Function overloading in Javascript – Best practices

Function overloading in Javascript – Best practices

What is the best way(s) to fake function overloading in Javascript?
I know it is not possible to overload functions in Javascript as in other languages.
If I needed a function with two uses foo(x) and foo(x,y,z) which is the best / preferred way:

Using different names in the first place
Using optional arguments like y = y || ‘default’
Using number of arguments
Checking types of arguments
Or how?

Solutions/Answers:

Solution 1:

The best way to do function overloading with parameters is not to check the argument length or the types; checking the types will just make your code slow and you have the fun of Arrays, nulls, Objects, etc.

What most developers do is tack on an object as the last argument to their methods. This object can hold anything.

function foo(a, b, opts) {
  // ...
  if (opts['test']) { } //if test param exists, do something.. 
}


foo(1, 2, {"method":"add"});
foo(3, 4, {"test":"equals", "bar":"tree"});

Then you can handle it anyway you want in your method. [Switch, if-else, etc.]

Solution 2:

I often do this:

C#:

public string CatStrings(string p1)                  {return p1;}
public string CatStrings(string p1, int p2)          {return p1+p2.ToString();}
public string CatStrings(string p1, int p2, bool p3) {return p1+p2.ToString()+p3.ToString();}

CatStrings("one");        // result = one
CatStrings("one",2);      // result = one2
CatStrings("one",2,true); // result = one2true

JavaScript Equivalent:

function CatStrings(p1, p2, p3)
{
  var s = p1;
  if(typeof p2 !== "undefined") {s += p2;}
  if(typeof p3 !== "undefined") {s += p3;}
  return s;
};

CatStrings("one");        // result = one
CatStrings("one",2);      // result = one2
CatStrings("one",2,true); // result = one2true

This particular example is actually more elegant in javascript than C#. Parameters which are not specified are ‘undefined’ in javascript, which evaluates to false in an if statement. However, the function definition does not convey the information that p2 and p3 are optional. If you need a lot of overloading, jQuery has decided to use an object as the parameter, for example, jQuery.ajax(options). I agree with them that this is the most powerful and clearly documentable approach to overloading, but I rarely need more than one or two quick optional parameters.

EDIT: changed IF test per Ian’s suggestion

Solution 3:

There is no real function overloading in JavaScript since it allows to pass any number of parameters of any type. You have to check inside the function how many arguments have been passed and what type they are.

Solution 4:

The correct answer is THERE IS NO OVERLOADING IN JAVASCRIPT.

Checking / Switching inside the function is not OVERLOADING.

The concept of overloading:
In some programming languages, function overloading or method overloading is the ability to create multiple methods of the same name with different implementations. Calls to an overloaded function will run a specific implementation of that function appropriate to the context of the call, allowing one function call to perform different tasks depending on context.

For example, doTask() and doTask(object O) are overloaded methods. To call the latter, an object must be passed as a parameter, whereas the former does not require a parameter, and is called with an empty parameter field. A common error would be to assign a default value to the object in the second method, which would result in an ambiguous call error, as the compiler wouldn’t know which of the two methods to use.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Function_overloading

All suggested implementations are great, but truth to be told, there is no native implementation for JavaScript.

Solution 5:

There are two ways you could approach this better:

  1. Pass a dictionary (associative array) if you want to leave a lot of flexibility

  2. Take an object as the argument and use prototype based inheritance to add flexibility.

Solution 6:

Here is an approach that allows real method overloading using parameter types, shown below:

Func(new Point());
Func(new Dimension());
Func(new Dimension(), new Point());
Func(0, 0, 0, 0);

Edit (2018): Since this was written in 2011, the speed of direct method calls has greatly increased while the speed of overloaded methods have not.

It is not an approach I would recommend, but it is a worthwhile thought exercise to think about how you can solve these types of problems.


Here is a benchmark of the different approaches – https://jsperf.com/function-overloading. It shows that function overloading (taking types into account) can be around 13 times slower in Google Chrome’s V8 as of 16.0(beta).

As well as passing an object (i.e. {x: 0, y: 0}), one can also take the C approach when appropriate, naming the methods accordingly. For example, Vector.AddVector(vector), Vector.AddIntegers(x, y, z, …) and Vector.AddArray(integerArray). You can look at C libraries, such as OpenGL for naming inspiration.

Edit: I’ve added a benchmark for passing an object and testing for the object using both 'param' in arg and arg.hasOwnProperty('param'), and function overloading is much faster than passing an object and checking for properties (in this benchmark at least).

From a design perspective, function overloading is only valid or logical if the overloaded parameters correspond to the same action. So it stands to reason that there ought to be an underlying method that is only concerned with specific details, otherwise that may indicate inappropriate design choices. So one could also resolve the use of function overloading by converting data to a respective object. Of course one must consider the scope of the problem as there’s no need in making elaborate designs if your intention is just to print a name, but for the design of frameworks and libraries such thought is justified.

My example comes from a Rectangle implementation – hence the mention of Dimension and Point. Perhaps Rectangle could add a GetRectangle() method to the Dimension and Point prototype, and then the function overloading issue is sorted. And what about primitives? Well, we have argument length, which is now a valid test since objects have a GetRectangle() method.

function Dimension() {}
function Point() {}

var Util = {};

Util.Redirect = function (args, func) {
  'use strict';
  var REDIRECT_ARGUMENT_COUNT = 2;

  if(arguments.length - REDIRECT_ARGUMENT_COUNT !== args.length) {
    return null;
  }

  for(var i = REDIRECT_ARGUMENT_COUNT; i < arguments.length; ++i) {
    var argsIndex = i-REDIRECT_ARGUMENT_COUNT;
    var currentArgument = args[argsIndex];
    var currentType = arguments[i];
    if(typeof(currentType) === 'object') {
      currentType = currentType.constructor;
    }
    if(typeof(currentType) === 'number') {
      currentType = 'number';
    }
    if(typeof(currentType) === 'string' && currentType === '') {
      currentType = 'string';
    }
    if(typeof(currentType) === 'function') {
      if(!(currentArgument instanceof currentType)) {
        return null;
      }
    } else {
      if(typeof(currentArgument) !== currentType) {
        return null;
      }
    } 
  }
  return [func.apply(this, args)];
}

function FuncPoint(point) {}
function FuncDimension(dimension) {}
function FuncDimensionPoint(dimension, point) {}
function FuncXYWidthHeight(x, y, width, height) { }

function Func() {
  Util.Redirect(arguments, FuncPoint, Point);
  Util.Redirect(arguments, FuncDimension, Dimension);
  Util.Redirect(arguments, FuncDimensionPoint, Dimension, Point);
  Util.Redirect(arguments, FuncXYWidthHeight, 0, 0, 0, 0);
}

Func(new Point());
Func(new Dimension());
Func(new Dimension(), new Point());
Func(0, 0, 0, 0);