Flows of energy

by Marijn Haverbeke (license)

On null and undefined in JavaScript

Thursday, July 25, 2013 javascript

This is a brief post to explain why my JavaScript code is full of == null comparison expressions, even though linter software tends to disapprove.

JavaScript defines both undefined and null as separate values. The first comes up in many constructs in the core language—an uninitialized variable, a parameter that wasn't passed, a missing field in an object, or a call to a function that doesn't return anything all have the value undefined. The null value has the ring of a C null-pointer, and tends to be common in library interfaces—a child-less DOM node has a firstChild property of null, getElementById with a non-existent ID gives you null, and so on.

I have found the distinction between null and undefined to be mostly useless—a cognitive burden without merit.

The interesting distinction is usually between 'non-values' and actual values.

The == null (or != null, as it may fit) pattern is...

So I've made it policy in my code, whenever possible (which is pretty much always) to treat null and undefined interchangeably when accepting them as input. This saves both myself and the users of my libraries one more thing to worry about.

(For output, I tend to stick to null, so as to not force my sins on the poor souls who have to code under the tyrannical eye of JSLint.)