Dan Dan - 25 days ago 5
Javascript Question

Difference between variable declaration syntaxes in Javascript (including global variables)?

Is there any difference between declaring a variable:

var a=0; //1


...this way:

a=0; //2


...or:

window.a=0; //3


in global scope?

Answer

Yes, there are a couple of differences, though in practical terms they're not usually big ones.

There's a fourth way, and as of ES2015 (ES6) there's two more. I've added the fourth way at the end, but inserted the ES2015 ways after #1 (you'll see why), so we have:

var a = 0;     // 1
let a = 0;     // 1.1 (new with ES2015)
const a = 0;   // 1.2 (new with ES2015)
a = 0;         // 2
window.a = 0;  // 3
this.a = 0;    // 4

Those statements explained

#1 var a = 0;

This creates a global variable which is also a property of the global object, which we access as window on browsers (or via this a global scope, in non-strict code). Unlike some other properties, the property cannot be removed via delete.

In specification terms, it creates an identifier binding on the object Environment Record for the global environment. That makes it a property of the global object because the global object is where identifier bindings for the global environment's object Environment Record are held. This is why the property is non-deletable: It's not just a simple property, it's an identifier binding.

The binding (variable) is defined before the first line of code runs (see "When var happens" below).

Note that on IE8 and earlier, the property created on window is not enumerable (doesn't show up in for..in statements). In IE9, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, it's enumerable.


#1.1 let a = 0;

This creates a global variable which is not a property of the global object. This is a new thing as of ES2015.

In specification terms, it creates an identifier binding on the declarative Environment Record for the global environment rather than the object Environment Record. The global environment is unique in having a split Environment Record, one for all the old stuff that goes on the global object (the object Environment Record) and another for all the new stuff (let, const, and the functions created by class) that don't go on the global object.

The binding is created before any step-by-step code in its enclosing block is executed (in this case, before any global code runs), but it's not accessible in any way until the step-by-step execution reaches the let statement. Once execution reaches the let statement, the variable is accessible. (See "When let and const happen" below.)


#1.2 const a = 0;

Creates a global constant, which is not a property of the global object.

const is exactly like let except that you must provide an initializer (the = value part), and you cannot change the value of the constant once it's created. Under the covers, it's exactly like let but with a flag on the identifier binding saying its value cannot be changed. Using const does three things for you:

  1. Makes it a parse-time error if you try to assign to the constant.
  2. Documents its unchanging nature for other programmers.
  3. Lets the JavaScript engine optimize on the basis that it won't change.

#2 a = 0;

This creates a property on the global object implicitly. As it's a normal property, you can delete it. I'd recommend not doing this, it can be unclear to anyone reading your code later.

And interestingly, again on IE8 and earlier, the property created not enumerable (doesn't show up in for..in statements). That's odd, particularly given #3 below.


#3 window.a = 0;

This creates a property on the global object explicitly, using the window global that refers to the global object (on browsers; some non-browser environments have an equivalent global variable, such as global on NodeJS). As it's a normal property, you can delete it.

This property is enumerable, on IE8 and earlier, and on every other browser I've tried.


#4 this.a = 0;

Exactly like #3, except we're referencing the global object through this instead of the global window. This won't work in strict mode, though, because in strict mode global code, this doesn't have a reference to the global object (it has the value undefined instead).


Deleting properties

What do I mean by "deleting" or "removing" a? Exactly that: Removing the property (entirely) via the delete keyword:

window.a = 0;
display("'a' in window? " + ('a' in window)); // displays "true"
delete window.a;
display("'a' in window? " + ('a' in window)); // displays "false"

delete completely removes a property from an object. You can't do that with properties added to window indirectly via var, the delete is either silently ignored or throws an exception (depending on the JavaScript implementation and whether you're in strict mode).

Warning: IE8 again (and presumably earlier, and IE9-IE11 in the broken "compatibility" mode): It won't let you delete properties of the window object, even when you should be allowed to. Worse, it throws an exception when you try (try this experiment in IE8 and in other browsers). So when deleting from the window object, you have to be defensive:

try {
    delete window.prop;
}
catch (e) {
    window.prop = undefined;
}

That tries to delete the property, and if an exception is thrown it does the next best thing and sets the property to undefined.

This only applies to the window object, and only (as far as I know) to IE8 and earlier (or IE9-IE11 in the broken "compatibility" mode). Other browsers are fine with deleting window properties, subject to the rules above.


When var happens

The variables defined via the var statement are created before any step-by-step code in the execution context is run, and so the property exists well before the var statement.

This can be confusing, so let's take a look:

display("foo in window? " + ('foo' in window)); // displays "true"
display("window.foo = " + window.foo);          // displays "undefined"
display("bar in window? " + ('bar' in window)); // displays "false"
display("window.bar = " + window.bar);          // displays "undefined"
var foo = "f";
bar = "b";
display("foo in window? " + ('foo' in window)); // displays "true"
display("window.foo = " + window.foo);          // displays "f"
display("bar in window? " + ('bar' in window)); // displays "true"
display("window.bar = " + window.bar);          // displays "b"

Live example:

display("foo in window? " + ('foo' in window)); // displays "true"
display("window.foo = " + window.foo);          // displays "undefined"
display("bar in window? " + ('bar' in window)); // displays "false"
display("window.bar = " + window.bar);          // displays "undefined"
var foo = "f";
bar = "b";
display("foo in window? " + ('foo' in window)); // displays "true"
display("window.foo = " + window.foo);          // displays "f"
display("bar in window? " + ('bar' in window)); // displays "true"
display("window.bar = " + window.bar);          // displays "b"

function display(msg) {
  var p = document.createElement('p');
  p.innerHTML = msg;
  document.body.appendChild(p);
}

As you can see, the symbol foo is defined before the first line, but the symbol bar isn't. Where the var foo = "f"; statement is, there are really two things: defining the symbol, which happens before the first line of code is run; and doing an assignment to that symbol, which happens where the line is in the step-by-step flow. (See Poor misunderstood var)


When let and const happen

let and const are different from var in a couple of ways. The way that's relevant to the question is that although the binding they define is created before any step-by-step code runs, it's not accessible until the let or const statement is reached.

So while this runs:

display(a);    // undefined
var a = 0;
display(a);    // 0

This throws an error:

display(a);    // ReferenceError: a is not defined
let a = 0;
display(a);

The other two ways that let and const differ from var, which aren't really relevant to the question, are:

  1. var always applies to the entire execution context (throughout global code, or throughout function code in the function where it appears), but let and const apply only within the block where they appear. That is, var has function (or global) scope, but let and const have block scope.

  2. Repeating var a in the same context is harmless, but if you have let a (or const a), having another let a or a const a or a var a is a syntax error.

Here's an example demonstrating that let and const take effect immediately in their block before any code within that block runs, but aren't accessible until the let or const statement:

var a = 0;
console.log(a);
if (true)
{
  console.log(a); // ReferenceError: a is not defined
  let a = 1;
  console.log(a);
}

Note that the second console.log fails, instead of accessing the a from outside the block.


Off-topic: Avoid cluttering the global object (window)

The window object gets very, very cluttered with properties. Whenever possible, strongly recommend not adding to the mess. Instead, wrap up your symbols in a little package and export at most one symbol to the window object. (I frequently don't export any symbols to the window object.) You can use a function to contain all of your code in order to contain your symbols, and that function can be anonymous if you like:

(function() {
    var a = 0; // `a` is NOT a property of `window` now

    function foo() {
        alert(a);   // Alerts "0", because `foo` can access `a`
    }
})();

In that example, we define a function and have it executed right away (the () at the end).

A function used in this way is frequently called a scoping function. Functions defined within the scoping function can access variables defined in the scoping function because they're closures over that data (see: Closures are not complicated).

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