JavaScript: to prototype or not?

A recurring topic of some discussion among JavaScript users is whether to use prototype or instance/constructor-inner methods when defining JavaScript objects.

Prototype methods can be incredibly useful, but are in essence much like C# extension methods (which are incredibly useful for similar reasons). The primary use of both is to add functionality to a class/object type over which one does not have control. In this way, both C# extension methods and JavaScript prototype methods can even add functionality to foundational platform types in each language or environment. (Proponents of using prototype methods for everything sometimes point out that there is a small memory-use difference between prototype and non-prototype functions, but that difference is completely negligible for client-side development.)

Methods defined inside an object constructor, directly on “this”, have a major advantage in correct object-oriented design, however. That’s because methods inside the constructor can also access private properties/variables defined inside the constructor. Prototype methods cannot do this, as this example clearly demonstrates. A minor additional benefit is that instance methods defined this way are contained inside the constructor, a more object-oriented style than the extension-method feel of prototype methods.

This difference means that constructor-inner methods are the only correct choice for constructing object-oriented JavaScript. The alternate, using prototype methods only, would be akin to designing a C# or Java class with no private fields or properties, a clear violation of the encapsulation principle.

It’s clear that at least for client-side development, prototype methods may be useful to decorate a pre-existing API–but when designing one’s own object-oriented JavaScript, there is only one appropriate choice.


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