var vs let vs const: Why I Default to Using const

While the main focus of this post will be on var vs let vs const, let’s first examine their backstories.

The latest version of the JavaScript standard goes by many names:

  • ES6
  • ECMAScript 6
  • ES2015
  • ECMAScript 2015

I can just call it Banana for all we care. Actually, let’s do that.

Banana was finalized and released in 2015 but has been in development since 2009.

Okay, I can tell that using “Banana”​ will get old quickly. As much as I would love to use nonsensical expressions, let’s stick with ES6 for consistency’s sake!

The ES6 update brought two new ways of declaring variables: let and const.​ Previously, vanilla JavaScript developers only had the option of declaring variables with var.

Let’s explore when to use each approach!

When Should I use var?

​Never.

Yes, really.

With the release of the two new techniques, I personally do not see a viable use for var besides some narrow situations. Even then, I would attempt to restructure the surrounding code to avoid using it.

The main reason behind avoiding var variables is that they can easily be a source of misunderstandings and headaches, especially during debugging.

For instance, var variables can be redefined:

function doSomethingUseless() {
    var uselessValue = 10;

    uselessValue = 20;

    var uselessValue = 15; // This does not give an error!
}

Furthermore, variables declared with var are function scoped.

Function Scoping vs. Block Scoping

Function scoped variables ​are only available within the function they are constructed. If they are not declared in a function, they are globally scoped. Let’s view some code that may cause great confusion.

if (true) {
    var uselessValue = 10;

    console.log(uselessValue); // Displays 10, as expected
}

console.log(uselessValue); // Still displays 10, what is happening?!?

Recall that variables declared with var are function scoped​ but the variable here is not surrounded by a function so it becomes globally accessible.

Block scoped variables are those that are only accessible within a block. This can be crudely translated to block scoped variables​ being available between two curly braces. This includes functions, loops, conditional execution environments, etc. If there are nested blocks, the variable is scoped within the inner most block.

When Should I use let?​

​You should declare variables using let when you need the value of the variable to change. This is common in for loops and other similar situations.

let variables help developers avoid some common pitfalls that var variables bring.​ let variables cannot be redefined. Attempting to do so will result in an error. let variables are also block scoped. Let’s take a look at a combination of the previous examples, but using let this time around.

function doSomethingUseless() {
    let uselessValue = 10;

    uselessValue = 20;

    let uselessValue = 15; // This throws an error in your face, as it should
}

if (true) {
    let uselessValue = 10;

    console.log(uselessValue);
}

console.log(uselessValue); // Throws another error in your face, let loves throwing things in people's faces

When Should I Use const?​

Always!

Okay fine, whenever you can. Just know that the JavaScript Gods cry every time you do not.

Variables declared with const have similar attributes to those defined with let. They cannot be redefined and are block scoped. I should take a moment to mention that when I say let and const cannot be redefined, I mean so within the same scope.

On the other hand, const variables cannot be updated:​

function doSomethingUseless() {
    const uselessValue = 10;

    uselessValue = 20; // NOPE, I HOPE YOU LIKE YOUR BREAKFAST WITH A SIDE OF ERRORS!
}

“Why on Earth would I want to use a variable that cannot be updated? Is that not the essence of a ‘variable’”?

Why I Default to Using const​

​Valid point on the meaning of a “variable”. I suppose variables defined with const should not be called variables, but something more constant. :)

I believe that as developers, most of our debugging sessions are caused by unexpected changes or behaviors in our programs.​ For example, a variable containing a value we did not anticipate.

const provides us with some assurance that, at least, this portion cannot be changed (without the program throwing a fit). Anything we can leverage to mitigate possible points of failure, and ultimately stress, is absolutely with it in my eyes.

Closing Thoughts​

I believe in using const everywhere that’s possible.​ For situations requiring a changeable variable, use let. And you already know my position on var, just avoid it like the plague.

Although I stated that const variables cannot be updated, this is not the same as being immutable. Objects and arrays ​declared with const can be mutated. Learn more about this from Wes Bos here!

What are your thoughts about using const in a prolific manner?​ If you could add another declaration variable to the JavaScript standard, what kind of rules and boundaries would it abide?

David Tran

David is a software developer with experience in web technologies and interest in software and hardware integration. He is a lifelong learner, an avid podcast listener, and an enthusiast of books of all genres.

Southern California https://davidtranscend.com