How to unset a JavaScript variable?

How to unset a JavaScript variable?

I have a global variable in JavaScript (actually a window property, but I don’t think it matters) which was already populated by a previous script but I don’t want another script that will run later to see its value or that it was even defined.
I’ve put some_var = undefined and it works for the purpose of testing typeof some_var == “undefined” but I really do not think it’s the right way to go about it.
What do you think?

Solutions/Answers:

Solution 1:

The delete operator removes a property from an object. It cannot remove a variable. So the answer to the question depends on how the global variable or property is defined.

(1) If it is created with var, it cannot be deleted.

For example:

var g_a = 1; //create with var, g_a is a variable 
delete g_a; //return false
console.log(g_a); //g_a is still 1

(2) If it is created without var, it can be deleted.

g_b = 1; //create without var, g_b is a property 
delete g_b; //return true
console.log(g_b); //error, g_b is not defined

Technical Explanation

1. Using var

In this case the reference g_a is created in what the ECMAScript spec calls “VariableEnvironment” that is attached to the current scope – this may be the a function execution context in the case of using var inside a function (though it may be get a little more complicated when you consider let) or in the case of “global” code the VariableEnvironment is attached to the global object (often window).

References in the VariableEnvironment are not normally deletable – the process detailed in ECMAScript 10.5 explains this in detail, but suffice it to say that unless your code is executed in an eval context (which most browser-based development consoles use), then variables declared with var cannot be deleted.

2. Without Using var

When trying to assign a value to a name without using the var keyword, Javascript tries to locate the named reference in what the ECMAScript spec calls “LexicalEnvironment“, and the main difference is that LexicalEvironments are nested – that is a LexicalEnvironment has a parent (what the ECMAScript spec calls “outer environment reference”) and when Javscript fails to locate the reference in a LexicalEenvironment, it looks in the parent LexicalEnvironment (as detailed in 10.3.1 and 10.2.2.1). The top level LexicalEnvironment is the “global environment“, and that is bound to the global object in that its references are the global object’s properties. So if you try to access a name that was not declared using a var keyword in the current scope or any outer scopes, Javascript will eventually fetch a property of the window object to serve as that reference. As we’ve learned before, properties on objects can be deleted.

Notes

  1. It is important to remember that var declarations are “hoisted” – i.e. they are always considered to have happened in the beginning of the scope that they are in – though not the value initialization that may be done in a var statement – that is left where it is. So in the following code, a is a reference from the VariableEnvironment and not the window property and its value will be 10 at the end of the code:

    function test() { a = 5; var a = 10; }

  2. The above discussion is when “strict mode” is not enabled. Lookup rules are a bit different when using “strict mode” and lexical references that would have resolved to window properties without “strict mode” will raise “undeclared variable” errors under “strict mode”. I didn’t really understand where this is specified, but its how browsers behave.

Solution 2:

@scunlife’s answer will work, but technically it ought to be

delete window.some_var; 

delete is supposed to be a no-op when the target isn’t an object property. e.g.,

(function() {
   var foo = 123;
   delete foo; // wont do anything, foo is still 123
   var bar = { foo: 123 };
   delete bar.foo; // foo is gone
}());

But since global variables are actually members of the window object, it works.

When prototype chains are involved, using delete gets more complex because it only removes the property from the target object, and not the prototype. e.g.,

function Foo() {}
Foo.prototype = { bar: 123 };
var foo = new Foo();
// foo.bar is 123
foo.bar = 456;
// foo.bar is now 456
delete foo.bar;
// foo.bar is 123 again.

So be careful.

EDIT: My answer is somewhat inaccurate (see “Misconceptions” at the end). The link explains all the gory details, but the summary is that there can be big differences between browsers and depending on the object you are deleting from. delete object.someProp should generally be safe as long as object !== window. I still wouldn’t use it to delete variables declared with var although you can under the right circumstances.

Solution 3:

If you are implicitly declaring the variable without var, the proper way would be to use delete foo.

However after you delete it, if you try to use this in an operation such as addition a ReferenceError will be thrown because you can’t add a string to an undeclared, undefined identifier. Example:

x = 5;
delete x
alert('foo' + x )
// ReferenceError: x is not defined

It may be safer in some situations to assign it to false, null, or undefined so it’s declared and won’t throw this type of error.

foo = false

Note that in ECMAScript null, false, undefined, 0, NaN, or '' would all evaluate to false. Just make sure you dont use the !== operator but instead != when type checking for booleans and you don’t want identity checking (so null would == false and false == undefined).

Also note that delete doesn’t “delete” references but just properties directly on the object, e.g.:

bah = {}, foo = {}; bah.ref = foo;

delete bah.ref;
alert( [bah.ref, foo ] )
// ,[object Object] (it deleted the property but not the reference to the other object)

If you have declared a variable with var you can’t delete it:

(function() {
    var x = 5;
    alert(delete x)
    // false
})();

In Rhino:

js> var x
js> delete x
false

Nor can you delete some predefined properties like Math.PI:

js> delete Math.PI
false

There are some odd exceptions to delete as with any language, if you care enough you should read:

Solution 4:

some_var = null;

//or remove it..
delete some_var;

Solution 5:

TLDR: simple defined variables (without var, let, const) could be deleted with delete. If you use var, let, const – they could not be deleted neither with delete nor with Reflect.deleteProperty.

Chrome 55:

simpleVar = "1";
"1"
delete simpleVar;
true
simpleVar;
VM439:1 Uncaught ReferenceError: simpleVar is not defined
    at <anonymous>:1:1
(anonymous) @ VM439:1
var varVar = "1";
undefined
delete varVar;
false
varVar;
"1"
let letVar = "1";
undefined
delete letVar;
true
letVar;
"1"
const constVar="1";
undefined
delete constVar;
true
constVar;
"1"
Reflect.deleteProperty (window, "constVar");
true
constVar;
"1"
Reflect.deleteProperty (window, "varVar");
false
varVar;
"1"
Reflect.deleteProperty (window, "letVar");
true
letVar;
"1"

FF Nightly 53.0a1 shows same behaviour.

Solution 6:

ECMAScript 2015 offers Reflect API. It is possible to delete object property with Reflect.deleteProperty():

Reflect.deleteProperty(myObject, 'myProp');
// it is equivalent to:
delete myObject.myProp;
delete myObject['myProp'];

To delete property of global window object:

Reflect.deleteProperty(window, 'some_var');

In some cases properties cannot be deleted (when the property is not configurable) and then this function returns false (as well as delete operator). In other cases returns true:

Object.defineProperty(window, 'some_var', {
    configurable: false,
    writable: true,
    enumerable: true,
    value: 'some_val'
});

var frozen = Object.freeze({ myProperty: 'myValue' });
var regular = { myProperty: 'myValue' };
var blank = {};

console.log(Reflect.deleteProperty(window, 'some_var')); // false
console.log(window.some_var); // some_var

console.log(Reflect.deleteProperty(frozen, 'myProperty')); // false
console.log(frozen.myProperty); // myValue

console.log(Reflect.deleteProperty(regular, 'myProperty')); // true
console.log(regular.myProperty); // undefined

console.log(Reflect.deleteProperty(blank, 'notExistingProperty')); // true
console.log(blank.notExistingProperty); // undefined

There is a difference between deleteProperty function and delete operator when run in strict mode:

'use strict'

var frozen = Object.freeze({ myProperty: 'myValue' });

Reflect.deleteProperty(frozen, 'myProperty'); // false
delete frozen.myProperty;
// TypeError: property "myProperty" is non-configurable and can't be deleted