Frontend Infrastructure: Scope & Closure

7 min read
lettersPhoto by Max Böhme


Scope in JavaScript is basically a context of execution, a place where values and expressions (variables, constants, functions, etc) can be referenced.

In the hierarchy of scopes, a child scope has access to the parent scope, but not vice versa.

const PI = 3.14;

function calculateArea(r) {
  return PI * r * r;

calculateArea(1); // 3.14

In this example, we have the "global" scope where we define PI and the function calculateArea. As it was said before, the child scope has access to the parent scope, this is why the calculateArea function can use the PI constant within it. Where you define your functions determines what variables your function has access to when you call it.

Invoking the function and passing the value 1, it will result in 3.14. If the function scope didn't have access to the parent scope (the "global" scope), PI wouldn't be defined and node would raise an error exception: Uncaught ReferenceError: PI is not defined.

If we do the other way around, meaning, trying to access a constant defined in a child scope from the parent scope, it will raise an error exception.

function functionScope() {
  const TEST = 'test';

TEST; // ReferenceError: TEST is not defined

TEST is only defined and accessible to the functionScope function, not for the "global" scope.


As MDN web docs defines:

"A closure is the combination of a function bundled together (enclosed) with references to its surrounding state (the lexical environment)."

Basically, every time a function is created, a closure is also created and it gives access to all state (variables, constants, functions, etc). The surrounding state is known as the lexical environment.

Let's show a simple example:

function makeFunction() {
  const name = 'TK';
  function displayName() {
  return displayName;

What do we have here?

  • The main function called makeFunction
  • A constant named name assigned with a string 'TK'
  • The definition of the displayName function (that just log the name constant)
  • And finally the makeFunction returns the displayName function

This is just a definition of a function. When we call the makeFunction, it will create everything within it: constant and function in this case.

As we know, when the displayName function is created, the closure is also created and it makes the function aware of the environment, in this case, the name constant. This is why we can console.log the name without breaking anything. The function knows about the lexical environment.

const myFunction = makeFunction();
myFunction(); // TK

Great! It works as expected! The return of the makeFunction is a function that we store it in the myFunction constant, call it later, and displays TK.

We can also make it work as an arrow function:

const makeFunction = () => {
  const name = 'TK';
  return () => console.log(name);

But what if we want to pass the name and display it? A parameter!

const makeFunction = (name = 'TK') => {
  return () => console.log(name);

// Or a one-liner
const makeFunction =
  (name = 'TK') =>
  () =>

Now we can play with the name:

const myFunction = makeFunction();
myFunction(); // TK

const myFunction = makeFunction('Kazumi');
myFunction(); // Kazumi

Our myFunction is aware of the arguments passed: default or dynamic value. The closure does make the created function not only aware of constants/variables, but also other functions within the function.

So this also works:

const makeFunction = (name = 'TK') => {
  const display = () => console.log(name);
  return () => display();

const myFunction = makeFunction();
myFunction(); // TK

The returned function knows about the display function and it is able to call it.

One powerful technique is to use closures to build "private" functions and variables.

What if we want to build a Stack data structure using only functions. Let's see how it would work.

The main API is:

  • push: add an item to the first place of the stack
  • pop: remove the first item from the stack
  • peek: get the first item from the stack
  • isEmpty: verify if the stack is empty
  • size: get the number of items the stack has

We could clearly create a simple function to each "method" and pass the stack data to it. It use/transform the data and return it.

But we can also create a private stack data and exposes only the API methods. Let's do this!

const buildStack = () => {
  let items = [];

  const push = (item) => (items = [item, ...items]);
  const pop = () => (items = items.slice(1));
  const peek = () => items[0];
  const isEmpty = () => !items.length;
  const size = () => items.length;

  return {

As we created the items stack data inside our buildStack function, it is "private". It can be accessed only within the function. In this case, only the push, pop, etc could touch the data. And this is what we're looking for.

And how do we use it? Like this:

const stack = buildStack();

stack.isEmpty(); // true

stack.push(1); // [1]
stack.push(2); // [2, 1]
stack.push(3); // [3, 2, 1]
stack.push(4); // [4, 3, 2, 1]
stack.push(5); // [5, 4, 3, 2, 1]

stack.peek(); // 5
stack.size(); // 5
stack.isEmpty(); // false

stack.pop(); // [4, 3, 2, 1]
stack.pop(); // [3, 2, 1]
stack.pop(); // [2, 1]
stack.pop(); // [1]

stack.isEmpty(); // false
stack.peek(); // 1
stack.pop(); // []
stack.isEmpty(); // true
stack.size(); // 0

So, when the stack is created, all the functions are aware of the items array. But outside the function, we can't access this data. It's private. We just modify the data by using the stack builtin API.

It also important to understand that each time a function is returned from another function, it's created their own closure with the lexical environment, so if we return the function multiple times, each function will have their own closure.

Let's see an example.

function generator() {
  let counter = 0;

  function increment() {

  return increment;

Here we have a generator function that returns a increment function. As we know now, the increment function has access to the counter variable because of the closure.

const increment = generator();

increment(); // console.log -> 0
increment(); // console.log -> 1
increment(); // console.log -> 2
increment(); // console.log -> 3

If we invoke the generator function, we get the increment function. And if the increment function is called, it will log the counter and then increment the counter by 1. Everytime it's called, the counter has a different value.

If we invoke the generator function two times, it creates two increment functions with their own closure and lexical environment.

const increment = generator();

increment(); // console.log -> 0
increment(); // console.log -> 1
increment(); // console.log -> 2
increment(); // console.log -> 3

const anotherIncrement = generator();

anotherIncrement(); // console.log -> 0
anotherIncrement(); // console.log -> 1
anotherIncrement(); // console.log -> 2
anotherIncrement(); // console.log -> 3

Now we have increment and anotherIncrement functions and as they have their own closure, the counter starts with the value 0 in both functions. If they shared the same closure, the counter should start with 3 in the first call of anotherIncrement.

Understanding scope is the building block to deeply understand JavaScript. Understanding closures opens news possibilities to different approaches and solutions like the module pattern and private values.


My Twitter and Github