Let me explain to you what is this. (Javascript)

  • this article assumes 'use strict' in all context
  • this article also assumes some knowledge about functions but still a bit confused

this in Javascript is the probably most magical keyword in the programming world. It's unpredictable nature has reached to an unprecedented level.

it's over 9000!!!

However, it is essential to understand it fully if you wish to become a master of Javascript. So let me try to explain you what is this. (if it doesn't work, well, at least I tried.)

Functions

Starting with functions. In this article, I would like to put functions into 3 difference categories.

  1. Normal functions
  2. Arrow functions
  3. Bound functions

Normal functions

I define normal functions as any function created with...

// function declaration
function magic() {
	...
}

// function expression
const magic = function() {
	...
};

// (or if you hate your life)
// function constructor
const magic = new Function('...');

Arrow functions

Arrow functions are basically the ES6 arrow functions:

const magic = () => {
	...
};

Bound functions

Bound functions can be created by calling Function.prototype.bind on a normal functions.

// magic is created with function declaration/expression/constructor
const bound = magic.bind(...);

Ways to call a function

Now let's say we have a function f (any category). There are 2 ways to call it.

  1. Implicit (direct) calls
  2. Explicit calls

Implicit (direct) calls

Implicit (direct) calls are boring:

/* f is defined */

// direct call
f();

// or attach it to an object and call it
const obj = {};
obj.fn = f;
obj.fn();

Explicit call

Explicit calls are more interesting. You can call your function with Function.prototype.call or Function.prototype.apply.

/* f is defined */

// Function.prototype.call
f.call(...);

// Function.prototype.apply
f.apply(...);

Quick recap

Let's do a quick recap, we have 3 categories of functions:

  1. Normal functions - created with function declaration/expression/constructor
  2. Arrow functions - () => {...}
  3. Bound functions - created with f.bind(...)

And 2 ways to call a function:

  1. Implicit (direct) calls - f() or obj.f()
  2. Explicit calls - f.call(...) or f.apply(...)

This means we have 6 difference scenarios.

  1. Normal functions + Implicit (direct) calls
  2. Normal functions + Explicit calls
  3. Arrow functions + Implicit (direct) calls
  4. Arrow functions + Explicit calls
  5. Bound functions + Implicit (direct) calls
  6. Bound functions + Explicit calls

Don't panic, it is not that scary.

In fact, arrow functions and bound functions do not care about implicit/explicit calls. So this reduces down to only 4 scenarios:

  1. Normal functions + Implicit (direct) calls
  2. Normal functions + Explicit calls
  3. Arrow functions
  4. Bound functions

Procedure to find this

Below is the procedure to find the binding of this in function f:

Exercises!

Given magic defined as follows:

'use strict';

const magic = function() {
	// a. what is `this`?
    console.log(this);
    
	const cool = () => {
		// b. what is `this`?
	    console.log(this);
	};
	cool();
};

// QUESTION 1
magic();


// QUESTION 2
const apple = { name: 'apple' };
apple.magic = magic;
apple.magic();

// QUESTION 3
const orange = { name: 'orange' };
magic.call(orange);

QUESTION 1.a

Following flow chart, we want to find this in magic.

  1. Category of magic is normal function
  2. magic is called implicitly (directly)
  3. magic is called with magic()
  4. So this = undefined!!!

QUESTION 1.b

Following flow chart, we want to find this in cool.

  1. Category of cool is arrow function
  2. From QUESTION 1.b, we know magic's this is undefined
  3. cool's caller's is magic
  4. So this = magic's this = undefined!

Lazy lecturer

The remaining questions, QUESTION 2.a, 2.b, 3.a and 3.b, are trivial with my flow chart. So I will leave them as an exercise for you all.

Answers

https://repl.it/@ycmjason/What-is-this

Click run and you will see the answer in order (1.a, 1.b, 2.a, 2.b, 3.a, 3.b).

Note

  • There is no "bound arrow function". (() => {...}).bind(...) is still the original arrow function.
  • For implicit calling, only the shape (f() or obj.f()) matter. It doesn't matter where f comes from. Consider the following code:
const f = obj.f; // obj.f is a normal function
f(); // `this` in the body of `f` is `undefined`!!! not `obj`!!!