10.6. Parameters and Variables

Earlier, we said that a parameter "behaves like a variable that exists only within the function." While this is true, the relationship between variables and parameters is a bit more complicated.

10.6.1. Function Scope

The scope of a variable is the extent to which a variable is visible within a program. Scope consists of all locations within a program where a variable can be used or modified. Introducing functions gives us one of our first examples of limited variable scope---a situation in which a variable is not visible throughout an entire program.

In particular, a variable defined using `let` within a function is not visible outside of that function.

Example

This function takes a string and returns the result of removing all hyphens, -, from the string.

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function removeHyphens(str) {
   let strWithoutHyphens = ''

   for (let i = 0; i < str.length; i++) {
      if (str[i] !== '-') {
         strWithoutHyphens += str[i];
      }
   }

   return strWithoutHyphens;
}

let launchCodePhone = "314-254-0107";
console.log(removeHyphens(launchCodePhone));
console.log(strWithoutHyphens);

Console Output

3142540107
ReferenceError: strWithoutHyphens is not defined
(rest of error message omitted)

The last line of this program tries to print the variable strWithoutHyphens to the console, resulting in an error. The previous line calls removeHyphens, at the end of which strWithoutHyphens has the value "3142540107". However, once the function finishes execution all variables and parameters within the function are destroyed. This is why the last line results in a ReferenceError; there is no variable named strWithoutHyphens in existence when that line executes.

This is what we mean when we refer to scope. A variable is not necessarily usable throughout an entire program. Where it can be used depends on the context in which it is defined. For variables and parameters within a function, their scope is known as function scope. This means that they are only visible within the function in which they are defined.

10.6.2. Variable Shadowing

We just learned that variables and parameters defined within a function are not visible outside of that function. The opposite scenario is more complicated; a variable defined outside a function may be visible within the function, in certain circumstances.

Example

In some cases, a variable defined outside of a function may be visible within the function.

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let message = "Hello, World!";

function printMessage() {
   console.log(message);
}

printMessage();

Console Output

Hello, World!

Even though message is defined outside the function, it is still visible within the function. When printMessage is called and console.log(message); executes, message has the value "Hello, World!", so that value is printed to the console. This means that the scope of message extends to the function printMessage.

Warning

It is NOT the case that all variables defined outside of a function are visible within every function. The reality is a bit more nuanced that this, and will be explored in depth in a later chapter.

Try It!

What is the output of the following program? Form a hypothesis for yourself before running it.

Once you have answered that question, try relocating the declaring message to other locations to see how it affects the program. For example, you might try placing it within or after printMessage.

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let message = "Hello, World!";

function printMessage() {
   console.log(message);
}

printMessage();
message = "Goodbye";
printMessage();

An interesting thing happens when a function parameter has the same name as a variable that is in-scope.

Example

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let message = "Hello, World!";

function printMessage(message) {
   console.log(message);
}

printMessage("Goodbye");

Console Output

Goodbye

While the variable message declared on line 1 is technically visible within printMessage (that is, it is in-scope), it is hidden by the function parameter of the same name. When printMessage("Goodbye") is called and console.log(message) executes, message has the value "Goodbye", which is the argument passed into the function. This phenomenon is known shadowing, based on the metaphor that a function parameter "casts it's shadow over" a variable of the same name, effectively hiding it.

There is no good reason to intentionally use variable shadowing in your program. In fact, doing so can lead to confusion over which of the two variables is being used in a given situation. For this reason, you should avoid naming variables and function parameters the same name.

10.6.3. Check Your Understanding

Question

What does the following code output?

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let num = 42;

function isEven (num) {
   return num % 2 === 0;
}

console.log(isEven(43));