Introduction to JavaScript Variables

A variable is a literal assigned to an identifier, so you can reference and use it later in the program.

Variables in JavaScript do not have any type attached. Once you assign a specific literal type to a variable, you can later reassign the variable to host any other type, without type errors or any issue.

This is why JavaScript is sometimes referenced as “untyped”.

A variable must be declared before you can use it. There are 3 ways to do it, using var, let or const, and those 3 ways differ in how you can interact with the variable later on.

Using var

Until ES2015, var was the only construct available for defining variables.

var a = 0

If you forget to add var you will be assigning a value to an undeclared variable, and the results might vary.

In modern environments, with strict mode enabled, you will get an error. In older environments (or with strict mode disabled) this will simply initialize the variable and assign it to the global object.

If you don’t initialize the variable when you declare it, it will have the undefined value until you assign a value to it.

var a //typeof a === 'undefined'

You can redeclare the variable many times, overriding it:

var a = 1
var a = 2

You can also declare multiple variables at once in the same statement:

var a = 1, b = 2

The scope is the portion of code where the variable is visible.

A variable initialized with var outside of any function is assigned to the global object, has a global scope and is visible everywhere. A variable initialized with var inside a function is assigned to that function, it’s local and is visible only inside it, just like a function parameter.

Any variable defined into a function with the same name of a global variable takes precedence over the global variable, shadowing it.

It’s important to understand that a block (identified by a pair of curly braces) does not define a new scope. A new scope is only created when a function is created, because var has not block scope, but function scope.

Inside a function, any variable defined in it is visible throughout all the function code, even if the variable is declared at the end of the function it can still be referenced in the beginning, because JavaScript before executing the code actually moves all variables on top (something that is called hoisting). To avoid confusion, always declare variables at the beginning of a function.

Using let

let is a new feature introduced in ES2015 and it’s essentially a block scoped version of var. Its scope is limited to the block, statement or expression where it’s defined, and all the contained inner blocks.

Modern JavaScript developers might choose to only use let and completely discard the use of var.

If let seems an obscure term, just read let color = 'red' as let the color be red and all has much more sense

Defining let outside of any function - contrary to var - does not create a global variable.

Using const

Variables declared with var or let can be changed later on in the program, and reassigned. A once a const is initialized, its value can never be changed again, and it can’t be reassigned to a different value.

const a = 'test'

We can’t assign a different literal to the a const. We can however mutate a if it’s an object that provides methods that mutate its contents.

const does not provide immutability, just makes sure that the reference can’t be changed.

const has block scope, same as let.

Modern JavaScript developers might choose to always use const for variables that don’t need to be reassigned later in the program.

Why? Because we should always use the simplest construct available to avoid making errors down the road.