I'm looking for some good comprehensive reading material on when JavaScript passes something by value and when by reference and when modifying a passed item affects the value outside a function and when not. I'm also interested in when assigning to another variable is by reference vs. by value and whether that follows any different rules than passing as a function parameter.

I've done a lot of searching and find lots of specific examples (many of them here on SO) from which I can start to piece together pieces of the real rules, but I haven't yet found a single, well written document that describes it all.

Also, are there ways in the language to control whether something is passed by reference or by value?

Here are some of the types of questions I want to understand. These are just examples - I'm actually looking to understand the rules the language goes by, not just the answers to specific examples. But, here are some examples:

function f(a,b,c) {
   a = 3;
   c.first = false;

var x = 4;
var y = ["eeny", "miny", "mo"];
var z = {first: true};

When are the contents of x, y and z changed outside the scope of f for all the different types?

function f() {
    var a = ["1", "2", "3"];
    var b = a[1];
    a[1] = "4";
    // what is the value of b now for all possible data types that the array in "a" might hold?

function f() {
    var a = [{yellow: "blue"}, {red: "cyan"}, {green: "magenta"}];
    var b = a[1];
    a[1].red = "tan";
    // what is the value of b now and why? = "black";
    // did the value of a[1].red change when I assigned to

If I want to make a fully independent copy of an object (no references whatsoever), what's the best practice way to do that?

Solution 1

My understanding is that this is actually very simple:

  • Javascript is always pass by value, but when a variable refers to an object (including arrays), the "value" is a reference to the object.
  • Changing the value of a variable never changes the underlying primitive or object, it just points the variable to a new primitive or object.
  • However, changing a property of an object referenced by a variable does change the underlying object.

So, to work through some of your examples:

function f(a,b,c) {
    // Argument a is re-assigned to a new value.
    // The object or primitive referenced by the original a is unchanged.
    a = 3;
    // Calling b.push changes its properties - it adds
    // a new property b[b.length] with the value "foo".
    // So the object referenced by b has been changed.
    // The "first" property of argument c has been changed.
    // So the object referenced by c has been changed (unless c is a primitive)
    c.first = false;

var x = 4;
var y = ["eeny", "miny", "mo"];
var z = {first: true};
console.log(x, y, z.first); // 4, ["eeny", "miny", "mo", "foo"], false

Example 2:

var a = ["1", "2", {foo:"bar"}];
var b = a[1]; // b is now "2";
var c = a[2]; // c now references {foo:"bar"}
a[1] = "4";   // a is now ["1", "4", {foo:"bar"}]; b still has the value
              // it had at the time of assignment
a[2] = "5";   // a is now ["1", "4", "5"]; c still has the value
              // it had at the time of assignment, i.e. a reference to
              // the object {foo:"bar"}
console.log(b,; // "2" "bar"

Solution 2

Javascript always passes by value. However, if you pass an object to a function, the "value" is really a reference to that object, so the function can modify that object's properties but not cause the variable outside the function to point to some other object.

An example:

function changeParam(x, y, z) {
  x = 3;
  y = "new string";
  z["key2"] = "new";
  z["key3"] = "newer";

  z = {"new" : "object"};

var a = 1,
    b = "something",
    c = {"key1" : "whatever", "key2" : "original value"};

changeParam(a, b, c);

// at this point a is still 1
// b is still "something"
// c still points to the same object but its properties have been updated
// so it is now {"key1" : "whatever", "key2" : "new", "key3" : "newer"}
// c definitely doesn't point to the new object created as the last line
// of the function with z = ...

Solution 3

Yes, Javascript always passes by value, but in an array or object, the value is a reference to it, so you can 'change' the contents.

But, I think you already read it on SO; here you have the documentation you want:

Solution 4

  1. Primitive type variable like string,number are always pass as pass by value.
  2. Array and Object is passed as pass by reference or pass by value based on these two condition.

    • if you are changing value of that Object or array with new Object or Array then it is pass by Value.

      object1 = {item: "car"}; array1=[1,2,3];

    here you are assigning new object or array to old are not changing the value of property of old it is pass by value.

    • if you are changing a property value of an object or array then it is pass by Reference.

      object1.item= "car"; array1[0]=9;

    here you are changing a property value of old are not assigning new object or array to old it is pass by reference.


    function passVar(object1, object2, number1) {

        object1.key1= "laptop";
        object2 = {
            key2: "computer"
        number1 = number1 + 1;

    var object1 = {
        key1: "car"
    var object2 = {
        key2: "bike"
    var number1 = 10;

    passVar(object1, object2, number1);

Output: -