Inheritance with JavaScript

This post is in continuation in my last post.  In my last post, I discussed various ways to create custom object in JavaScript. I’ll advise you to go through that if you didn’t get a chance to have a look then you can go through it. Please find the link below

Various ways to Create custom objects in JavaScript

In this post, We will discuss, how we can use other features of Object Oriented concepts in JavaScript. Today I’ll discuss one of the main concepts of Object Orient Programming that is Inheritance.

So how can we use Inheritance with JavaScript ?

Various ways and plugins are available that provides similar ways to use Inheritance that we have used in other object oriented language. But the prototype based Inheritance is used most.

JavaScript is a object based language that is based upon Prototype based programming. It is free from Class and completely rely on objects only .

Did you hear earlier  that What is Prototype based language or what is Prototype based programming?

I would say this is just another way to provide object oriented feature by a language. As per wiki

Prototype-based programming is a style of object-oriented programming in which classes are not present, and behavior reuse (known as inheritance in class-based languages) is performed via a process of cloning existing objects that serve as prototypes. This model can also be known as classless, prototype-oriented or instance-based programming. Delegation is the language feature that supports prototype-based programming”.

So let’s start learning. To create a Class in JavaScript, we are required to create a function  that we also used to call a Constructor. I’ll use the word constructor in my further discussion. So Let’s create a Constructor called person

         function Person() {
             this.ToString = function () { alert('I am a Person'); }
             this.DisplayResidence = function () { alert('I stay near my office'); }
         }

As in my last post, I mentioned that Person is a nested function. As you can see that here we have following two functions in the Person constructor.

  1. ToString
  2. DisplayResidence

So let’s create a new object and display it

function DisplayObject()
{
var objPerson = new Person(); // Line- 1 Creates the instance of Person
objPerson.ToString();  // Line- 2
objPerson.DisplayResidence(); // Line- 3
}

Here both display as expected . Line 2 - I am a Person and Line 3 - I stay near my office

Now let’s say we want to create a constructor Employee as

         function Employee() {
             this.ToString = function () { alert('I am an employee'); }
             this.DisplayRole = function () { alert('My role is development and implementation'); }
         }

As you can see it has two methods ToString and DisplayRole. Now how can Employee inherit the properties/methods of Person. It can be done by writing as

Employee.prototype = new Person();

Now the employee has the properties of person as well. Now it has three methods

  • ToString()
  • DisplayResidence()
  • DisplayRole()

Let’s examine it by the method

         function DisplayObject() {
                var objPerson = new Person(); // Line- 1: Calles constrouctor Person to create an instance and assign it to objPerson
                objPerson.ToString(); // Line- 2: Calles ToString method of Person
                objPerson.DisplayResidence(); // Line- 3: Calles ToString method of Person

                var objEmployee = new Employee();  // Line- 4: Calles constrouctor Employee to create an instance and assign it to objEmployee
                objEmployee.ToString(); // Line- 5: Calles ToString method of Person
                objEmployee.DisplayResidence(); // Line- 6:  Calles ToString method of Person
                objEmployee.DisplayRole(); // Line- 7:  Calles ToString method of Person

                alert(objPerson instanceof Person);  // Line- 8:  Checks the type of objPerson
                alert(objEmployee instanceof Person);  // Line- 9:  Checks the type of objEmployee
         }

Let’s discuss it by Line numbers

Line 2 and Line 3- same as discussed above

Line 5- What it will display ? It displays I am an employee because ToString is available at both current and parent. But because the objEmployee holds the instance of derived class so the overridden method is called.

Line 6- Here DisplayResidence is not defined in Employee so it calls the base class(Person) method and displayed.

Line 7-  DisplayRole is added in Employee object only and it shows ‘My role is development and implementation‘.

Line 8 – To check more on the type I added the last two lines. As objPerson is instance of Person only so it shows true.

Line 9 – As Employee inherits Person so it also shows true but if you delete the below line ….

<br />Employee.prototype = new Person();<br />

then it’ll show false as it does not inherit person any more.

Now you must have got enough Idea about prototype based inheritance in JavaScript.

There is one more way to add a method to and existing constructor as Person has two methods and  that we defined as nested class. You can write that in the following way as well

         function Person() {
         }
         Person.prototype.ToString = function () { alert('I am a Person'); }
         Person.prototype.DisplayResidence = function () {alert('I stay near my office');}

Now the question arises,  how Inheritance works in JavaScript.

Whenever we create an instance using the new Operator, It creates all the properties/methods and also has internally a variable called __proto__ (double underscore at both side) this is the variable which is responsible for the inheritance feature. So let’s say I created a instance of Employee as

var objEmployee = new Employee();

It’ll be having two methods/properties as defined and on __proto__ as

  1. ToString
  2. DisplayRole
  3. __proto__

Just because I have written also as

Employee.prototype = new Person();

The __proto__ variable gets assigned to the person instance. This __proto__ used to determine the prototype chain and return the property values. This allows us to access the base class methods and public properties.

As I talked about prototype chain, means as soon as I assign

Employee.prototype = new Person();

a __proto__ variable gets available to us that can be be further used for inheritance. So lets create another constructor as

         function TeamLead() {
             this.ToString = function () { alert('I am a Manager.'); }
             this.DisplayRole = function () { alert('I rarely code but do lot of code reviews'); }
             this.DisplayMeetings = function () { alert('I have 3 meetings scheduled daily'); }
         }

Now as soon as I’ll create an instance using new operator then instance will be have the properties

  1. ToString
  2. DisplayRole
  3. DisplayMeetings
  4. __proto__

Now if we write the code for inheritance as

TeamLead.prototype = new Employee();

It can access all the properties in the hierarchies. We can check the type of instances as

 function DisplayObject() {
             var objTeamLead = new TeamLead();
             alert(objTeamLead instanceof Person);  // returns true because TeamLead inherits base class Person
             alert(objTeamLead instanceof Employee);  // returns true because TeamLead inherits  base class Employee
             alert(objTeamLead instanceof TeamLead); // returns true as expected
             }

You can see the results and they are expected

Let’s see the prototype chain as discussed earlier

         function DisplayObject() {
             var objTeamLead = new TeamLead();

             // Also here I'll show, How the prototype chain works
             alert(objTeamLead.__proto__ == TeamLead.prototype); // returns true because it represents the same prototype
             alert(objTeamLead.__proto__.__proto__ == Employee.prototype);  // returns true because second level __proto__ belongs to Employee.prototype
             alert(objTeamLead.__proto__.__proto__.__proto__ == Person.prototype);  // returns true because third level __proto__ belongs to Employee.prototype
         }

As you can see that actually __proto__ variable is actually the key for the inheritance.

Now you all must have got enough Idea about Prototype based programming and how we can use inheritance with JavaScript.

Do share your feedback.

Happy Coding,
Brij

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