An Introduction to Functional JavaScript — SitePoint

You’ve heard that JavaScript is a functional language, or at least that it’s capable of supporting functional programming. But what is functional programming? And for that matter, if you’re going to start comparing programming paradigms in general, how is a functional approach different from the JavaScript that you’ve always written?

Well, the good news is that JavaScript isn’t picky when it comes to paradigms. You can mix your imperative, object-oriented, prototypal, and functional code as you see fit, and still get the job done. But the bad news is what that means for your code. JavaScript can support a wide range of programming styles simultaneously within the same codebase, so it’s up to you to make the right choices for maintainability, readability, and performance.

Functional JavaScript doesn’t have to take over an entire project in order to add value. Learning a little about the functional approach can help guide some of the decisions you make as you build your projects, regardless of the way you prefer to structure your code. Learning some functional patterns and techniques can put you well on your way to writing cleaner and more elegant JavaScript regardless of your preferred approach.

Imperative JavaScript

JavaScript first gained popularity as an in-browser language, used primarily for adding simple hover and click effects to elements on a web page. For years, that’s most of what people knew about it, and that contributed to the bad reputation JavaScript earned early on.

As developers struggled to match the flexibility of JavaScript against the intricacy of the browser document object model (DOM), actual JavaScript code often looked something like this in the real world:

[code language=”js”]
var result;
function getText() {
var someText = prompt(“Give me something to capitalize”);
capWords(someText);
alert(result.join(” “));
};
function capWords(input) {
var counter;
var inputArray = input.split(” “);
var transformed = “”;
result = [];
for (counter = 0; counter < inputArray.length; counter++) {
transformed = [
inputArray[counter].charAt(0).toUpperCase(),
inputArray[counter].substring(1)
].join("");
result.push(transformed);
}
};
document.getElementById("main_button").onclick = getText;
[/code]

So many things are going on in this little snippet of code. Variables are being defined on the global scope. Values are being passed around and modified by functions. DOM methods are being mixed with native JavaScript. The function names are not very descriptive, and that’s due in part to the fact that the whole thing relies on a context that may or may not exist. But if you happened to run this in a browser inside an HTML document that defined a <button id="main_button">, you might get prompted for some text to work with, and then see the an alert with first letter of each of the words in that text capitalized.

Imperative code like this is written to be read and executed from top to bottom (give or take a little variable hoisting). But there are some improvements we could make to clean it up and make it more readable by taking advantage of JavaScript’s object-oriented nature.

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