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Javascript Closures

Javascript Closures, IIFE

Today we are going to look at some interesting features of the javascript language. Javascript is a prototype-based language with 1st class functions derived from scheme (and self) languages with a C like syntax.

What is a prototype-based language? It is a language of object-oriented programming in which behaviour (think inheritance) is performed by cloning existing objects (i.e. prototypes). It is also an object creation design pattern that is describe in detail by the GoF (

First class functions are first class citizens of the programming language. This is really apparent in JS because since the language supports passing in functions as arguements to other functions and also returning them from functions. The names of functions also do not have special status and are treated as variables with a function type instead. It is also a really important concept that without 1 class functions, functional programming could not exist.

Anyways lets get onto closures!


What is a closure? Simply put, a closure is an inner function that has access to the outer (enclosing) funcitons variables called the scope chain. Remember that javascript is function scoped. Each closure has 3 scope chains: it own defined variables, the outer function's variables and the global scope.

The closure has access to all of its enclosing functions variables. This includes even the arguments of the outer function. There is one does not have access to the outer funtions arguments object however.

Here is an example of a closure:

function showName(firstName, lastName) {
  var nameIntro = "Your name is ";
  function makeFullName() {
      return nameIntro + firstName + " " + lastName;
  return makeFullName();

Closures are extremely important in JS. Without them Node.js asynchronous non-blocking architecture could exist. There are also used in about every pieve of javascript that you read. But they do have some side-effects, some of which are beneficial.

Closures' Rules and Side Effects

1. Closures have access to the outer function's variables even after the outer function returns

One of the most important and ticklish features with closures is that the inner function still has access to the outer function’s variables even after the outer function has returned. Yep, you read that correctly. When functions in JavaScript execute, they use the same scope chain that was in effect when they were created. This means that even after the outer function has returned, the inner function still has access to the outer function’s variables. Therefore, you can call the inner function later in your program. This example demonstrates:

function celebrityName (firstName) {
    var nameIntro = "This celebrity is ";
    // this inner function has access to the outer function's variables, including the parameter​
   function lastName (theLastName) {
        return nameIntro + firstName + " " + theLastName;
    return lastName;
​var mjName = celebrityName ("Michael"); // At this juncture, the celebrityName outer function has returned.​
​// The closure (lastName) is called here after the outer function has returned above​// Yet, the closure still has access to the outer function's variables and parameter​
mjName ("Jackson"); // This celebrity is Michael Jackson

2. Closures store references to the outer function’s variables

They do not store the actual value. 
Closures get more interesting when the value of the outer function’s variable changes before the closure is called. And this powerful feature can be harnessed in creative ways, such as this private variables example first demonstrated by Douglas Crockford:

function celebrityID () {
    var celebrityID = 999;
    // We are returning an object with some inner functions​
    // All the inner functions have access to the outer function's variables​
    return {
        getID: function ()  {
            // This inner function will return the UPDATED celebrityID variable​
            // It will return the current value of celebrityID, even after the changeTheID function changes it​
          return celebrityID;
        setID: function (theNewID)  {
            // This inner function will change the outer function's variable anytime​
            celebrityID = theNewID;
​var mjID = celebrityID (); // At this juncture, the celebrityID outer function has returned.​
mjID.getID(); // 999​
mjID.setID(567); // Changes the outer function's variable​
mjID.getID(); // 567: It returns the updated celebrityId variable

This is also how we could implement OOP and we will take about it later in this lecture.

3. Closures Gone Awry

Because closures have access to the updated values of the outer function’s variables, they can also lead to bugs when the outer function’s variable changes with a for loop. Thus:

// This example is explained in detail below (just after this code box).​function celebrityIDCreator (theCelebrities) {
    var i;
    var uniqueID = 100;
    for (i = 0; i < theCelebrities.length; i++) {
      theCelebrities[i]["id"] = function ()  {
        return uniqueID + i;

    return theCelebrities;
​var actionCelebs = [{name:"Stallone", id:0}, {name:"Cruise", id:0}, {name:"Willis", id:0}];
​var createIdForActionCelebs = celebrityIDCreator (actionCelebs);
​var stalloneID = createIdForActionCelebs [0];

console.log(; // 103

To fix this side effect (bug) in closures, you can use an Immediately Invoked Function Expression (IIFE)

<ul id="test">
<button id="go">Go</button>
$('#go').click(function() {
var $test = $('#test');
for(var i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
setTimeout(function(id) {
return function() {
$test.append("<li>Item " + id + "</li>");
}(i), 1000 * i);
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