Classes, constructors and inheritance in ES2015

Understanding prototype inheritance is one of the pain points for JavaScript developers.

I think one of the main reasons was that the language itself didn't provide a nice syntax that translated this programming concept in a straight-forward manner.

Let's remember the way we are writing constructor functions today.

// ES5

// constructor function
function Circle(r) {
this.radius = r
}

// prototyped method
Circle.prototype.getCircumference = function () {
return this.diameter * Math.PI
}

// computed property
Object.defineProperty(Circle.prototype, 'diameter', {
get: function () {
this.radius * 2
}
})

As you might have noticed there are three independent statements to define different instance properties.

On big codebases this fragmentation caused difficulties for new developers.

Populating the prototype object isn't a problem itself but it was hard to read in constructors with lots of methods, on the other hand the defineProperty alternative is proven to be really slow.

# class

To avoid all of this, the new standard defines a class reserved word which acts as a declaring block for prototyped methods and properties.

// ES2015

class Circle {
// constructor function
constructor(r) {
this.radius = r
}

// prototyped method
getCircumference() {
return this.diameter * Math.PI
}
}

Though it's not declared using parenthesis Circle is still a function, but now all the stuff that happens when a new instance is created must be moved to the constructor method inside the class block.

Any method you add inside that block, as getCircumference in our example, will be assigned to the prototype of the class.

# Getters and setters

Thanks to this new access to the prototype of the constructor and the get and set special words we don't necessarily have to use Object.defineProperty for computed properties.

// ES2015

class Circle {
// constructor function
constructor(r) {
this.radius = r
}

// prototyped method
getCircumference() {
return this.diameter * Math.PI
}

// computed property
get diameter() {
this.radius * 2
}
}

let sample = new Circle(5) // same as in ES5

sample.diameter // 10
sample.getCircumference() // 31.41592

With this new notation everything related to the Circl* class gets declared inside the same block which is way better to read and quicker understand.

# Inheritance

Generating a long prototype chain was literally a mess and if you got the chance to take part on a variety of projects you probably saw each of them had a clone or an inherit to make things look a little bit more organized.

This time, our new friends on the neighbourhood are extends and super words, they will make inheritance an easy thing to track through our code base.

// ES2015

class Rectangle {
constructor(height, width) {
this.height = height
this.width = width
}

get area() {
return this.height * this.width
}
}

Talking just a little bit about geometry and shapes, squares are rectangles which height equals its width. We can extend our already existing class and inherit useful methods and properties.

// ES2015

class Rectangle {
constructor(height, width) {
this.height = height
this.width = width
}

get area() {
return this.height * this.width
}
}

class Square extends Rectangle {
constructor(side) {
super(side, side)
}
}

let sample = new Square(3.5)

sample.height // 3.5
sample.width // 3.5
sample.area // 12.25

Using super we execute the constructor method from the class we are extending, avoiding duplicated code or helper functions.

It can also work as a namespace for calling inherited methods.

// ES2015

class Person {
constructor(name) {
this.name = name
}

salute() {
return 'Hi! My name is ' + this.name
}
}

class Doctor extends Person {
constructor(name) {
super(name)
}

salute() {
return super.salute() + ' and I am a Doctor!'
}
}

let greg = new Doctor('Gregory')

greg.salute() // 'Hi! My name is Gregory and I am a Doctor!'

All the code inside a class declaration is executed in strict mode, no way to get around that.

Also, hoisting is not possible as it was with function expressions, you are obliged to declare a class before trying to create an instance of it.

In my opinion, all these small things contribute to cleaner codebases.

# Wrap-up

JavaScript is becoming a more mature language not only adding more features but also solving syntax complexity from its previous version and forcing strict coding in sensible places.

This encourages developers to use more native solutions rather than helper functions that can cause fragmentation of approaches between different projects.