Rest vs Spread Operator in JavaScript, Simplified

June 14th, 2020 | 4 mins read

#es6

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The Rest and Spread operator are two features of JavaScript introduced in ES6. They work entirely different but their similar syntax (triple dots ...) brings some misconceptions when working with them.

In this article, I'll explain what these operators do and where they can be used.

TLDR;

The rest operator, is used to group remaining arguments in, usually in functions.

The spread operator, on the other hand, is used to split a group of values in JavaScript.

Key takeaway: rest groups, spread splits.

Now in detail,

The Rest Operator

This operator is used to get all or remaining arguments in a function as an array. For example:

function printArgs(args) {
  console.log(args)
}

No matter the arguments passed to this function when used, only the first argument is considered. To get more arguments, the function declaration may contain something like args1, args2, args2..., but for how long? The args1, args2... approach is perfect for functions which only care about a definite number of arguments, but for indefinite arguments, rest makes things easy.

Although, before rest, was arguments. Here's an example:

function printArgs(args) {
  console.log(args)
  console.log(arguments)
}
printArgs(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
// 1
// { '0': 1, '1': 2, '2': 3, '3': 4, '4': 5 }

The same program with rest:

function printArgs(...args) {
  console.log(args)
}
printArgs(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
// [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

rest is more useful than arguments because:

  • it allows you to name the arguments array whatever you like (as we saw above, args)
  • it returns an array, while arguments is an object, hence, array methods can be performed on rest's result
  • while arguments gets all the arguments in the function, rest can be used to get the remaining arguments after some have been selected. Here's what I mean:
function printNumbers(firstNumber, secondNumber, ...remainingNumbers) {
  console.log(firstNumber)
  console.log(secondNumber)
  console.log(remainingNumbers)
}
printNumbers(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
// 1
// 2
// [3, 4, 5]

NOTE THAT, the first number can also be gotten with args[0] but with rest, we can select the values we want right from the arguments declaration.

Spread Operator

This operator is used to split a group of values. The group could be a string, array, or object.

For strings and arrays, the result of the spread operator is an array because they are iterable based on their index nature. By index nature, I mean:

const str = "javascript"
const arr = ["javascript"]
console.log(str[0])
// j
console.log(arr[0])
// javascript

For objects, the result of the spread operator is an object because objects are based on their key-value nature.

Uses

The spread operator can be used in four contexts. They are:

Array expressions

Syntax:

const newArray = [...oldArray]

For example:

const oldArray = [3, 4, 5]
const newArray1 = [...oldArray]
console.log(newArray1)
// [3,4,5]
const newArray2 = [1, 2, ...oldArray]
console.log(newArray2)
// [1,2,3,4,5]

From the above, you'd notice how the values of the oldArray were spread in the new arrays.

String expressions

Syntax:

const strArray = [...string]

This is similar to be string.split. For example:

const str = "javascript"
const strArray = [...str]
console.log(strArray)
// [ 'j', 'a', 'v', 'a', 's', 'c', 'r', 'i', 'p', 't' ]

Function expressions

Syntax:

const result = fn(...stringOrArray)

For example:

function add(a, b) {
  console.log(a + b)
}
const numbers = [5, 6]
add(...numbers)
// 11

You'd observe that we didn't place the numbers in an array when using it as an argument. What the above does is to spread the values for add. It translates to add(5,6).

Object expressions

Syntax:

const newObj = { ...oldObj }

For example:

const oldObj = {
  lang: "javascript",
  score: 23,
}
const newObj1 = { ...oldObj }
console.log(newObj1)
// {lang: 'javascript', score: 23}
const newObj2 = { ...oldObj, short: "JS" }
console.log(newObj2)
// { lang: 'javascript', score: 23, short: 'JS' }
const newObj3 = { ...oldObj, score: 40 }
console.log(newObj3)
// { lang: 'javascript', score: 40 }

For newObj1, you can see how the old object properties were spread.

For newObj2, you can see how the old object properties were spread, and a new property short, was added.

For newObj3, you can see how the old object properties were spread, and the property score was modified at the same time. NOTE THAT if score:40 was declared before the old object properties were spread, the score:23 would take priority.

The spread operator is considered very useful especially in array and object expressions because it ensures immutability in JavaScript objects

Wrap up

rest and spread are two special features that make development easier. They also have cool benefits when using array and object destructuring.

Thanks for reading : )

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Dillion Megida

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