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Information Hiding in JavaScript

Even though it’s tricky at first, if you are used to classical object-oriented languages, it’s easy (and highly encouraged) to perform information hiding in JavaScript. There are more than a few methods by which you can hide information within privileged scopes. Closures, properties (getters and setters), and factories, are all ways in which you can improve your designs by hiding away the complexity behind the public interfaces your code exposes.

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Nicolás Bevacqua
| 9 minute read | 0

Information hiding results in cleaner, conciser code, that’s easier to read, and therefore, more maintainable (and easily testable).

Closures

JavaScript, being the stupendous functional language that it is, closures let us write clean code without cluttering up the dreaded global object with properties and functions that have no business being there. A better approach is to self-contain the knowledge required by a particular functionality. This can be accomplished by wrapping your code in a function:

function(){
	// your code goes here
}

That’s a closure right there, but this closure is just a function, you want it to self-execute. You can accomplish this by using any of the following operators: -, +, !.

!function(){
	// your code goes here
}();

I like prepending ! to my self-executing functions, some prefer wrapping it in parenthesis instead. It’s just a matter of personal preference, but try and stick to a convention. The most common pattern, though, is wrapping the function in parenthesis. Like this:

(function(){
	// your code goes here
})();

Note that none of this will be exposed to the global namespace unless you explicitly do so, the pattern for that is usually to add a window argument to your closure (or an argument with the value of your library namespace), and expose your properties there.

!function(window){
	window.myObject = {
		foo: 'bar'
	};
}(window);

Now that you have a closure, anything you define within your closure will be private to that closure’s scope. Due to the cascading nature of closures, every closure has access to a superset of it’s outer closure’s scope, meaning it has access to the entire outer closure, and to whatever gets defined within itself.

!function(window){
	var builder = 'Built with amazing closure awesomeness',
		myCar;
			
	function decorate(car){
		car.builder = builder;
		return car;
	}
	
	!function(){
		// well, not that much of a secret
		var secret = 'They were pioneers!';
		
		myCar = decorate({
			make: 'Ford',
			model: 'T',
			getSecret: function(){
				return secret;
			}
		});
	}();
	
	window.car = myCar;
}(window);

Since the inner scope of getSecret is a superset of the outer scope, it can access secret.

There are two exceptions to the cascading rule of scoping, and those are this and arguments. Those two variables are re-defined at every scope. A common work-around is to keep a reference around for future use:

String.prototype.isInArray = function(array){
	var self = this.toString();

	return array.some(function(value){
		return value === self;
	});
}

var objects = ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e'];
console.log('a'.isInArray(objects));
console.log('f'.isInArray(objects));

What do you mean, properties?

Bloggers seldom mention JavaScript properties (getters and setters), to the point where they’ve barely seen the light of day, and have not even remotely been adopted in widespread use.

Properties are subtle yet powerful tools, in particular when trying to do AOP. Sometimes, it makes more sense to use a property rather than a field, or a function. The beauty of properties is that you can have behavior in your fields. Additionally, some libraries require you to use fields instead of functions, this helps you circumvent that kind of requirements.

Allow me to demonstrate with a mini-object:

!function(window){
	var workers = [],
		factor = 1;
	
	window.timecard = {
		checkin: function(username){
			if (workers.indexOf(username) === -1){
				console.log(username + ' checked in!');
				workers.push(username);
			}
		},
		checkout: function(username){
			var i = workers.indexOf(username);
			if (i !== -1){
				console.log(username + ' checked out!');
				workers.splice(i, 1);
			}
		},
		get workers() {
			return workers.join(' and ');
		},
		get productivity() {
			return workers.length * factor;
		},
		get productivityFactor(){
			return factor;
		},
		set productivityFactor(value){
			console.log('Productivity ' + (value > factor ? 'increased!' : 'decreased.'));
			factor = value;
		}
	};
}(window);

function p(test){ // print
	console.log(test);
}

timecard.checkin('Joe');
timecard.checkin('Steven');
p(timecard.workers === 'Joe and Steven'); // true
p(timecard.productivity); // 2
|timecard.productivity = 3; // productivity is read-only
p(timecard.productivity === 2); // thus, setting it is a no-op
timecard.productivityFactor = 4;
timecard.checkout('Joe');
p(timecard.productivity); // 4. The getter function is evaluated every time.

Note that IE versions up to IE 8 don’t support get and set operators. To work around that, you’ll have to use the __defineGetter__ and __defineSetter__ methods that can be found in Object.prototype. These are a bit more flexible because it’s impossible to add a getter or setter to an existing object without using one of them.

var o = {
	name: 'Steven',
	surname: 'Sundae'
};

o.__defineGetter__('displayName', function(){
	return this.name + ' ' + this.surname;
});

Functional Factories

Closely related to currying, are the functional factories. These factories are very powerful to the JavaScript hacker. They will allow you to reuse very similar pieces of functionality in cases where it would be otherwise very hard to do so.

Suppose you are writing your Node.JS application, and you have a series of router methods, all of which take req, res as parameters. All that changes in each of those, is the function you call in your application logic, but there’s a few more tasks you have to do, such as sending a response, that are common to every request. Lets assume your module exports an object hash keyed with routes, whose values are the middleware for each of those routes.

var list = [1,2,3,4];

function respond(res,value){
	var json = JSON.stringify(value);
	
	res.writeHead(200, { 'Content-Type': 'application/json' });
	res.end(json);
}

module.exports = {
	list: function(req,res){
		respond(res,list);
	},
	add: function(req,res){
		list.push(req.body.item);
		respond(res,list);
	},
	remove: function(req,res){
		list.splice(req.body.index, 1);
		respond(res,list);
	}
};

Generally speaking, when you see something along the lines of:

function(arg1,arg2,arg3,arg4){
	do(arg1,arg2,arg3,arg4);
}

That code can be refactored to be a bit more DRY.

function handle(before){
	var noop = function(){};
	
	return function(req, res){
		(before || noop)(req, res);
		respond(res, list);
	};
}

module.exports = {
	list: handle(),
	add: handle(function(req){
		list.push(req.body.item);
	}),
	remove: handle(function(req){
		list.splice(req.body.index, 1);
	})
};

Granted, this style is a tad more verbose, especially if unwarranted, but if your handle function did more stuff, such as request validation, logging, or trigger web socket events, this would be a nice way to abstract those away from the specifics of each of those methods, that little have to do with validation itself.

Using such factories also allows to abstract away complexity, which is always a very valuable thing to do when designing applications.

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