function
User(); // Error: Class constructor User cannot be invoked without 'new'
Different string output
If we output it like alert(User), some engines show "class User...", while others show "function User...".

Please don’t be confused: the string representation may vary, but that’s still a function, there is no separate “class” entity in JavaScript language.

Class methods are non-enumerable
A class definition sets enumerable flag to false for all methods in the "prototype". That’s good, because if we for..in over an object, we usually don’t want its class methods.
Classes have a default constructor() {}
If there’s no constructor in the class construct, then an empty function is generated, just as if we had written constructor() {}.
Classes always use strict
All code inside the class construct is automatically in strict mode.

Getters/setters, other shorthands

Classes also include getters/setters, generators, computed properties etc.

Here’s an example for user.name implemented using get/set:

class User {

  constructor(name) {
    // invokes the setter
    this.name = name;
  }

  get name() {
    return this._name;
  }

  set name(value) {
    if (value.length < 4) {
      alert("Name is too short.");
      return;
    }
    this._name = value;
  }

}

let user = new User("John");
alert(user.name); // John

user = new User(""); // Name too short.

Internally, getters and setters are created on User.prototype, like this:

Object.defineProperties(User.prototype, {
  name: {
    get() {
      return this._name
    },
    set(name) {
      // ...
    }
  }
});

Here’s an example with computed properties:

function f() { return "sayHi"; }

class User {
  [f()]() {
    alert("Hello");
  }

}

new User().sayHi();

For a generator method, similarly, prepend it with *.

Class properties

Old browsers may need a polyfill

Class-level properties are a recent addition to the language.

In the example above, User only had methods. Let’s add a property:

class User {
  name = "Anonymous";

  sayHi() {
    alert(`Hello, ${this.name}!`);
  }
}

new User().sayHi();

The property is not placed into User.prototype. Instead, it is created by new, separately for every object. So, the property will never be shared between different objects of the same class.

Summary

The basic class syntax looks like this:

class MyClass {
  prop = value;

  constructor(...) {
    // ...
  }

  method(...) {}

  get something(...) {}
  set something(...) {}

  [Symbol.iterator]() {}
  // ...
}

MyClass is technically a function, while methods are written to MyClass.prototype.

In the next chapters we’ll learn more about classes, including inheritance and other features.

Tasks

importance: 5

Rewrite the Clock class from prototypes to the modern “class” syntax.

P.S. The clock ticks in the console, open it to see.

Open a sandbox for the task.

Tutorial map

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