Language Features

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ES6 (or ES2015) was arguably the biggest change to JavaScript in a long time. As a result, we received a wide variety of new functionality. The purpose of this appendix is to illustrate the features used in the book in isolation to make it clearer to understand how they work. Rather than going through the entire specification, I will just focus on the subset of features used in the book.

Modules#

ES6 introduced proper module declarations. Earlier, this was somewhat ad hoc and we used formats, such as AMD or CommonJS. ES6 module declarations are statically analyzable. This is highly useful for tool authors. Effectively, this means we can gain features like tree shaking. This allows the tooling to skip unused code easily simply by analyzing the import structure.

import and export for Single#

To give you an example of exporting directly through a module, consider below:

persist.js

import makeFinalStore from 'alt-utils/lib/makeFinalStore';

export default function(alt, storage, storeName) {
  ...
}

index.js

import persist from './persist';

...

import and export for Multiple#

Sometimes it can be useful to use modules as a namespace for multiple functions:

math.js

export function add(a, b) {
  return a + b;
}

export function multiply(a, b) {
  return a * b;
}

export function square(a) {
  return a * a;
}

Alternatively we could write the module in a form like this:

math.js

const add = (a, b) => a + b;
const multiple = (a, b) => a * b;

// You can omit ()'s with a single parameter if you want.
const square = a => a * a;

export {
  add,
  multiple,
  // Aliasing works too
  multiple as mul
};

The example leverages the fat arrow syntax. This definition can be consumed through an import like this:

index.js

import {add} from './math';

// Alternatively we could bind the math methods to a key
// import * as math from './math';
// math.add, math.multiply, ...

...

Especially export default is useful if you prefer to keep your modules focused. The persist function is an example of such. Regular export is useful for collecting multiple functions below the same umbrella.

Given the ES6 module syntax is statically analyzable, it enables tooling such as analyze-es6-modules.

Aliasing Imports#

Sometimes it can be handy to alias imports. Example:

import {actions as TodoActions} from '../actions/todo'

...

as allows you to avoid naming conflicts.

Webpack resolve.alias#

Bundlers, such as Webpack, can provide some features beyond this. You could define a resolve.alias for some of your module directories for example. This would allow you to use an import, such as import persist from 'libs/persist';, regardless of where you import. A simple resolve.alias could look like this:

...
resolve: {
  alias: {
    libs: path.join(__dirname, 'libs')
  }
}

The official documentation describes possible variants in fuller detail.

Classes#

Unlike many other languages out there, JavaScript uses prototype based inheritance instead of class based one. Both approaches have their merits. In fact, you can mimic a class based model through a prototype based one. ES6 classes are about providing syntactical sugar above the basic mechanisms of JavaScript. Internally it still uses the same old system. It just looks a little different to the programmer.

These days React supports class based component definitions. Not all agree that it's a good thing. That said, the definition can be quite neat as long as you don't abuse it. To give you a simple example, consider the code below:

import React from 'react';

export default class App extends React.Component {
  constructor(props) {
    super(props);

    // This is a regular property outside of React's machinery.
    // If you don't need to trigger render() when it's changed,
    // this can work.
    this.privateProperty = 'private';

    // React specific state. Alter this through `this.setState`. That
    // will call `render()` eventually.
    this.state = {
      name: 'Class demo'
    };
  }
  render() {
    // Use the properties somehow.
    const privateProperty = this.privateProperty;
    const name = this.state.name
    const notes = this.props.notes;

    ...
  }
}

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the class based approach is the fact that it cuts down some complexity, especially when it comes to React lifecycle methods. It is important to note that class methods won't get by default, though! This is why the book relies on an experimental feature known as property initializers.

Classes and Modules#

As stated above, the ES6 modules allow export and import single and multiple objects, functions, or even classes. In the latter, you can use export default class to export an anonymous class or export multiple classes from the same module using export class className.

To export and import a single class you can use export default class to export an anonymous class and call it whatever you want at import time:

Note.jsx

export default class extends React.Component { ... };

Notes.jsx

import Note from './Note.jsx';
...

Or use export class className to export several named classes from a single module:

Components.jsx

export class Note extends React.Component { ... };

export class Notes extends React.Component { ... };

App.jsx

import {Note, Notes} from './Components.jsx';
...

It is recommended to keep your classes separated in different modules.

Class Properties and Property Initializers#

ES6 classes won't bind their methods by default. This can be problematic sometimes, as you still may want to be able to access the instance properties. Experimental features known as class properties and property initializers solve this problem. Without them, we might write something like this:

import React from 'react';

class App extends React.Component {
  constructor(props) {
    super(props);

    this.renderNote = this.renderNote.bind(this);
  }
  render() {
    // Use `renderNote` here somehow.
    ...

    return this.renderNote();
  }
  renderNote() {
    // Given renderNote was bound, we can access `this` as expected
    return <div>{this.props.value}</div>;
  }
}
App.propTypes = {
  value: React.PropTypes.string
};
App.defaultProps = {
  value: ''
};

export default App;

Using class properties and property initializers we could write something tidier instead:

import React from 'react';

export default class App extends React.Component {
  // propType definition through static class properties
  static propTypes = {
    value: React.PropTypes.string
  }
  static defaultProps = {
    value: ''
  }
  render() {
    // Use `renderNote` here somehow.
    ...

    return this.renderNote();
  }
  // Property initializer gets rid of the `bind`
  renderNote = () => {
    // Given renderNote was bound, we can access `this` as expected
    return <div>{this.props.note}</div>;
  }
}

Now that we've pushed the declaration to method level, the code reads better. I decided to use the feature in this book primarily for this reason. There is simply less to worry about.

Functions#

Traditionally, JavaScript has been very flexible with its functions. To give you a better idea, see the implementation of map below:

function map(cb, values) {
  var ret = [];
  var i, len;

  for(i = 0, len = values.length; i < len; i++) {
    ret.push(cb(values[i]));
  }

  return ret;
}

map(function(v) {
  return v * 2;
}, [34, 2, 5]); // yields [68, 4, 10]

In ES6 we could write it as follows:

function map(cb, values) {
  const ret = [];
  const i, len;

  for(i = 0, len = values.length; i < len; i++) {
    ret.push(cb(values[i]));
  }

  return ret;
}

map((v) => v * 2, [34, 2, 5]); // yields [68, 4, 10]

The implementation of map is more or less the same still. The interesting bit is at the way we call it. Especially that (v) => v * 2 part is intriguing. Rather than having to write function everywhere, the fat arrow syntax provides us a handy little shorthand. To give you further examples of usage, consider below:

// These are the same
v => v * 2;
(v) => v * 2; // I prefer this variant for short functions
(v) => { // Use this if you need multiple statements
  return v * 2;
}

// We can bind these to a variable
const double = (v) => v * 2;

console.log(double(2));

// If you want to use a shorthand and return an object,
// you need to wrap the object.
v => ({
  foo: 'bar'
});

Arrow Function Context#

Arrow functions are special in that they don't have this at all. Rather, this will point at the caller object scope. Consider the example below:

var obj = {
  context: function() {
    return this;
  },
  name: 'demo object 1'
};

var obj2 = {
  context: () => this,
  name: 'demo object 2'
};

console.log(obj.context()); // { context: [Function], name: 'demo object 1' }
console.log(obj2.context()); // {} in Node.js, Window in browser

As you can notice in the snippet above, the anonymous function has a this pointing to the context function in the obj object. In other words, it is binding the scope of the caller object obj to the context function.

This happens because this doesn't point to the object scopes that contains it, but the caller object scopes, as you can see it in the next snippet of code:

console.log(obj.context.call(obj2)); // { context: [Function], name: 'demo object 2' }

The arrow function in the object obj2 doesn't bind any object to its context, following the normal lexical scoping rules resolving the reference to the nearest outer scope. In this case it happens to be Node.js global object.

Even though the behavior might seem a little weird, it is actually useful. In the past, if you wanted to access parent context, you either needed to bind it or attach the parent context to a variable var that = this;. The introduction of the arrow function syntax has mitigated this problem.

Function Parameters#

Historically, dealing with function parameters has been somewhat limited. There are various hacks, such as values = values || [];, but they aren't particularly nice and they are prone to errors. For example, using || can cause problems with zeros. ES6 solves this problem by introducing default parameters. We can simply write function map(cb, values=[]) now.

There is more to that and the default values can even depend on each other. You can also pass an arbitrary amount of parameters through function map(cb, ...values). In this case, you would call the function through map(a => a * 2, 1, 2, 3, 4). The API might not be perfect for map, but it might make more sense in some other scenario.

There are also convenient means to extract values out of passed objects. This is highly useful with React component defined using the function syntax:

export default ({name}) => {
  // ES6 string interpolation. Note the back-ticks!
  return <div>{`Hello ${name}!`}</div>;
};

String Interpolation#

Earlier, dealing with strings was somewhat painful in JavaScript. Usually you just ended up using a syntax like 'Hello' + name + '!'. Overloading + for this purpose wasn't perhaps the smartest move as it can lead to strange behavior due to type coercion. For example, 0 + ' world would yield 0 world string as a result.

Besides being clearer, ES6 style string interpolation provides us multi-line strings. This is something the old syntax didn't support. Consider the examples below:

const hello = `Hello ${name}!`;
const multiline = `
multiple
lines of
awesomeness
`;

The back-tick syntax may take a while to get used to, but it's powerful and less prone to mistakes.

Destructuring#

That ... is related to the idea of destructuring. For example, const {lane, ...props} = this.props; would extract lane out of this.props while the rest of the object would go to props. This object based syntax is still experimental. ES6 specifies an official way to perform the same for arrays like this:

const [lane, ...rest] = ['foo', 'bar', 'baz'];

console.log(lane, rest); // 'foo', ['bar', 'baz']

The spread operator (...) is useful for concatenating. You see syntax like this in Redux examples often. They rely on experimental Object rest/spread syntax:

[...state, action.lane];

// This is equal to
state.concat([action.lane])

The same idea applies to React components:

...

render() {
  const {value, onEdit, ...props} = this.props;

  return <div {...props}>Spread demo</div>;
}

...
There are several gotchas related to the spread operator. Given it is shallow by default, it can lead to interesting behavior that might be unexpected. This is particularly true if you are trying to use it to clone an object using it. Josh Black discusses this problem in detail at his Medium post titled Gotchas in ES2015+ Spread.

Object Initializers#

In order to make it easier to work with objects, ES6 provides a variety of features just for this. To quote MDN, consider the examples below:

const a = 'demo';
const shorthand = {a}; // Same as {a: a}

// Shorthand methods
const o = {
  get property() {},
  set property(value) {},
  demo() {}
};

// Computed property names
const computed = {
  [a]: 'testing' // demo -> testing
};

const, let, var#

In JavaScript, variables are global by default. var binds them on function level. This is in contrast to many other languages that implement block level binding. ES6 introduces block level binding through let.

There's also support for const, which guarantees the reference to the variable itself cannot change. This doesn't mean, however, that you cannot modify the contents of the variable. So if you are pointing at an object, you are still allowed to tweak it!

I tend to favor to default to const whenever possible. If I need something mutable, let will do fine. It is hard to find any good use for var anymore as const and let cover the need in a more understandable manner. In fact, all of the book's code, apart from this appendix, relies on const. That just shows you how far you can get with it.

Decorators#

Given decorators are still an experimental feature and there's a lot to cover about them, there's an entire appendix dedicated to the topic. Read Understanding Decorators for more information.

Conclusion#

There's a lot more to ES6 and the upcoming specifications than this. If you want to understand the specification better, ES6 Katas is a good starting point for learning more. Just having a good idea of the basics will take you far.

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