Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Array extras and Objects

When Array extras landed in JavaScript 1.6 I had, probably together with other developers, one of those HOORRAYYY moment ...
What many libraries and frameworks out there still implement, is this sort of universal each method that supposes to be compatible with both Arrays and Objects.

A Bit Messed Up

What I have never liked that much about these each methods is that we have to know in advance in any case if the object we are passing is an Array, an ArrayLike one, or an Object.
In latter case, the callback passed as second argument will receive as second argument the key, and not the index, which simply means we cannot trust a generic callback unless this does not check per each iterated item the second argument type, or unless we don't care at all about the second argument.
In any case I always found this a bad design. If we think about events, as example, it's totally natural to expect a single argument as event object and then we can act accordingly.
This let us reuse callbacks for similar purpose and maintain a DRY code.

Need For An Object#forEach

All implementation of each, and as far as I know with the only exception of jQuery which makes things even more complicated since we generally have to completely ignore the first argument in this case, have some natural confusion inside the method.
If you take the underscore.js library, as example, you will note that there are two aliases for the each method, each itself and forEach, so it's more than clear for me that JS developers are clearly missing an Array#forEach like method in order to iterate with objects, rather than lists.
It must be also underlined that all these methods are somehow error prone: what if the object we are passing has a length property that does not necessary mean it points to the length of items stored via index as if it was an Array?
You may consider this an edge case, or an anti pattern, then you have to remember that functions in JavaScript are first class objects.
Probably all these methods will nicely fail indeed with functions, passed as objects, whenever you decide that your function can be used as object too.

var whyNot = function (obj) {
/* marvelous stuff here */
return this.doStuff(obj);
whyNot.calls = 0;
whyNot.doStuff = function (obj) {
/* kick-ass method */

// the unexpected but allowed
whyNot = whyNot.bind(whyNot);

whyNot.length; // 1
whyNot[0]; // undefined

By design, the length of any function in JavaScript is read-only and means nothing, in therms of Array iteration, it simply means the number of arguments the function defined during its declaration/definition as expression.


Whenever above example makes sense or not, I am pros patterns exploration and when a common method is not compatible with all scenarios, I simply think something went wrong or is missing in the language.
Thanks gosh JS is freaking flexible and with ES5 we can define some prototype without affecting for( in ) loops but hopefully simplifying our daily basis stuff.
Remember? With underscore or others we still have to know in advance if the passed object is an Array, an ArrayLike, or a generic object ... so what would stop us to simply chose accordingly?

// Array or ArrayLike
[], callbackForArrays);

// generic object to iterate
{}, callbackForObjects);

An explicit choice in above case is the fastest and most reliable way we have to do things properly. A DOM collection, as well as any array or arrayLike object will use the native forEach, but we can still recycle callbacks designed to deal with value, key and objects, rather than value, index, and this is the little experiment:

Object extras

The concept of each callback is exactly the same of original, native, Array callbacks, except things are based on native functions available in all ES5 compatible desktop and basically all mobile browsers, and easy to shim with all others too old to deal with JS 1.6 or higher.

Here a couple of examples:

var o = {a:"a", b:"b", c:""};

// know if all values are strings
o.every(function (value, key, object) {
return typeof value == "string";
}); // true

// filter by content, no empty strings
var filtered = o.filter(function (value, key, object) {
return value.length;
}); // {a:"a",b:"b"} // original object preserved

// loop through all values (plus checks)
o.forEach(function (value, key, object) {
object === o; // true
this === o; // true
if (key.charAt(0) != "_") {
}, o); // NOTE: all these methods respect Array extras signatures

// map a new object
var mapped = (value, key, object) {
return value + 1;
}); // {a:"a1",b:"b1"} // original object preserved

// know if a value contains "a"
o.some(function (value, key, object) {
return value === "a";
}); // true

The reason reduce and reduceRight are not in the list is simple: which one would be the key to preserve, the first of the list? There is no such thing as "predefined for/in order" in JavaScript plus these methods are more Array related so out of this experiment.

As Summary

Once minified and minzipped the gist weights about 296 bytes which is ridiculous size compared with any application we are dealing with on daily basis.
Specially forEach, but probably others too, may become extremely handy and ... of course, using the Object.keys method internally, this is gonna be compatible with Arrays too but hey, the whole point was to make a clear distinction ;)


The Misleading Signature

I don't know how many times I have spoken with jQuery developers, just because they are common, convinced that native Array#forEach was accepting the value as second argument.
I always considered inverted signatures, whatever API it is, bad for both performances, no possibility to fallback into some native method, and learning curve, where new comers learn than a generic each method must have the index as first argument.
Bear in mind whenever we loop we are most likely interested into the value of that index or key, so this value should be the first, and if you need the only one, argument passed through the procedure.
A completely ignored first argument is, once again and in my opinion, a bad design for an API: stuck without native power, teaching arguments order is not relevant.
Well, specially latter point is true if we have named arguments, but in JS nothing have been planned so far, and in ES6 the way we gonna name arguments is still under discussion.

Have fun with JS

No comments:

Post a Comment