{ Higher Order Functions. }

Objectives:

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

  • Define what a higher order function is
  • Define what a callback function is
  • Understand why higher order functions can help reduce code duplication

A quick review of parameters and functions

So far we have seen functions that take in all kinds of parameters: strings, numbers, booleans, and even arrays and objects. We can also pass functions as parameters! We call functions that accept functions as parameters "higher order functions." This is actually something special about JavaScript. Not all languages allow us to pass other functions as parameters to functions!

This might sounds a bit strange at first, so let's check out an example. Let's create a function called sendMessage that accepts a string and a function. The sendMessage function will return the result of the function being passed to it with the message as a parameter:

// sendMessage is a higher order function as it accepts a parameter called fn.
// How do we know fn is a function? We can see the fn parameter is being
// invoked with ()
function sendMessage(message, fn){
    return fn(message);
}

sendMessage("Hello World", console.log); // Hello World
sendMessage("Hello World", alert); // Hello World is alerted
sendMessage("What is your name?", prompt); // value from prompt is returned
sendMessage("Do you like JavaScript?", confirm); // true or false is returned

It is important to remember the difference between referencing a function here, and invoking a function. In the following line of code, sendMessage("Hello World", console.log);, console.log is a function that is being referenced but not invoked. Nothing is actually written to the console until the function is invoked. When you pass a function in to a higher order function, you must always pass in the function name, not an invocation of the function. You can tell the difference by looking at the end of the function name. Did you use parentheses to call the function? If so, you didn't pass in the function itself, which is what the higher order function wants you to do.

But if we don't invoke the function when we pass it in, where does the function get invoked? It happens inside the logic of the higher order function itself! In the example above, for instance, it happens at the line return fn(message);. fn is the variable that will hold a reference to the console.log function. When fn is used with parenthesis, that is actually invoking the function. So on the line return fn(message); the function will be invoked, something will be written to the console and then the return from that function will be returned from the sendMessage function. console.log always returns undefined, therefore fn's invocation will return undefined which will then return undefined from sendMessage.

Anonymous Functions As Parameters

We can even pass an anonymous function as a parameter!

sendMessage("Hello World", function(message){
    // message refers to the string "Hello World"
    console.log(message + " from a callback function!");
});  // Hello World from a callback function!

The previous example is equivalent to doing the following:

var myFunction = function(message){
    // message refers to the string "Hello World"
    console.log(message + " from a callback function!");
};

sendMessage("Hello World", myFunction);

However, when programming in JavaScript, you will see anonymous functions being passed as parameters very often, so it's good to get used to it now.

Why Higher Order Functions?

One advantage of higher order functions is code reuse. In our previous examples we would have had to do a lot of work to get the same code. Higher order functions allow us to avoid writing seperate functions like this:

function sendMessageWithConsoleLog(message){
    return console.log(message);
}

function sendMessageWithAlert(message){
    return alert(message);
}

function promptWithMessage(message){
    return prompt(message);
}

function confirmWithMessage(message){
    return confirm(message);
}

function sendMessageWithFromCallback(message){
    return console.log(message + " from a callback function!");
}

Instead of writing five different functions, we can just write one and pass another function to it! We call a function that is passed as an argument to a higher order function a callback. The concept of callbacks and higher order functions can be a little tricky to understand at first, so let's take a look at some more examples.

Callback Functions

To reiterate, a callback function is the function that is being passed to a higher order function and that callback function will be invoked within the higher order function. In our sendMessage example, sendMessage is the higher order function and fn is the callback function.

Now, let's see another use case for higher order functions.

function add(a,b){
    return a+b;
}

function subtract(a,b){
    return a-b;
}

function math(a,b,callback){
    return callback(a,b);
}

math(1,4,add); // returns 5
math(5,5,subtract); // returns 0

/* 
as we start making additional functions that perform operations on
two numbers we can pass them to the math function. So if we make a
divide or multiply function we can call all of them just using the
math function.
*/

Practice

Let's try to write a function called each which accepts two parameters: an array and a callback function. The each function should loop over the array passed to it and run the callback function on each element in it.

// this function should accept 2 parameters, put them in!
function each(){
    // put your code inside here!
}


each([1,2,3,4], function(val){
    console.log(val);
});
// Here is what should be output if you wrote the function correctly

// 1
// 2
// 3
// 4

each([1,2,3,4], function(val){
    console.log(val*2);
});

// Here is what should be output if you wrote the function correctly

// 2
// 4
// 6
// 8

Here is a solution to the each function:

function each(array, fn){
    for(var i=0; i< array.length; i++){
        fn(array[i]);
    }
}

In the example, each is the higher order function and fn is the callback. Inside of each, fn is being invoked. In fact, in both sample inputs, fn will be invoked 4 times because there are 4 items in the array that is being passed in and each loops through each item in the array.

Exercises

  • Write a function called map which accepts two parameters: an array and a callback. The map function should return a new array with the result of each value being passed to the callback function. Here's an example:
map([1,2,3,4], function(val){
    return val * 2;
}); // [2,4,6,8]
  • Write a function called reject which accepts two parameters an array and a callback. The function should return a new array with all of the values that do not return true to the callback. Here are two examples:
reject([1,2,3,4], function(val){
    return val > 2;
}); // [1,2]

reject([2,3,4,5], function(val){
    return val % 2 === 0;
}); // [3,5]

When you're ready, move on to Timers

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