Soham De Roy
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Understanding Higher Order Functions in JavaScript

Understanding Higher Order Functions in JavaScript

In this blog, we will go through an advanced topic in JavaScript called Higher Order Function. We will understand what they are using code snippets.

Soham De Roy
·Jun 21, 2022·

9 min read

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Table of contents

Introduction

In JavaScript, functions are treated as first-class citizens. We can treat functions as values and assign it to another variable, pass them as arguments to another function, or even return them from another function.

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This ability of functions to act as first-class functions is what powers higher order functions in javascript. Basically, a function which takes another function as an argument, or returns a function from it is known as a higher order function.

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Let's deep dive a bit to see both types of implementation viz.

  • Passing function as an argument to another function
  • Returning function from another function

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Passing function as an argument to another function

In this section, we will see how we can send function as an argument and ultimately how it helps us in writing cleaner code.

Consider the following code in which we want to create a function which accepts an array as an argument, filters out all the odd numbers from it and returns all the filtered numbers. The function will look something like this

const arr = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11];

function filterOdd(arr) {
  const filteredArr = [];
  for (let i = 0; i < arr.length; i++) {
    if (arr[i] % 2 !== 0) {
      filteredArr.push(arr[i]);
    }
  }
  return filteredArr;
}
console.log(filterOdd(arr));

// Output:
// [ 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 ]

The above function returns the filtered array [ 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 ] where we have all the odd numbers as expected.

Now let's say we also want to make a function that filters out and returns all the even numbers. We can very well go ahead and create the following function to achieve this

function filterEven(arr) {
  const filteredArr = [];
  for (let i = 0; i < arr.length; i++) {
    if (arr[i] % 2 == 0) {
      filteredArr.push(arr[i]);
    }
  }
  return filteredArr;
}
console.log(filterEven(arr));

// Output:
// [ 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 ]

Again as expected we will get the desired output of an array with all even numbers in it i.e. [ 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 ].

But notice that we are writing a lot of duplicate code in this approach. Both the above function does a lot of common things like accepting the original array, creating a new array to store the filtered array, looping through the whole main array and finally returning the filtered array. The only difference between both functions is the logic they use to filter out the original array. For the function filterOdd we use the logic of arr[i] % 2 !== 0 whereas in the filterEven function we use the logic arr[i] % 2 == 0 to filter out the original array.

This is where we can benefit from using higher order functions. The main intention is to create a function to do all the common stuff we did in the above two functions (as mentioned above) and pass the logic part separately as an argument to this function. Let's see how we can implement this.

Let's make the function which does all the common stuff we performed in filterOdd and filterEven functions. This will go something like this

function filterFunction(arr, callback) {
  const filteredArr = [];
  for (let i = 0; i < arr.length; i++) {
    callback(arr[i]) ? filteredArr.push(arr[i]) : null;
  }
  return filteredArr;
}

Ignore the callback parameter as of now. Notice how in the new filterFuntion we kept all the common steps i.e. accepting the original array, creating a new array to store the filtered array, looping through the whole main array and finally returning the filtered array that we were performing in filterOdd and filterEven functions.

Now coming to the callback parameter, this parameter basically accepts the logic which will be nothing but another function containing the filtering logic. For filtering the odd and even numbers respectively, these will be the logic functions we need to write.

// Function containing logic for filtering out odd numbers

function isOdd(x) {
  return x % 2 != 0;
}

// Function containing logic for filtering out even numbers

function isEven(x) {
  return x % 2 === 0;
}

That's it, we now just need to pass the main array, along with the logic function to our filterFunction like this

// For filtering out odd numbers

filterFunction(arr, isOdd)
// Output of console.log(filterFunction(arr, isOdd)):
// [ 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 ]

// For filtering out even numbers

filterFunction(arr, isEven)
// Output of console.log(filterFunction(arr, isEven)):
// [ 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 ]

This way we are passing logic functions like isOdd or isEven as arguments to another function filterFunction. We basically are abstracting out the main filtering logic out of the main function. We can now pass any other filtering logic as we like to filterFunction without needing to change it.

For eg., if we want to filter out a number greater than 5 then we just need to write the following filtering logic

function isGreaterThanFive(x) {
  return x > 5;
}

and pass it as an argument to filterFunction

filterFunction(arr, isGreaterThanFive)

// Output of console.log(filterFunction(arr, isGreaterThanFive)):
// [ 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 ]

We can also pass the logic function as an arrow function and get the same result i.e. passing (x) => x > 5) in place of isGreaterThanFive will give us the same result.

filterFunction(arr, (x) => x > 5)

// Output of console.log(filterFunction(arr, (x) => x > 5)):
// [ 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 ]

Creating polyfills

We know that javascript provides us some inbuilt higher order functions like map(), filter(), reduce() etc. Can we recreate our own implementation of these functions? Let's deep dive a little bit more,

We already created our filtering function in the above section. Let's create an array prototype of our filterFunction function so that we can use it with any array. This will look something like this

Array.prototype.filterFunction = function (callback) {
  const filteredArr = [];
  for (let i = 0; i < this.length; i++) {
    callback(this[i]) ? filteredArr.push(this[i]) : null;
  }
  return filteredArr;
};

In the above code, this refers to the array the prototype is called upon. So if we write something like

const arr = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
arr.filterFunction(callbackFn)

then this would refer to the array arr.

Now we can use the filterFunction just like we use the inbuilt filter() function in JS. We can write something like this

arr.filterFunction(isEven)

which is similar to calling the inbuilt filter() function

arr.filter(isEven)

Both the above function calls i.e. arr.filterFunction(isEven) and arr.filter(isEven) will give us same output i.e. [ 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 ].

Similarly, we can also pass an arrow function in our prototype implementation as we can pass in the inbuilt filter() function

// I
arr.filterFunction((x) => x % 2 != 0)
arr.filter((x) => x % 2 != 0)
// both gives same output on console.log: [ 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 ]

// II
arr.filterFunction((x) => x > 5)
arr.filter((x) => x > 5)
// both gives same output on console.log: [ 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 ]

In a way, we have written a polyfill for the inbuilt filter() function.

Function Chaining

We can also implement function chaining with our prototype implementation like we can with the inbuilt filter() function. Let's filter out first all the numbers greater than 5 and then from the result, filter out all the even numbers. It would look something like this

// Using our own filterFunction() prototype implementation
arr.filterFunction((x) => x > 5).filterFunction((x) => x % 2 === 0)

//Using inbuilt filter() implementation
arr.filter((x) => x > 5).filter((x) => x % 2 === 0)

// both gives same output on console.log: [ 6, 8, 10 ]

This is how we can make use of higher order functions in JS to write mode modular, clean and maintainable code.

Next, let's look at how we can return a function from another function.

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Returning function from another function

We can return a function from another function as we treat functions in javascript as values. Let's see this via an example

function calculate(operation) {
  switch (operation) {
    case "ADD":
      return function (a, b) {
        console.log(`${a} + ${b} = ${a + b}`);
      };
    case "SUBTRACT":
      return function (a, b) {
        console.log(`${a} - ${b} = ${a - b}`);
      };
  }
}

In the above code, when we invoke the function calculate with an argument, it switches on that argument and then finally returns an anonymous function. Hence if we call the function calculate() and store its result in a variable and console log it we will get the output as

const calculateAdd = calculate("ADD");
console.log(calculateAdd);

// Output: 
// [Function (anonymous)]

As we see that calculateAdd contains an anonymous function that calculate() function returned.

Now there are two ways to call this inner function as given below

Calling the returned function using a variable

In this method, we stored the return function in a variable as shown above and then invoke the variable to inturn invoke the inner function. Let's see it in code

const calculateAdd = calculate("ADD");
calculateAdd(2, 3);
// Output: 2 + 3 = 5


const calculateSubtract = calculate("SUBTRACT");
calculateSubtract(2, 3);
// Output: 2 - 3 = -1

We called the calculate() function and passed ADD as the argument, stored the returned anonymous function in calculateAdd variable, and invoked the inner returned function by calling calculateAdd() with the required arguments.

Calling the returned function using double parentheses

This is rather a very sophisticated way of calling the inner returned function. We use double parentheses ()() in this method. Let's see it in code

calculate("ADD")(2, 3);
// Output: 2 + 3 = 5

calculate("SUBTRACT")(2, 3);
// Output: 2 - 3 = -1

You can view this similar to our chaining example above, it's just that instead of chaining functions, we chain the arguments. The arguments in the first parentheses belong to the outer function and arguments in the second parentheses belong to the inner returned function. The calculate() method returns a function as explained earlier, and it is that returned function which is immediately called using the second parentheses. As I mentioned it's a very sophisticated way of calling function, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes ... well quite natural.

One of the places where we can see the use of this kind of double parentheses notation is in the connect method in redux state management library. You can read more about connect here.

Summary

In this article, we learned

  • Why functions are called first class citizens in JS
  • What are higher order functions
  • How to pass a function as an argument to another function.
  • How to create an Array prototype, function chaining, writing our own polyfill for the inbuilt filter() method
  • Return a function from another function and different ways to call the returned function

Wrapup

Thanks for reading! I really hope you found this article on higher order functions useful. Do consider hitting the like button and sharing it with your friends, I'd really appreciate that. Stay tuned for more amazing content! Peace out! 🖖

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