(Over)thinking JavaScript objects 1


I’ve always found JavaScript’s approach(es) to OOP a little cumbersome. I’m not talking here about prototypal vs. class-based OOP. Rather, I’m talking about the readability, etc. of the actual code you have to write to build objects. I want to take a few blog entries to try to put the maze into some kind of cohesive perspective.

I like to use a tally clicker to explore objects in languages I am learning. A tally clicker is a real-world object with a minimal set of features that are easy to implement and that map to basic but salient OOP concepts.

Object literals

I’m going to start this exploration with plain-Jane object literals. This is one of the canonical ways and often the first way shown to implement objects in JavaScript. Here’s how I might implement a tally clicker with a JavaScript literal:

// == Create a tally clicker ========
var myClicker = {

    // pseudo-private property
    _numClicks: 0,         

    // pseudo-private method
    _update: function() {
        console.log("myClicker1: " + this._numClicks);

    // public methods
    click: function() {

    reset: function() {
        this._numClicks = 0;

    showInfo: function() {
        alert('I am "myClicker" and am at ' +
            this._numClicks + ' clicks.');
}; // == End tally clicker ========

I might then stick something like this into the HTML:

<button onclick="myClicker.click();">Click</button>
<button onclick="myClicker.reset();">Reset</button>
<button onclick="myClicker.showInfo();">Info</button>

The object literal approach is a seductively easy and pretty readable way to build an object—but it’s got issues. Namely:

  • There’s no automatic initialization apart from property values.
  • It violates encapsulation because everything is public.*
  • It pollutes the global namespace (sort of). As is, the name of the object is in the global namespace.
  • The object abstraction doesn’t scream, “Reuse me!” (This may be a cognitive style issue more than anything else.)

In the next couple installments, I’ll consider some alternative implementations specifically with regard to the above criteria. For the moment, I will not deal with:

  • Inheritance-like stuff
  • “Class” (i.e., static) members*
  • Polymorphism

*An issue of religious importance.

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