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How To Define Functions in JavaScript

PostedOctober 9, 2017 2k views JavaScript Development

Introduction

A function is a block of code that performs an action or returns a value. Functions are custom code defined by programmers that are reusable, and can therefore make your programs more modular and efficient.

In this tutorial, we will learn several ways to define a function, call a function, and use function parameters in JavaScript.

Defining a Function

Functions are defined, or declared, with the function keyword. Below is the syntax for a function in JavaScript.

function nameOfFunction() {
    // Code to be executed
}

The declaration begins with the function keyword, followed by the name of the function. Function names follow the same rules as variables — they can contain letters, numbers, underscores and dollar signs, and are frequently written in camel case. The name is followed by a set of parentheses, which can be used for optional parameters. The code of the function is contained in curly brackets, just like a for statement or an if statement.

In our first example, we'll make a function declaration to print a greeting statement to the console.

// Initialize greeting function
function greet() {
    console.log("Hello, World!");
}

Here we have the code to print Hello, World! to the console contained inside the greet() function. However, nothing will happen and no code will execute until we invoke, or call the function. You can invoke a function by writing the name of the function followed by the parentheses.

// Invoke the function
greet();

Now we will put those together, defining our function and invoking it.

greet.js
// Initialize greeting function
function greet() {
    console.log("Hello, World!");
}

// Invoke the function
greet();

With the call for greet();, the function will run and we will receive the Hello, World! as the program's output.

Output
Hello, World!

Now we have our greet() code contained in a function, and can reuse it as many times as we want.

Using parameters, we can make the code more dynamic.

Function Parameters

In our greet.js file, we created a basic function that prints Hello, World to the console. Using parameters, we can add additional functionality that will make the code more flexible. Parameters are input that get passed into functions as names and behave as local variables.

When a user logs in to an application, we may want the program to greet them by name, instead of just saying, "Hello, World!".

We'll add a parameter into our function, called name, to represent the name of the person being greeted.

// Initialize custom greeting function
function greet(name) {
    console.log(`Hello, ${name}!`);
}

The name of the function is greet, and now we have a single parameter inside the parentheses. The name of the parameter follows the same rules as naming a variable. Inside of the function, instead of a static string consisting of Hello, World, we have a template literal string containing our parameter, which is now behaving as a local variable.

You'll notice we haven't defined our name parameter anywhere. We assign it a value when we invoke our function. Assuming our user is named Sammy, we'll call the function and place the username as the argument. The argument is the actual value that gets passed into the function, in this case it is the string "Sammy".

// Invoke greet function with "Sammy" as the argument
greet("Sammy");

The value of "Sammy" is being passed into the function through the name parameter. Now every time name is used throughout the function, it will represent the "Sammy" value. Here is the whole code.

greetSammy.js
// Initialize custom greeting function
function greet(name) {
    console.log(`Hello, ${name}!`);
}

// Invoke greet function with "Sammy" as the argument
greet("Sammy");

When we run the program above, we'll receive the following output.

Output
Hello, Sammy!

Now we have an example of how a function can be reused. In a real world example, the function would pull the username from a database instead of directly supplying the name as an argument value.

In addition to parameters, variables can be declared inside of functions. These variables are known as local variables, and will only exist inside the scope of their own function block. Variable scope determines variables' accessibility; variables that are defined inside of a function are not accessible from outside of the function, but they can be used as many times as their function is used throughout a program.

Returning Values

More than one parameter can be used in a function. We can pass multiple values into a function and return a value. We will create a function to find the sum of two values, represented by x and y.

sum.js
// Initialize add function
function add(x, y) {
    return x + y;
}

// Invoke function to find the sum
add(9, 7);

In the program above, we defined a function with the parameters x and y, and then passed the values of 9 and 7 to the function. When we run the program, we'll receive the sum of those numbers as the output.

Output
16

In this case, with 9 and 7 passed to the sum() function, the program returned 16.

When the return keyword is used, the function ceases to execute and the value of the expression is returned. Although in this case the browser will display the value in the console, it is not the same as using console.log() to print to the console. Invoking the function will output the value exactly where the function was invoked. This value can be used immediately or placed into a variable.

Function Expressions

In the last section, we used a function declaration to get the sum of two numbers and return that value. We can also create a function expression by assigning a function to a variable.

Using our same add function example, we can directly apply the returned value to a variable, in this case sum.

functionExpression.js
// Assign add function to sum constant
const sum = function add(x, y) {
    return x + y;
}

// Invoke function to find the sum
sum(20, 5);
Output
25

Now the sum constant is a function. We can make this expression more concise by turning it into an anonymous function, which is an unnamed function. Currently, our function has the name add, but with function expressions it is not necessary to name the function and the name is usually omitted.

anonymousExpression.js
// Assign function to sum constant
const sum = function(x, y) {
    return x + y;
}

// Invoke function to find the sum
sum(100, 3);
Output
103

In this example, we've removed the name of the function, which was add, and turned it into an anonymous function. A named function expression could be used to aid in debugging, but it is usually omitted.

Arrow Functions

So far, we have gone through how to define functions using the function keyword. However, there is a newer, more concise method of defining a function known as arrow function expressions as of ECMAScript 6. Arrow functions, as they are commonly known, are represented by an equals sign followed by a greater than sign: =>.

Arrow functions are always anonymous functions and a type of function expression. We can create a basic example to find the product of two numbers.

arrowFunction.js
// Define multiply function
const multiply = (x, y) => {
    return x * y;
}

// Invoke function to find product
multiply(30, 4);
Output
120

Instead of writing out the keyword function, we use the => arrow to indicate a function. Otherwise, it works similarly to a regular function expression, with some advanced differences which you can read about under Arrow Functions on the Mozilla Developer Network.

In the case of only one parameter, the parentheses can be excluded. In this example, we're squaring x, which only requires one number to be passed as an argument. The parentheses have been omitted.

// Define square function
const square = x => {
    return x * x;
}

// Invoke function to find product
square(8);
Output
64

Note: In the case of no parameters, an empty set of parentheses () is required in the arrow functions.

With these particular examples that only consist of a return statement, arrow functions allow the syntax to be reduced even further. If the function is only a single line return, both the curly brackets and the return statement can be omitted, as seen in the example below.

// Define square function
const square = x => x * x;

// Invoke function to find product
square(10);
Output
100

All three of these types of syntax result in the same output. It is generally a matter of preference or company coding standards to decide how you will structure your own functions.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, we covered function declarations and function expressions, returning values from functions, assigning function values to variables, and ES6 arrow functions.

Functions are blocks of code that return a value or perform an action, making programs scalable and modular.

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