Optional Chaining

By  on  

For all of the improvements that the JavaScript language has added over the past few years, like the spread operator, default argument values, and arrow functions, there are still a few features I'd love to see implemented. One such feature is optional chaining. Optional chaining allows developers to reference object properties which may or may not exist without trigger an error.

Take the following example case:

const person = {
  name: "David",
  skills: {
    javascript: {
      frameworks: ["MooTools", "React"],
    }
  },
  save: () => { }
};

// Property that *doesn't* exist (css)
person.skills.css.frameworks;
// Uncaught TypeError: Cannot read property 'frameworks' of undefined

Attempting to get a property of an undefined parent results in a TypeError which can brick your application. In this case we'd want to check to ensure that css property exists:

if(
  person.skills && 
  person.skills.css && 
  person.skills.css.frameworks) {
    // ...
}

I wrote a get and set utility called Objectifier to make referencing nested object properties easier, but with the Optional Chaining proposal, we now have a native way.

A simple example of optional chaining is:

const skills = person?.skills;

You can continue the pattern down the line of nested objects:

const frameworks = person?.skills?.javascript?.frameworks;

If ever a property doesn't exist, the chaining stops and undefined is returned. Optional chaining also supports bracket syntax:

const language = "javascript";
const frameworks = person?.skills?.[language]?.frameworks;

You can also call a function without penalty:

// Calls save if exists, otherwise nothing
const frameworks = person?.save();

You can even use the chaining syntax on the top level object:

addEventListener?.("click", e => { });

methodDoesntExist?.(); // undefined

You can even use destructuring with optional chaining:

const { frameworks, doesntExist } = person.skills?.javascript;

If you want to set a fallback value in the case that a value is undefined, you can do so with ??:

let frameworkz = person?.skills?.["javascript"]?.frameworkz ?? "react.js";

At the time of writing, optional chaining doesn't appear in any browsers yet, but you can play around with optional chaining at the Babel online compiler.

Optional chaining seems like a somewhat controversial change. It's been argued that developers should know and validate the objects they're using; on the other hand, the continuous nested property checking is a nightmare. I look forward to optional chaining in JavaScript. What are your thoughts?

Recent Features

  • By
    Interview with a Pornhub Web Developer

    Regardless of your stance on pornography, it would be impossible to deny the massive impact the adult website industry has had on pushing the web forward. From pushing the browser's video limits to pushing ads through WebSocket so ad blockers don't detect them, you have...

  • By
    9 Mind-Blowing Canvas Demos

    The <canvas> element has been a revelation for the visual experts among our ranks.  Canvas provides the means for incredible and efficient animations with the added bonus of no Flash; these developers can flash their awesome JavaScript skills instead.  Here are nine unbelievable canvas demos that...

Incredible Demos

  • By
    Disable Autocomplete, Autocapitalize, and Autocorrect

    Mobile and desktop browser vendors do their best to help us not look like idiots by providing us autocomplete, autocorrect, and autocapitalize features.  Unfortunately these features can sometimes get in the way;  we don't always want or need the help they provide.  Luckily most browsers allow...

  • By
    iPhone-Style Passwords Using MooTools PassShark

    Every once in a while I come across a plugin that blows me out of the water and the most recent culprit is PassShark: a MooTools plugin that duplicates the iPhone's method of showing/hiding the last character in a password field. This gem of...

Discussion

  1. Micha

    “It’s been argued that developers should know and validate the objects they’re using”

    This will still be the case. Of course if devs don’t make it a habit to always make everything optional just in case. :)

  2. I love optional chaining in C# and use it so often that I feel limited without in when I switch to writing JS. I would love to avoid writing those switch statements to null check an objects hierarchy down to the prop I need. Nice post!

  3. Amazingly well explained, thank you very much !

  4. hacksForHarambe

    it’s going to be a dream come true. es2020 let’s go

  5. toblerone

    “It’s been argued that developers should know and validate the objects they’re using”

    This is pedantic non-sense, it’s has always existed, and will continue to exist, in every possible nook and cranny and has always been, and will continue to be, ignored in the real world.

Wrap your code in <pre class="{language}"></pre> tags, link to a GitHub gist, JSFiddle fiddle, or CodePen pen to embed!