Functions are also objects - A simplified explanation with examples

May 16th, 2020 | 3 mins read

#javascript#objects

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Did you know that functions are also objects in JavaScript?

However, typeof would print out function as seen below:

function print(name) {
  console.log(name)
}
console.log(typeof print)
// 'function'

Functions are not normal objects (with properties and methods), they are called first-class objects. The reason for this is that functions can be called while objects cannot. This helps Javascript in differentiating between functions and objects.

To confirm that functions are objects, we can use the instanceof operator like so:

console.log(print instanceof Object)
// true

The instanceof checks if the prototype property of a constructor (in the above code, prototype in Object's constructor) is found anywhere in the prototype chain of an object (in the above code, print).

For more confirmation, we can check the properties of print and also analyze the prototype chain. Let's check it out:

console.dir(print)

console.dir displays an interactive list of the properties of the specified Javascript object (source MDN docs).

In the picture above, you can see some properties of print (just like objects) and the __proto__ property of prints prototype which has a constructor of Object. This is confirmation that print is an instance of Object.

Check out this article Understanding Javascript Prototype and Prototype Chain to learn more about prototypes.

The function constructor - Function

A function has a string that holds the code to be executed when it is called. A function also has a constructor which though, is not recommended, is used in creating functions. It is used like this (to implement our print function above):

const print2 = new Function("name", "console.log(name)")
print2("javascript")
// javascript

With the above, it is obvious now that print2 holds the codes that would be executed (just like print also holds its own code). console.log(print2) will print out that string.

Functions have object features

Functions could be referred to as function-object combo because they work like functions (the call-ability) and like objects (properties and methods).

For the variable print2 above, we could start adding properties justl like a normal object. For example:

print2.type = "language"
print2.age = 10
console.log(print2)
// function code
console.dir(print2)
// check out the image below

Properties of the function (just like objects)

print2 prints out the code contained in the function but it has properties (which includes type and age that we've added) which console.dir allows us to see.

Functions can have methods too

print2.type = "language"
print2.showType = function () {
  console.log(this.type)
}
print2.showType()
// language

this variable references the object (print2) which called the function. print2 as an object has a type of 'language' hence, this.type is language.

Learn more about this in this article - Almighty this, demystified

Which means functions are also copied by reference

const func1 = function() {
    console.log("func")
}
const func2 = func1
func2()
// func
func2.type = "function"
console.log(func1.type)
// function
<!--
-->
func2 = function() {
    console.log("new func");
}
func2()
// new func
console.log(func2.type)
// undefined
func1()
// func

JavaScript objects are copied by reference, hence, functions too. But as you'd have observe, when func2 was assigned another function-object, a new function-object was created and reference to the other object was deleted.

Wrap up

Everything objects can do, functions also can. I mean why not? When functions are not just objects but first-class ones?

I believe with this article, you have a better understanding of the way functions work in Javascript. Thanks for reading : )

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Dillion Megida

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