Perfection Kills

by kangax

Exploring Javascript by example

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Refactoring with Prototype

I’m not surprised to see prototype code that sucks. Been there, done that (and I’m sure still doing it) – nobody is perfect. What surprises me though is how ridiculous some explanations (of writing crappy code) sound. “I don’t really know javascript. I do PHP professionally” is my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that experience and deep understanding of language is essential for writing smarter code. It could be a real challenge to wrap your mind around some of the dynamic concepts of such languages as javascript. That I can understand. What I don’t understand, though, is how people don’t follow some of the fundamental principles of programming. Do we really need to know javascript to prevent repetition, unnecessary constructions or poor optimization? I seriously doubt it…

I want to take a look at few examples of real life applications and see what we can do to make them… better. Aiming for a smaller footprint, faster execution and prettier code is what makes it a real challenge, so let’s dive in…


function hideall() {

Very basic, ugly (and unfortunately real) example. The only part that varies here are numbers so all we need to do is loop through them. Prototype provides us with a quite convenient utility function for generating ranges – $R takes 2 parameters – starting and ending values and creates a range object by calling succ method on each value. What’s really cool about this object is that it extends prototype’s Enumerable methods – iteration has never been easier:

$R(1,7).each(function(n) {
  hidediv('dropdown' + n);

Not only we decreased the overall size of this snippet, but notice how more generic and flexible it has become.

Repetition 2

function resetnotes() {

This one is similar but is even worse, as we’re calling $ function multiple times, decreasing overall performance. What varies here are plain strings and that’s when $w helper could come in handy. Inspired by Ruby, $w takes a string of space-separated values and creates an array out of it. Remember that arrays are automatically extended with Enumerable methods:

// storing element's reference for faster access
var left1 = $('left1');

// creating array of strings and iterating over them
$w('learn play grow join').each(function(s){

Another solution would be to wrap (augment) removeClassName to accept multiple arguments (classNames).
I don’t suggest to use the following snippet in a production environment as I haven’t tested it thoroughly. The idea is to show you basic way of augmenting prototype’s existent methods.

  removeClassName: Element.Methods.removeClassName.wrap(function() {

    var args = $A(arguments),
        proceed = args.shift(),
        element = $(args.shift());

    if (args.length > 1) {

      // this is our modified behavior (only if more than 1 argument was passed)
      element.className = element.className
        .replace(new RegExp("\s*(" + args.join('|') + ")\s*"), '');

      return element;

    // and this is a default one
    return element.proceed();

Attention: Try not to fall into a trap of “generic-madness”. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it encapsulates certain logic into its own layer and creates reusable chunks of code, but no matter how great it is, think twice before taking this approach. Does it pay to spend time creating another abstraction layer? Will it actually be used in the future? If it doesn’t simplify, just drop it. Keep it simple and move on.

Using Element.addMethods we redefine prototype’s removeClassName to suit our needs. Notice how unobtrusive yet powerful this solution is. By wrapping already existent method with or own behaviour, we keep same logic in same place, and making sure augmented method does not break anything (Take a look at a previous post about Function#wrap if you’re not familiar with it)

Ternary operators

if (typeof this.prevbutton == 'object') {
else {

Using “if … else … ” for only two conditions is usually a bad thing to do. Selecting one of two actions is even worse.
Ternary operator, on the other hand, is a perfect replacement for “if … else … ” clause. Remember, that we can use bracket notation to call one of two object’s methods:

$(prevmonth)[typeof(this.prevbutton) == 'object' ? 'appendChild' : 'update'](this.prevbutton);


$(nextmonth).observe('click', this.nextmonth);

Taking advantage of chaining is easy – most of the methods in prototype return reference to the element they were invoked on. Another thing to note is that addClassName is simply appending it’s argument to the className of an element. There’s really no need invoking it more than once:

$(nextmonth).addClassName('calcontrol calnextmonth').observe('click', this.nextmonth);

Those are very simple yet essential tips for writing more concise, elegant code and I would really want to see more people using them.

Enjoy your ride and happy prototyping…

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