Mikael's blog

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Architecture in JavaScript - Closures

Today is Tuesday, which for me means I’ve held another tutorial at work. Today it was less hands-on and more of me just talking and showing examples on the projector using the wonderful jsfiddle JavaScript quick-hack-tool.

My talk today was mostly about closures, so I thought I should write something here on the subject as well.

I find that it’s not that easy to explain closures using just words, but if I were to try it would go something like this.

  • A closure is a functions variable scope that still exists after the function has executed.
  • A closure only exist as long as something else has a reference to something that needs it.
  • A closure is created when an outer function has inner functions.

If you have no idea what I meant with any of that, then I hope these examples will clear things up: (I know they did for me)

Example 1

function saySomeThing(something) {
  var text = 'Hello ' + something;
  var innerFunction = function () {
  return innerFunction;

var say = saySomeThing('World');

When saySomeThing('World') is called, it returns an inner function. A closure is created that lets innerFunction access the text variable even after saySomeThing has finished executing.

If we were to run say(); after this it would popup an alert with the text Hello World.

Now, if you’re used to languages without closures, it would be easy to think that innerFunction has been “pre-compiled” into alert('Hello World'); but that is not the case. In fact, if we were to run say.toString(); the output would be function () { alert(text); } even though our say variable is clearly not in the same scope as text. But it works because the function pointer to innerFunction that saySomeThing returns contains a reference to the closure created when we executed saySomeThing('World');.

Every call to saySomeThing would create a new closure. If the old closure is no longer referenced, for example if we were to run say = saySomeThing('Goodbye'); then the old closure previously reference by the say variable would be garbage collected.

Example 2

var AlertNumber, IncreaseNumber, SetNumber;

function setupGlobals() {
  var num = 10;

  AlertNumber = function () { alert(num); }
  IncreaseNumber = function () { num++; }
  SetNumber = function (x) { num = x; }

In the above code, every call to setupGlobals would create a new closure and thus create a new num variable with the value 10, but a call to IncreaseNumber would reference the current closure and increase the internal num variable by 1.

Closures in C#

A question that I got today was: “What other languages uses closures?“. I know there are a few I’ve read about somewhere on the internet but I couldn’t really name them right there and then.

But then on my way home I started thinking about C# and I had an idea. Wouldn’t closures be possible now that C# has anonymous functions (lambdas), anonymous objects and the Action<> and Func<> types? And it is. If I would have googled it instead of trying for myself I would have found that out in about 2 seconds, but where’s the fun in that?

public object Closure()
  var number = 10;

  Action showNumber = () => MessageBox.Show(number.ToString());
  Action increaseNumber = () => number++;
  Action<int> setNumber = (i) => number = i;
  return new { showNumber, increaseNumber, setNumber };

dynamic a = Closure();

This is almost the same example as before, but in C#. If we were to call a.showNumber() it would show a message box with the value 10 in it. And it would increase number by 1 every time we call a.increaseNumber(). It also creates a new closure every time we call Closure().

In C# this same functionality would probably be easier to understand if turned into a class instead, but having a deeper understanding about how closures work is almost a requirement if you’re going to do any kind of serious JavaScript development. At least that is my opinion.

by Mikael Lofjärd
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