Refresher on 'this'

Inside a JavaScript class we'll be using this keyword to refer to the instance of the class. E.g., consider this case:

class Toppings {

  formatToppings() { /* implementation details */ }

  list() {
    return this.formatToppings(this.toppings);

Here this refers to an instance of the Toppings class. As long as the list method is called using dot notation, like myToppings.list(), then this.formatToppings(this.toppings) invokes the formatToppings() method defined on the instance of the class. This will also ensure that inside formatToppings, this refers to the same instance.

However, this can also refer to other things. There are two basic cases that you should remember.

  1. Method invocation:


    Here, this used inside someMethod will refer to someObject, which is usually what you want.

  2. Function invocation:


    Here, this used inside someFunction can refer to different things depending on whether we are in "strict" mode or not. Without using the "strict" mode, this refers to the context in which someFunction() was called. This is rarely what you want, and it can be confusing when this is not what you were expecting, because of where the function was called from. In "strict" mode, this would be undefined, which is slightly less confusing.

View Example

One of the implications is that you cannot easily detach a method from its object. Consider this example:

  var log = console.log;

In many browsers this will give you an error. That's because log expects this to refer to console, but the reference was lost when the function was detached from console.

This can be fixed by setting this explicitly. One way to do this is by using bind() method, which allows you to specify the value to use for this inside the bound function.

  var log = console.log.bind(console);

You can also achieve the same using and Function.apply, but we won't discuss this here.

Another instance where this can be confusing is with respect to anonymous functions, or functions declared within other functions. Consider the following:

class ServerRequest {
   notify() {
   fetch() {
     getFromServer(function callback(err, data) {
        this.notify(); // this is not going to work

In the above case this will not point to the expected object: in "strict" mode it will be undefined. This leads to another ES6 feature - arrow functions, which will be covered next.

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