Safely navigating object hierarchies in JavaScript using prototype methods

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Anyone who’s dealt with a deeply nested set of properties in JavaScript, whether through use of an extensive third-party JavaScript API or a custom library, has likely run into the problem of safely accessing such structures. One can of course hand-roll many ugly, hard-to-read statements like the following, adding on to the maintenance burden of the code (splitting lines as necessary for length, of course):

if (a && a.b && a.b.c && a.b.c.d && a.b.c.d.e) { doSomethingWith(a.b.c.d.e); }

The main alternative to this approach is to make such accesses within a try-catch block, but this is generally slower by at least a couple of orders of magnitude when exceptions are thrown, so not always useful in tight loops and other performance-sensitive situations. It’s also arguably an abuse of the try/catch mechanism.

Luckily, a less unsavory solution with fairly good performance can be adopted using JavaScript prototype methods. Here’s a reference implementation, and you can also try it for yourself (with timings):

// Indicates whether an object has the indicated nested subproperty, which may be specified with chained dot notation 
// or as separate string arguments.
Object.prototype.hasSubproperty = function() {
	if (arguments.length == 0 || typeof(arguments[0]) != 'string') return false;  
  var properties = arguments[0].indexOf('.') > -1 ? arguments[0].split('.') : arguments;    
  var current = this;
  for(var x = 0; x  -1 ? arguments[0].split('.') : arguments;    
  var current = this;
  for(var x = 0; x < properties.length; x++) {
  	current = current[properties[x]];
    if ((typeof current) == 'undefined') return undefined;
  }  
  return current;
};

// Gets the indicated nested subproperty, which may be specified with chained dot notation or as separate arguments.
// If the specified subproperty (or any intervening object in the hierarchy) is not found, returns undefined.
Object.prototype.getSubproperty = function() {
	if (arguments.length == 0 || typeof(arguments[0]) != 'string') return false;  
  var properties = arguments[0].indexOf('.') > -1 ? arguments[0].split('.') : arguments;    
  var current = this;
  for(var x = 0; x < properties.length; x++) {
  	current = current[properties[x]];
    if ((typeof current) == 'undefined') return undefined;
  }  
  return current;
};

// Sets the indicated nested subproperty, which may be specified with chained dot notation or as separate arguments.
// If any intervening object in the hierarchy is not found, returns false, otherwise sets the value and returns true.
Object.prototype.setSubproperty = function() {
	if (arguments.length  -1 ? arguments[0].split('.') : Array.prototype.slice.call(arguments, 0, arguments.length - 1);    
  var parent, current = this;
  for(var x = 0; x < properties.length - 1; x++) {
  	current = current[properties[x]];
    if ((typeof current) == 'undefined') return false;
  }  
  current[properties[properties.length - 1]] = arguments[arguments.length - 1];
  return true;
};

Some observations: if you run the timings, you’ll note that the try-catch method is still quite fast when exceptions are not thrown, indicating that try-catch might be workable when exceptions are expected to be truly… exceptional. Still, in any but extraordinary conditions, the performance of the prototype-method approach should be quite fast enough, avoids worst-case performance, and is cleanest overall.

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