What is hoisting from a beginners perspective

6 min read

Hey everyone! In today’s world of numerous libraries and frameworks and even subtle packages for almost anything, starting from frontend to backend and all using Javascript, there are lots of people who can miss out on such important topics as Hoisting.

Hositing, is a very common behaviour in pure Javascript. And before we go into any of its working, let me tell you, Hoist simply means to “raise (something) by means of ropes and pulleys”. Well, we aint gonna see any ropes or pulleys in JS, though!

When you carefully read the MDN documentation, they say you’ll not find the term Hoisting used in any part of the official spec prior to ECMAScript 2015 Language Specification and thus many known courses miss out on this. Its because hoisiting is known of as a thought process of how Javascript works under the hood and believe it or not this happens each time you render your website on your browser.

I’m new. How does hoisting look like?

Lets move on with a code, shall we?

welcome(); // "Hello World!"
console.log(lang); // undefined

var lang = "JavaScript";

function welcome() {
	console.log("Hello World!");

As you can see, we call our function welcome before even declaring such a thing but still it gives us the desired output. And in case of lang, it’s undefined. First let me tell you, undefined is a value in Javascript, and even without declaring lang undefined how come the browsers say it as so! This is the magic of Hoisting.

What happens when you run your code?

Everytime you run your code, the JavaScript engine creates a brand new execution context that withhelds the information about the environment in which the current code is being executed. Now, you see an execution context is created in a two step process.

  • Creation Process
  • Execution Process

Its like, when you’ve finally bought your grocery from the store and first you’ve to cook what you wanna eat, then sit down to actually eat the food. So everytime you’re ready to watch your website, the JS engine runs and cooks it for ya! (i.e. creates the execution context)

Remember: The very first thing our Javascript engine does it to create a Global Execution Context, then as the engine parses further into our code, it creates a new execution context everytime another function comes up, its called the Functional Execution Context.

Lets say we have the following code.

var brand = "Ford";
var model = "Mustang";

carName(brand, model); // "Ford Mustang"

function carName(brand, model) {
	return brand + " " + model;

The Creation Process

In this process, your browser sets up a bunch of things:

  • The global object i.e. window
  • The this keyword
  • Link to its parent environment (only when creating local scopes)

Then, it parses through your code to see all the declarations of variables and functions. And finally, stores them to our global object or window, giving them a particular location in memory.

In our above code example, the creation process should look a bit like this.

function carName(brand, model) {
	return brand + " " + model;

// variable declaration
var brand;
var model;

You can also say this process as the Memory Creation Process.

The Execution Process

So as now we have access to all the created functions and variables that we declared in our code, we can start to execute our code line by line. This is where all the assignments to your variables take place and all the functions in your code start to run syncronosly.

In our above code, the execution process should look like this.

// code as in creation process (memory is allocation is done)
function carName(brand, model) {
	return brand + " " + model;

var brand;
var model;

// execution process part
brand = "Ford"; // variable initialization or assignment
model = "Mustang";

carName(brand, model); // "Ford Mustang"

Remember: As said, when each function is invoked the JS engine creates a brand new Functional Execution Context. It has access to the global execution context also. If your code is executing in strict mode **then value of this would be undefined or else it is the window object, in functional execution context.

Major Caveats in Hoisting

Functions come before Vars

For instance we have this code snippet.

    function a () {
        var b;
        function c () {};
        var d;

This upon hoisting, will get.

    function a() {
      function c() {};
      var b;
      var d;

For more opinions on this, refer to this stackoverflow answer.

Don’t confuse function declaration with function expression

In Javascript, we often use the function expression syntax, which is this way.

var iAmExpression = function whateverItIs() {
	return "Zero. Zip. Nada.";

Where as, function declaration is the good old way of making functions, like this.

function goodOldFunction() {
	return "Hip. Hip. Hurray!";

And when it comes to hoisting, the function declaration is hoisted to the top of their enclosing scope as explained above, but function expressions are not hoisted like that. They prefer to be hoisted as like variables, so it hoists the variable declaration, not the assignment part.

A Gift of ES6

As of ES6 or ECAMScript2015 we have access to two more ways of creating variable, those are let and const. But unfortunately, the don’t follow the hoisting rules like var.

For example.

let fruit = "Apple";


const vege = "Tomato";

What we get is, **Uncaught ReferenceError**``: Cannot access 'a' before initialization

This is why they are called Block level declarations. This is evaluated during runtime itself and we can’t access the variable the JS engine evaluates its value where it was declared.

This behaviour is also known as, Temporal Dead Zone, which means the space between variable declaration and its initialization between which it can’t be accessed, and will throw a Reference Error if used.

More on this, at this blog post.

Let’s end this.

So as you’ve now understood one of the important concepts of how Javascript works, give yourself a pat on the back and go grab a cup of coffee or something, you deserve this! Take Care.

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