How does the “this” keyword work?

How does the “this” keyword work?

I have noticed that there doesn’t appear to be a clear explanation of what the this keyword is and how it is correctly (and incorrectly) used in JavaScript on the Stack Overflow site.
I have witnessed some very strange behaviour with it and have failed to understand why it has occurred.
How does this work and when should it be used?


Solution 1:

I recommend reading Mike West‘s article Scope in JavaScript (mirror) first. It is an excellent, friendly introduction to the concepts of this and scope chains in JavaScript.

Once you start getting used to this, the rules are actually pretty simple. The ECMAScript 5.1 Standard defines this:

§11.1.1 The this keyword

The this keyword evaluates to the value of the ThisBinding of the current execution context

ThisBinding is something that the JavaScript interpreter maintains as it evaluates JavaScript code, like a special CPU register which holds a reference to an object. The interpreter updates the ThisBinding whenever establishing an execution context in one of only three different cases:

1. Initial global execution context

This is the case for JavaScript code that is evaluated at the top-level, e.g. when directly inside a <script>:

  alert("I'm evaluated in the initial global execution context!");

  setTimeout(function () {
      alert("I'm NOT evaluated in the initial global execution context.");
  }, 1);

When evaluating code in the initial global execution context, ThisBinding is set to the global object, window (§

Entering eval code

  • …by a direct call to eval()
    ThisBinding is left unchanged; it is the same value as the ThisBinding of the calling execution context (§10.4.2 (2)(a)).

  • …if not by a direct call to eval()
    ThisBinding is set to the global object as if executing in the initial global execution context (§10.4.2 (1)).

§ defines what a direct call to eval() is. Basically, eval(...) is a direct call whereas something like (0, eval)(...) or var indirectEval = eval; indirectEval(...); is an indirect call to eval(). See chuckj’s answer to (1, eval)(‘this’) vs eval(‘this’) in JavaScript? and Dmitry Soshnikov’s ECMA-262-5 in detail. Chapter 2. Strict Mode. for when you might use an indirect eval() call.

Entering function code

This occurs when calling a function. If a function is called on an object, such as in obj.myMethod() or the equivalent obj["myMethod"](), then ThisBinding is set to the object (obj in the example; §13.2.1). In most other cases, ThisBinding is set to the global object (§10.4.3).

The reason for writing “in most other cases” is because there are eight ECMAScript 5 built-in functions that allow ThisBinding to be specified in the arguments list. These special functions take a so-called thisArg which becomes the ThisBinding when calling the function (§10.4.3).

These special built-in functions are:

  • Function.prototype.apply( thisArg, argArray )
  • thisArg [ , arg1 [ , arg2, ... ] ] )
  • Function.prototype.bind( thisArg [ , arg1 [ , arg2, ... ] ] )
  • Array.prototype.every( callbackfn [ , thisArg ] )
  • Array.prototype.some( callbackfn [ , thisArg ] )
  • Array.prototype.forEach( callbackfn [ , thisArg ] )
  • callbackfn [ , thisArg ] )
  • Array.prototype.filter( callbackfn [ , thisArg ] )

In the case of the Function.prototype functions, they are called on a function object, but rather than setting ThisBinding to the function object, ThisBinding is set to the thisArg.

In the case of the Array.prototype functions, the given callbackfn is called in an execution context where ThisBinding is set to thisArg if supplied; otherwise, to the global object.

Those are the rules for plain JavaScript. When you begin using JavaScript libraries (e.g. jQuery), you may find that certain library functions manipulate the value of this. The developers of those JavaScript libraries do this because it tends to support the most common use cases, and users of the library typically find this behavior to be more convenient. When passing callback functions referencing this to library functions, you should refer to the documentation for any guarantees about what the value of this is when the function is called.

If you are wondering how a JavaScript library manipulates the value of this, the library is simply using one of the built-in JavaScript functions accepting a thisArg. You, too, can write your own function taking a callback function and thisArg:

function doWork(callbackfn, thisArg) {
    if (callbackfn != null);

There’s a special case I didn’t yet mention. When constructing a new object via the new operator, the JavaScript interpreter creates a new, empty object, sets some internal properties, and then calls the constructor function on the new object. Thus, when a function is called in a constructor context, the value of this is the new object that the interpreter created:

function MyType() {
    this.someData = "a string";

var instance = new MyType();
// Kind of like the following, but there are more steps involved:
// var instance = {};

Arrow functions

Arrow functions (introduced in ECMA6) alter the scope of this. See the existing canonical question, Arrow function vs function declaration / expressions: Are they equivalent / exchangeable? for more information. But in short:

Arrow functions don’t have their own this…. binding.
Instead, those identifiers are resolved in the lexical scope like any
other variable. That means that inside an arrow function, this…refer(s) to the values of this in the environment
the arrow function is defined in.

Just for fun, test your understanding with some examples

To reveal the answers, mouse over the light yellow boxes.

  1. What is the value of this at the marked line? Why?

    window — The marked line is evaluated in the initial global execution context.

    if (true) {
        // What is `this` here?
  2. What is the value of this at the marked line when obj.staticFunction() is executed? Why?

    obj — When calling a function on an object, ThisBinding is set to the object.

    var obj = {
        someData: "a string"
    function myFun() {
        return this // What is `this` here?
    obj.staticFunction = myFun;
    console.log("this is window:", obj.staticFunction() == window);
    console.log("this is obj:", obj.staticFunction() == obj);
  3. What is the value of this at the marked line? Why?


    In this example, the JavaScript interpreter enters function code, but because myFun/obj.myMethod is not called on an object, ThisBinding is set to window.

    This is different from Python, in which accessing a method (obj.myMethod) creates a bound method object.

    var obj = {
        myMethod: function () {
            return this; // What is `this` here?
    var myFun = obj.myMethod;
    console.log("this is window:", myFun() == window);
    console.log("this is obj:", myFun() == obj);
  4. What is the value of this at the marked line? Why?


    This one was tricky. When evaluating the eval code, this is obj. However, in the eval code, myFun is not called on an object, so ThisBinding is set to window for the call.

    function myFun() {
        return this; // What is `this` here?
    var obj = {
        myMethod: function () {
  5. What is the value of this at the marked line? Why?


    The line; is invoking the special built-in function, which accepts thisArg as the first argument.

    function myFun() {
        return this; // What is `this` here?
    var obj = {
        someData: "a string"
    console.log("this is window:", == window);
    console.log("this is obj:", == obj);

Solution 2:

The this keyword behaves differently in JavaScript compared to other language. In Object Oriented languages, the this keyword refers to the current instance of the class. In JavaScript the value of this is determined mostly by the invocation context of function (context.function()) and where it is called.

1. When used in global context

When you use this in global context, it is bound to global object (window in browser)

document.write(this);  //[object Window]

When you use this inside a function defined in the global context, this is still bound to global object since the function is actually made a method of global context.

function f1()
   return this;
document.write(f1());  //[object Window]

Above f1 is made a method of global object. Thus we can also call it on window object as follows:

function f()
    return this;

document.write(window.f()); //[object Window]

2. When used inside object method

When you use this keyword inside an object method, this is bound to the “immediate” enclosing object.

var obj = {
    name: "obj",
    f: function () {
        return this + ":" +;
document.write(obj.f());  //[object Object]:obj

Above I have put the word immediate in double quotes. It is to make the point that if you nest the object inside another object, then this is bound to the immediate parent.

var obj = {
    name: "obj1",
    nestedobj: {
        f: function () {
            return this + ":" +;

document.write(obj.nestedobj.f()); //[object Object]:nestedobj

Even if you add function explicitly to the object as a method, it still follows above rules, that is this still points to the immediate parent object.

var obj1 = {
    name: "obj1",

function returnName() {
    return this + ":" +;

obj1.f = returnName; //add method to object
document.write(obj1.f()); //[object Object]:obj1

3. When invoking context-less function

When you use this inside function that is invoked without any context (i.e. not on any object), it is bound to the global object (window in browser)(even if the function is defined inside the object) .

var context = "global";

var obj = {  
    context: "object",
    method: function () {                  
        function f() {
            var context = "function";
            return this + ":" +this.context; 
        return f(); //invoked without context

document.write(obj.method()); //[object Window]:global 

Trying it all with functions

We can try above points with functions too. However there are some differences.

  • Above we added members to objects using object literal notation. We can add members to functions by using this. to specify them.
  • Object literal notation creates an instance of object which we can use immediately. With function we may need to first create its instance using new operator.
  • Also in an object literal approach, we can explicitly add members to already defined object using dot operator. This gets added to the specific instance only. However I have added variable to the function prototype so that it gets reflected in all instances of the function.

Below I tried out all the things that we did with Object and this above, but by first creating function instead of directly writing an object.

  1. When you add variable to the function using this keyword, it 
     gets added to the function prototype, thus allowing all function 
     instances to have their own copy of the variables added.
function functionDef()
{ = "ObjDefinition";
    this.getName = function(){                
        return this+":";

obj1 = new functionDef();
document.write(obj1.getName() + "<br />"); //[object Object]:ObjDefinition   

   2. Members explicitly added to the function protorype also behave 
      as above: all function instances have their own copy of the 
      variable added.
functionDef.prototype.version = 1;
functionDef.prototype.getVersion = function(){
    return "v"+this.version; //see how this.version refers to the
                             //version variable added through 
document.write(obj1.getVersion() + "<br />"); //v1

   3. Illustrating that the function variables added by both above 
      ways have their own copies across function instances
functionDef.prototype.incrementVersion = function(){
    this.version = this.version + 1;
var obj2 = new functionDef();
document.write(obj2.getVersion() + "<br />"); //v1

obj2.incrementVersion();      //incrementing version in obj2
                              //does not affect obj1 version

document.write(obj2.getVersion() + "<br />"); //v2
document.write(obj1.getVersion() + "<br />"); //v1

   4. `this` keyword refers to the immediate parent object. If you 
       nest the object through function prototype, then `this` inside 
       object refers to the nested object not the function instance
functionDef.prototype.nestedObj = { name: 'nestedObj', 
                                    getName1 : function(){
                                        return this+":";

document.write(obj2.nestedObj.getName1() + "<br />"); //[object Object]:nestedObj

   5. If the method is on an object's prototype chain, `this` refers 
      to the object the method was called on, as if the method was on 
      the object.
var ProtoObj = { fun: function () { return this.a } };
var obj3 = Object.create(ProtoObj); //creating an object setting ProtoObj
                                    //as its prototype
obj3.a = 999;                       //adding instance member to obj3
document.write("<br />");//999
                                    //calling makes 
                                    // to access obj3.a as 
                                    //if fun() is defined on obj3

4. When used inside constructor function.

When the function is used as a constructor (that is when it is called with new keyword), this inside function body points to the new object being constructed.

var myname = "global context";
function SimpleFun()
    this.myname = "simple function";

var obj1 = new SimpleFun(); //adds myname to obj1
//1. `new` causes `this` inside the SimpleFun() to point to the
//   object being constructed thus adding any member
//   created inside SimipleFun() using this.membername to the
//   object being constructed
//2. And by default `new` makes function to return newly 
//   constructed object if no explicit return value is specified

document.write(obj1.myname); //simple function

5. When used inside function defined on prototype chain

If the method is on an object’s prototype chain, this inside such method refers to the object the method was called on, as if the method is defined on the object.

var ProtoObj = {
    fun: function () {
        return this.a;
//Object.create() creates object with ProtoObj as its
//prototype and assigns it to obj3, thus making fun() 
//to be the method on its prototype chain

var obj3 = Object.create(ProtoObj);
obj3.a = 999;
document.write(; //999

//Notice that fun() is defined on obj3's prototype but 
//`this.a` inside fun() retrieves obj3.a   

6. Inside call(), apply() and bind() functions

  • All these methods are defined on Function.prototype.
  • These methods allows to write a function once and invoke it in different context. In other words, they allows to specify the value of this which will be used while the function is being executed. They also take any parameters to be passed to the original function when it is invoked.
  • fun.apply(obj1 [, argsArray]) Sets obj1 as the value of this inside fun() and calls fun() passing elements of argsArray as its arguments.
  • [, arg1 [, arg2 [,arg3 [, ...]]]]) – Sets obj1 as the value of this inside fun() and calls fun() passing arg1, arg2, arg3, ... as its arguments.
  • fun.bind(obj1 [, arg1 [, arg2 [,arg3 [, ...]]]]) – Returns the reference to the function fun with this inside fun bound to obj1 and parameters of fun bound to the parameters specified arg1, arg2, arg3,....
  • By now the difference between apply, call and bind must have become apparent. apply allows to specify the arguments to function as array-like object i.e. an object with a numeric length property and corresponding non-negative integer properties. Whereas call allows to specify the arguments to the function directly. Both apply and call immediately invokes the function in the specified context and with the specified arguments. On the other hand, bind simply returns the function bound to the specified this value and the arguments. We can capture the reference to this returned function by assigning it to a variable and later we can call it any time.
function add(inc1, inc2)
    return this.a + inc1 + inc2;

var o = { a : 4 };
document.write(, 5, 6)+"<br />"); //15
      //above,5,6) sets `this` inside
      //add() to `o` and calls add() resulting:
      // this.a + inc1 + inc2 = 
      // `o.a` i.e. 4 + 5 + 6 = 15
document.write(add.apply(o, [5, 6]) + "<br />"); //15
      // `o.a` i.e. 4 + 5 + 6 = 15

var g = add.bind(o, 5, 6);       //g: `o.a` i.e. 4 + 5 + 6
document.write(g()+"<br />");    //15

var h = add.bind(o, 5);          //h: `o.a` i.e. 4 + 5 + ?
document.write(h(6) + "<br />"); //15
      // 4 + 5 + 6 = 15
document.write(h() + "<br />");  //NaN
      //no parameter is passed to h()
      //thus inc2 inside add() is `undefined`
      //4 + 5 + undefined = NaN</code>

7. this inside event handlers

  • When you assign function directly to event handlers of an element, use of this directly inside event handling function refers to the corresponding element. Such direct function assignment can be done using addeventListener method or through the traditional event registration methods like onclick.
  • Similarly, when you use this directly inside the event property (like <button onclick="...this..." >) of the element, it refers to the element.
  • However use of this indirectly through the other function called inside the event handling function or event property resolves to the global object window.
  • The same above behavior is achieved when we attach the function to the event handler using Microsoft’s Event Registration model method attachEvent. Instead of assigning the function to the event handler (and the thus making the function method of the element), it calls the function on the event (effectively calling it in global context).

I recommend to better try this in JSFiddle.

    function clickedMe() {
       alert(this + " : " + this.tagName + " : " +;
    document.getElementById("button1").addEventListener("click", clickedMe, false);
    document.getElementById("button2").onclick = clickedMe;
    document.getElementById("button5").attachEvent('onclick', clickedMe);   

<h3>Using `this` "directly" inside event handler or event property</h3>
<button id="button1">click() "assigned" using addEventListner() </button><br />
<button id="button2">click() "assigned" using click() </button><br />
<button id="button3" onclick="alert(this+ ' : ' + this.tagName + ' : ' +;">used `this` directly in click event property</button>

<h3>Using `this` "indirectly" inside event handler or event property</h3>
<button onclick="alert((function(){return this + ' : ' + this.tagName + ' : ' +;})());">`this` used indirectly, inside function <br /> defined & called inside event property</button><br />

<button id="button4" onclick="clickedMe()">`this` used indirectly, inside function <br /> called inside event property</button> <br />

IE only: <button id="button5">click() "attached" using attachEvent() </button>

8. this in ES6 arrow function

In an arrow function, this will behave like common variables: it will be inherited from its lexical scope. The function’s this, where the arrow function is defined, will be the arrow function’s this.

So, that’s the same behavior as:


See the following code:

const globalArrowFunction = () => {
  return this;

console.log(globalArrowFunction()); //window

const contextObject = {
  method1: () => {return this},
  method2: function(){
    return () => {return this};

console.log(contextObject.method1()); //window

const contextLessFunction = contextObject.method1;

console.log(contextLessFunction()); //window

console.log(contextObject.method2()()) //contextObject

const innerArrowFunction = contextObject.method2();

console.log(innerArrowFunction()); //contextObject 

Solution 3:

Javascript’s this

Simple function invocation

Consider the following function:

function foo() {
foo(); // calling the function

Note that we are running this in the normal mode, i.e. strict mode is not used.

When running in a browser, the value of this would be logged as window. This is because window is the global variable in a web browser’s scope.

If you run this same piece of code in an environment like node.js, this would refer to the global variable in your app.

Now if we run this in strict mode by adding the statement "use strict"; to the beginning of the function declaration, this would no longer refer to the global variable in either of the environments. This is done to avoid confusions in strict mode. this would, in this case just log undefined, because that is what it is, it is not defined.

In the following cases, we would see how to manipulate the value of this.

Calling a function on an object

There are different ways to do this. If you have called native methods in Javascript like forEach and slice, you should already know that the this variable in that case refers to the Object on which you called that function (Note that in javascript, just about everything is an Object, including Arrays and Functions). Take the following code for example.

var myObj = {key: "Obj"};
myObj.logThis = function () {
    // I am a method
myObj.logThis(); // myObj is logged

If an Object contains a property which holds a Function, the property is called a method. This method, when called, will always have it’s this variable set to the Object it is associated with. This is true for both strict and non-strict modes.

Note that if a method is stored (or rather, copied) in another variable, the reference to this is no longer preserved in the new variable. For example:

// continuing with the previous code snippet

var myVar = myObj.thisMethod;
// logs either of window/global/undefined based on mode of operation

Considering a more commonly practical scenario:

var el = document.getElementById('idOfEl');
el.addEventListener('click', function() { console.log(this) });
// the function called by addEventListener contains this as the reference to the element
// so clicking on our element would log that element itself

The new keyword

Consider a constructor function in Javascript:

function Person (name) { = name;
    this.sayHello = function () {
        console.log ("Hello", this);

var awal = new Person("Awal");
// In `awal.sayHello`, `this` contains the reference to the variable `awal`

How does this work? Well, let’s see what happens when we use the new keyword.

  1. Calling the function with the new keyword would immediately initialize an Object of type Person.
  2. The constructor of this Object has its constructor set to Person. Also, note that typeof awal would return Object only.
  3. This new Object would be assigned the prototype of Person.prototype. This means that any method or property in the Person prototype would be available to all instances of Person, including awal.
  4. The function Person itself is now invoked; this being a reference to the newly constructed object awal.

Pretty straightforward, eh?

Note that the official ECMAScript spec nowhere states that such types of functions are actual constructor functions. They are just normal functions, and new can be used on any function. It’s just that we use them as such, and so we call them as such only.

Calling functions on Functions: call and apply

So yeah, since functions are also Objects (and in-fact first class variables in Javascript), even functions have methods which are… well, functions themselves.

All functions inherit from the global Function, and two of its many methods are call and apply, and both can be used to manipulate the value of this in the function on which they are called.

function foo () { console.log (this, arguments); }
var thisArg = {myObj: "is cool"};, 1, 2, 3);

This is a typical example of using call. It basically takes the first parameter and sets this in the function foo as a reference to thisArg. All other parameters passed to call is passed to the function foo as arguments.
So the above code will log {myObj: "is cool"}, [1, 2, 3] in the console. Pretty nice way to change the value of this in any function.

apply is almost the same as call accept that it takes only two parameters: thisArg and an array which contains the arguments to be passed to the function. So the above call call can be translated to apply like this:

foo.apply(thisArg, [1,2,3])

Note that call and apply can override the value of this set by dot method invocation we discussed in the second bullet.
Simple enough 🙂

Presenting…. bind!

bind is a brother of call and apply. It is also a method inherited by all functions from the global Function constructor in Javascript. The difference between bind and call/apply is that both call and apply will actually invoke the function. bind, on the other hand, returns a new function with the thisArg and arguments pre-set. Let’s take an example to better understand this:

function foo (a, b) {
    console.log (this, arguments);
var thisArg = {myObj: "even more cool now"};
var bound = foo.bind(thisArg, 1, 2);
console.log (typeof bound); // logs `function`
console.log (bound);
/* logs `function () { native code }` */

bound(); // calling the function returned by `.bind`
// logs `{myObj: "even more cool now"}, [1, 2]`

See the difference between the three? It is subtle, but they are used differently. Like call and apply, bind will also over-ride the value of this set by dot-method invocation.

Also note that neither of these three functions do any change to the original function. call and apply would return the value from freshly constructed functions while bind will return the freshly constructed function itself, ready to be called.

Extra stuff, copy this

Sometimes, you don’t like the fact that this changes with scope, especially nested scope. Take a look at the following example.

var myObj = {
    hello: function () {
        return "world"
    myMethod: function () {
        // copy this, variable names are case-sensitive
        var that = this;
        // callbacks ftw \o/"args", function () {
            // I want to call `hello` here
            this.hello(); // error
            // but `this` references to `foo` damn!
            // oh wait we have a backup \o/
            that.hello(); // "world"

In the above code, we see that the value of this changed with the nested scope, but we wanted the value of this from the original scope. So we ‘copied’ this to that and used the copy instead of this. Clever, eh?


  1. What is held in this by default?
  2. What if we call the function as a method with Object-dot notation?
  3. What if we use the new keyword?
  4. How do we manipulate this with call and apply?
  5. Using bind.
  6. Copying this to solve nested-scope issues.

Solution 4:

“this” is all about scope. Every function has its own scope, and since everything in JS is an object, even a function can store some values into itself using “this”. OOP 101 teaches that “this” is only applicable to instances of an object. Therefore, every-time a function executes, a new “instance” of that function has a new meaning of “this”.

Most people get confused when they try to use “this” inside of anonymous closure functions like:

(function(value) {
    this.value = value;
        elt.innerHTML = this.value;        // uh oh!! possibly undefined

So here, inside each(), “this” doesn’t hold the “value” that you expect it to (from

this.value = value;

above it). So, to get over this (no pun intended) problem, a developer could:

(function(value) {
    var self = this;            // small change
    self.value = value;
        elt.innerHTML = self.value;        // phew!! == 2 

Try it out; you’ll begin to like this pattern of programming

Solution 5:

Since this thread has bumped up, I have compiled few points for readers new to this topic.

How is the value of this determined?

We use this similar to the way we use pronouns in natural languages like English: “John is running fast because he is trying to catch the train.” Instead we could have written “… John is trying to catch the train”.

var person = {    
    firstName: "Penelope",
    lastName: "Barrymore",
    fullName: function () {

    // We use "this" just as in the sentence above:
       console.log(this.firstName + " " + this.lastName);

    // We could have also written:
       console.log(person.firstName + " " + person.lastName);

this is not assigned a value until an object invokes the function where it is defined. In the global scope, all global variables and functions are defined on the window object. Therefore, this in a global function refers to (and has the value of) the global window object.

When use strict, this in global and in anonymous functions that are not bound to any object holds a value of undefined.

The this keyword is most misunderstood when: 1) we borrow a method that uses this, 2) we assign a method that uses this to a variable, 3) a function that uses this is passed as a callback function, and 4) this is used inside a closure — an inner function. (2)


What holds the future

Defined in ECMA Script 6, arrow-functions adopt the this binding from the
enclosing (function or global) scope.

function foo() {
     // return an arrow function
     return (a) => {
     // `this` here is lexically inherited from `foo()`
var obj1 = { a: 2 };
var obj2 = { a: 3 };

var bar =; obj2 ); // 2, not 3!

While arrow-functions provide an alternative to using bind(), it’s important to note that they essentially are disabling the traditional this mechanism in favor of more widely understood lexical scoping. (1)


  1. this & Object Prototypes, by Kyle Simpson. © 2014 Getify Solutions.
  2. –
  3. Angus Croll –

Solution 6:

this in JavaScript always refers to the ‘owner’ of the function that is being executed.

If no explicit owner is defined, then the top most owner, the window object, is referenced.

So if I did

function someKindOfFunction() { = 'foo';

element.onclick = someKindOfFunction;

this would refer to the element object. But be careful, a lot of people make this mistake.

<element onclick="someKindOfFunction()">

In the latter case, you merely reference the function, not hand it over to the element. Therefore, this will refer to the window object.