simpleoo

A simple utility to make prototypal inheritance in Javascript a bit easier

npm install simpleoo
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simpleoo.js

A simple utility to make prototypal inheritance in Javascript a bit easier, but staying as close to Javascript's built-in inheritance model as possible.

Set Up

Web browser:

Use an AMD (asynchronous module definition) loader such as 'curl' (not to be confused with the command line network tool with the same name): https://github.com/cujojs/curl

Assuming that curl.js and simpleoo.js are both in the same directory as the HTML file:

<script src="curl.js"></script>
<script>
curl(['simpleoo'], function(simpleoo) {
    var extend = simpleoo.extend;
    //see below for usage...
});
</script>

To learn more about AMD, including the motivation for it, see: http://requirejs.org/docs/whyamd.html

node.js

It also works as a CommonJS module so you can use it as you would any other node.js module:

$ npm install simpleoo

Include the -g option if you want it to be available for all your node.js projects.

var simpleoo = require('simpleoo');
var extend = simpleoo.extend;
//see below for usage...

API

Note: It's highly recommended to read at least the first two examples before reading the API.

Here's the link:

API

Examples & Notes

Example 1 - Basic usage


var extend = simpleoo.extend;

function Animal() {}
Animal.prototype = {
    eat: function() { console.log('yum'); }
};

function Cat() {}
Cat.prototype = extend(Animal.prototype, {
   meow: function() { console.log('meow'); } 
});

var garfield = new Cat();
console.log(garfield instanceof Cat); //true
console.log(garfield instanceof Animal); //true

Example 2 - Alternative basic usage

Using this method the prototype.constructor property is always set to the constructor passed as the first argument. This gives more useful debugging output in the console, and may have other advantages as well.

The method signature is as follows: makePrototype(ctor, prototypeDefinition)

ctor stands for 'constructor'. prototypeDefinition is an object that could actually be used as a prototype in its own right; the usefulness of the makePrototype method is that it sets the constructor property appropriately for you, saving a step (see explanation).

Animal.prototype = makePrototype(Animal, {
    eat: function() { console.log('yum'); }
});

Cat.prototype = makePrototype( Cat, extend(Animal.prototype, {
    meow: function() { console.log('meow'); }
}) );

var garfield = new Cat();
console.log(garfield instanceof Cat); //true
console.log(garfield instanceof Animal); //true

console.log(new Animal());  //this will show 'Animal' in the console instead of just 'Object' like the above example
console.log(garfield);  //this will show 'Cat' in the console instead of just 'Object' like the above example

Example 3 - Calling a parent method

Parent/super methods should be called just the way they would in traditional Javascript.


var extend = simpleoo.extend;

function Pet(name) {
    this.name = name || null; //default to null if no name is provided
}
Pet.prototype = { /* ... */ };

function Cat() {
    Pet.apply(this, arguments);
}
Cat.prototype = extend(Pet.prototype, { /* ... */ });

var garfield = new Cat('Garfield');
console.log(garfield.name); // Garfield

Or if you want to explicity call the parameters of the parent method:


function Cat(name) {
    Pet.call(this, name);
}

This isn't as future-proof (in case the definition of the parent method changes) but can be useful for certain cases.

Tip

Internally, Object.create is used (or a fallback for older browsers) to create a new instance of the parent type to be used as the prototype. So in this example, the prototype would be set like this:

Cat.prototype = Object.create(Pet.prototype);

The first argument passed to extend() will always be used to set the prototype of the object returned.

Using Object.create is superior to Cat.prototype = new Pet(); because it avoids calling the Pet constructor, which helps you remember to call it yourself from the Cat constructor (if you don't call it, all of the properties that would have been created by calling new Pet() will be undefined instead).

Forgetting to call the parent constructor could otherwise result in some hard-to-find bugs due to unintended shared prototype properties. (See http://www.bennadel.com/blog/1566-Using-Super-Constructors-Is-Critical-In-Prototypal-Inheritance-In-Javascript.htm).

This also allows you to do things like require certain constructor parameters (throwing an error if they're absent).

Another tip

This tip is really more general info about Javascript than it is something specific to simpleOO, but it's important...

While the internal usage of Object.create helps to some degree with the issue of unintended shared properties discussed above, it doesn't prevent you from making the common mistake of declaring object properties on the prototype:

Animal.prototype.myArray = []; //Don't do this!

Instead, properties should be initialized in the constructor:

function Animal() {
    this.myArray = [];
}

Any properties set on the prototype should either be set to simple literals like strings, numbers, booleans, or null. To be safe, simply don't put properties on the prototype at all - only use it for methods.

For more details, see http://www.bennadel.com/blog/1566-Using-Super-Constructors-Is-Critical-In-Prototypal-Inheritance-In-Javascript.htm.

Example 4 - Mixins / multiple inheritance using the mixin function

The mixin function simply copies properties. Unlike the extend function, it operates directly on the first argument passed to it, rather than calling Object.create and returning a new object. This also means no new prototype is created.

To be clear, extend() will return a new object whereas mixin() returns the same object given (after adding new members to it of course, or overriding existing ones).

With both the extend function and the mixin function, later arguments override earlier arguments if there are members with the same name.


var extend = simpleoo.extend;

function Person() {
}

function Student() {}
Student.prototype = extend(Person, {
    study: function() { console.log('study'); }
});

function Employee() {}
Employee.prototype = extend(Person, {
    work: function() { console.log('work'); }
});

var fred = new Person();

//Fred is both a student and an employee

mixin(fred, Student.prototype, Employee.prototype);

//this is equivalent to:  fred = extend(fred, Student.prototype, Employee.prototype);
//except that it operates on fred directly rather than creating a new object

//only works in browsers supporting ECMAScript 5 or above
//for older browsers you can try the non-standard fred.__proto__
if (Object.getPrototypeOf) {
    log( Object.getPrototypeOf(fred) ); //Person
}

fred.study();
fred.work();

log(fred instanceof Person); //true

//This is false, because Javascript only has a single prototype property,
//and it was already set to Person.prototype  
log(fred instanceof Employee); //false

Consider the situation where Fred was already a student:

var fred = new Student();
mixin(fred, Employee.prototype);

Now we have a problem...

console.log( fred instanceof Student ); //true
console.log( fred instanceof Employee ); //false

In this type of situation it might be better to create the student and employee roles as simple trait objects, and have Fred just be an instance of Person:

var studentTrait = {
    study: function() {}
}

var employeeTrait = {
    work: function() {}
}

var fred = new Person();
mixin(fred, studentTrait, employeeTrait);

//or if he started out as just a student...
mixin(fred, studentTrait);

//and later became and employee...
mixin(fred, employeeTrait); 

//you could still have a quick way of creating students (or employees) if that's something you needed to do a lot:
function createStudent() {
    var student = new Person();
    return extend(student, studentTrait);
}

var michelle = createStudent();

Although mixins are certainly one of the cool features of Javascript that sets it apart from languages like Java or PHP, it's quite possible to overuse them or use them inappropriately. The following link considers mixins rather unfavorably, and so should be contrasted with other articles about mixins and their usefulness, but it offers some good food for thought on the subject. The author discusses mixins in Python but many of his ideas are arguably applicable to Javascript as well:

http://www.artima.com/weblogs/viewpost.jsp?thread=246341

Additional Examples

The above examples cover the core features of simpleoo.js, which, indeed, is a deliberately minimal and simple library. One thing it doesn't cover is the deepCopy() function, which is documented here.

There are also several other examples, including a follow-up on the above example that shows how to do mixins with properties in addition to methods.

These additional examples really have more to do with general OOP in Javascript than with simpleOO in particular (actually, that's what some of the above is about as well). However, since simpleOO stays so close to native Javascript, and basic desmonstration of the API only goes so far to show intended usage, you may find the additional examples to be quite helpful.

View Additional Examples

Explanation / Rationale for the makePrototype() function

makePrototype does only one thing: it assigns the constructor property on the prototype.

So, modifying the first example slightly for illustration purposes, if you run: var def = { eat: function() { console.log('yum'); } }; Animal.prototype = makePrototype(Animal, def);

the last line is equivalent to: Animal.prototype = def; def.constructor = Animal;

Although this may at first seem minimally helpful or nearly pointless, it actually significantly improves code consistency and avoids confusion.

Why? Because of the way the extend method works.

The extend method deals only with objects, and is not aware of any constructor functions that might be involved.

Therefore, it can't know for certain how the constructor property should be set on the object returned, so it always sets its constructor property to Object. It's important that extend does this rather than simply leaving the object alone, because otherwise the constructor property would always be the same as the constructor property of the first parameter passed to extend, e.g.:

Cat.prototype.constructor == Animal;  //true, not good!

Instead, the extend method behaves as follows:

Cat.prototype = extend(Animal.prototype, {...});
Cat.prototype.constructor == Object;  //true

This is better, but what we actually want is:

Cat.prototype.constructor == Cat

To accomplish this, we could try to set the constructor property ourselves, but would quickly encounter inconsistencies:

function Animal() {}
Animal.prototype.eat = function();
Animal.prototype.constructor == Animal; //true;

Animal.prototype = {
    constructor: Animal,
    eat: function()
};
Animal.prototype.constructor == Animal; //true;

function Cat() {}
Cat.prototype = extend(Animal, {
    constructor: Cat,
    meow: function() {}
});

Cat.prototype.constructor == Cat;  // FALSE!

Cat.prototype.constructor == Object; //true, because extend() always sets the constructor property to Object

Cat.prototype.constructor = Cat;
//We have now solved the problem, but now we now have to remember to use a different approach when extending an object
//versus creating a "class" with no parent.

In contrast, when we use makePrototype, we have one consistent approach that always works, and saves a bit of typing to boot:

Animal.prototype = makePrototype(Animal, {
    eat: function() {}
});

Cat.prototype = makePrototype( Cat, extend(Animal.prototype, {
    meow: function() {}
}) );

The name makePrototype is not quite accurate because its second parameter could actually be used as a prototype without modification (Javascript allows you to set any object as the prototype), but it conveys the purpose of the method pretty well, which is to return a prototype fully ready for use (assuming you care about having the constructor property set correctly in the first place, which is generally only useful for debugging, although it's potentially useful for other things as well (see http://www.2ality.com/2011/06/constructor-property.html).

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