Understanding JavaScript variables and scopes

Angelos Chalaris · May 18, 2020 ·

JavaScript, Type, Variable

I have seen many developers - my younger self included - struggle with JavaScript's variables and scopes, even if they have some experience with coding and/or the language itself. While there are dozens of great articles on this subject, I found it somewhat difficult to memorize or understand the way these concepts work when I was starting out, so here's a short and simple breakdown that might help you as much as it helped me.

Variable definition

JavaScript provides two ways to define a variable (var and let) and one way to define a constant value (const).

let and const behave the same in terms of scope, both being block scoped (see below). On the other hand, var behaves differently by being function scoped (see below), meaning var declarations inside a block scope will also be available to the nearest outer function block.

It is generally preferred to use let and const to avoid confusion when it comes to scoping. However, it is important to note that var can be a useful JavaScript feature when used in the correct circumstances.

Visualization of JavaScript variable scope

Scope

When we talk about scope, we mean the visibility of one or more entities (e.g variables) to certain parts of our code. There are two types of scopes: global and local. Local scope can in turn be separated into block, function and other types of more specific scopes.

Global scope: Variables defined globally (i.e. not inside a block or function) are part of the global scope and can be accessed from anywhere in the code. When declared in the global scope, var, let and const behave the same in terms of scope.

Local scope: Variables defined inside a block or function can only be accessed from the block or function where they were defined, as well as nested local scopes. When declared inside a block scope, var will be available but undefined in outer scopes, while let and const will not exist in outer scopes. When declared inside a function scope, var, let and const will all be non-existent in outer scopes.

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