{ Inheritance. }


By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Define inheritance and list the benefits of using it
  • Implement prototypal inheritance in JavaScript and compare and contrast different approaches to inheritance

Prototype Inheritance

Looking at our earlier example again, we can see how our Automobile constructor function inherits properties from the Object constructor function:

function Automobile(make, model, year) {
    this.make = make;
    this.model = model;
    if (year !== undefined) {
        this.year = year;

Automobile.prototype.year = 2016;
var probe = new Automobile("Ford", "Probe", 1993);

probe.hasOwnProperty("year"); // returns true

probe.year; // returns 1993

Where did the function hasOwnProperty come from? It is defined in the Object prototype. Since all objects in JavaScript inherit from the Object prototype, your Automobile object has access to the hasOwnProperty function through the prototype from Object.

Let's investigate the prototype chain for automobile using __proto__ and console.dir:

var probe = new Automobile("Ford", "Probe", 1993);

// Inspect the returned object in the console
// It shows us the prototype associated with the instance of Automobile
// You should see the constructor function and a property for year

// Inspect the returned object in the terminal
// It shows us the parent prototype (Object's prototype) that is associated
// with the instance of Automobile
// You should see many properties here, including hasOwnProperty!

// Click through the returned object to see the __proto__ chain.

Creating Your Own Inheritance Chain

An important concept in object oriented programming is inheritance. The idea behind inheritance is that one or more parent / super classes can pass along functions and properties to other child / sub classes.

function Parent(firstName, lastName){
    this.firstName = firstName;
    this.lastName = lastName;

Parent.prototype.sayHi = function(){
    return this.firstName + " " + this.lastName + " says hi!";

function Child(firstName, lastName){
    // This is how we "inherit" properties from the parent

// This is how we inherit functions
// (create a new prototype + reset the constructor)
Child.prototype = Object.create(Parent.prototype);
Child.prototype.constructor = Child;

var c = new Child("Bran", "Stark");

c.sayHi() // Bran Stark says hi!

So what have we done here? We've set the prototype of the Child to be a newly created object with a prototype of Parent.prototype (Object.create accepts as a parameter another object to set as the prototype).

What does Object.create do?

Why can't we just do Child.prototype = Parent.prototype? Remember that when we assign objects equal to each other, they are just references. This means that Child.prototype is a reference to Parent.prototype which means that if we add to the Child.prototype, objects created from the Parent.prototype will have access to them, which would be bad!

Child.prototype = Parent.prototype;

// true - this is BAD!
Child.prototype === Parent.prototype;

Child.prototype = Object.create(Parent.prototype);

// false - This is GOOD! We want these to be different
Child.prototype === Parent.prototype;

What about resetting the constructor?

Let's examine the last line: Child.prototype.constructor = Child;. Without this line, if you examine Child.prototype.constructor, this will refer to the Parent, and not the Child! In many cases this won't actually matter, but it can definitely be confusing, since if you call .prototype.constructor on a constructor function, you expect it to point back to the original constructor function. The details here aren't that important for right now, but if you are interested in learning more, check out this Stack Overflow article.

BAD PRACTICE: Using new to create a child class

You may see inheritance done by using the new keyword instead of using Object.create. This will do almost the same thing, but add additional unnecessary properties on the prototype (since it is creating an object with undefined properties just for the prototype). For more on this, check out this Stack Overflow question.

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