Web Dev Simplified Blog

JavaScript Var vs Let vs Const

January 20, 2020

If you have read any JavaScript programming tutorials then chances are you have run into code where variables are defined using a combination of var, let, and const. It can be confusing at first to understand why someone would use one over the other for defining variables, so in this article I am going to breakdown the exact differences between var, let, and const so you know exactly when to use each.

PS: This article is available in video form as well. Check it out if you are visual learner. Click here to view the video.

Understanding Var

Before the introduction of ES6, JavaScript only had one way to define variables which was the var keyword. This worked fine for many years, but var works differently than most other programming languages when it comes to how the variable that is created is scoped.

The var keyword creates variables which are function scoped. This means that any variable created with var is available anywhere in the function in which it is defined. For example in the below code the name variable is available outside the if statement in which it is defined because var variables are available anywhere in the function that they are defined.

function print() {
  if (true) {
    var name = 'Kyle'
  }
  console.log(name)
}
// Prints: Kyle

This is different than most other programming languages where this variable would not be available outside the if block. Another thing to note about function scoping is that if the variable is declared outside of any function then the variable is a global variable available everywhere. The following example is nearly identical to the previous example, but there is no surrounding function so the name variable is available everywhere.

if (true) {
  var name = 'Kyle'
}
console.log(name)
// Prints: Kyle

Understanding Const/Let

This behavior is obviously much different than most other programming languages, so with ES6 JavaScript introduced let and const which work more like variables in other programming languages. let and const are block scoped which means that they are only available inside the block in which they are defined. A block defines any set of code that is inside a set of curly braces. For example, this could be a function, if block, for loop, etc. If the previous examples used the let or const keyword instead of var they would throw an error since the variable is not defined in the block in which it is used.

if (true) {
  let name = 'Kyle'
}
console.log(name)
// Uncaught ReferenceError: name is not defined

In order to make the above code function the console.log would need to be moved into the block with the name.

if (true) {
  let name = 'Kyle'
  console.log(name)
  // Prints: Kyle
}

Other Differences Between Var and Let/Const

While block vs function scoping is the largest difference between the old var keyword and the new let/const keywords, there are still a few other differences between them. One of the major differences is that the variables defined by var are hoisted which means that they are available to be used even before they are defined. For example, the following code will not throw any errors even though the variable is defined after it is first used.

console.log(name)
// Prints: undefined
var name = 'Kyle'
console.log(name)
// Prints: Kyle

This is not the case for let/const, though. Just like in most other programming languages, a variable declared with let/const must be defined before it is used the first time.

console.log(name)
// Uncaught ReferenceError: name is not defined
let name = 'Kyle'
console.log(name)

The last major difference, is that var variables can be redeclared with the var keyword, while trying to redeclare a variable with the let keyword will throw an error. For example the following code will change the name variable.

var name = 'Kyle'
console.log(name)
// Prints: Kyle
var name = 'Sally'
console.log(name)
// Prints: Sally

When using let/const, this will throw an error.

let name = 'Kyle'
console.log(name)
// Prints: Kyle
let name = 'Sally'
// Uncaught SyntaxError: Identifier 'name' has already been declared
console.log(name)

Let vs Const

We have talked a bunch about the differences between var and let/const, but there is one big difference between let and const that we need to talk about. This difference is that variables defined by const can never be changed, while variables defined by let can be changed whenever. For example, the following code will work since the variable is declared using let.

let name = 'Kyle'
console.log(name)
// Prints: Kyle
name = 'Sally'
console.log(name)
// Prints: Sally

This will throw an error with const, though, since const variables are constant and cannot change.

const name = 'Kyle'
console.log(name)
// Prints: Kyle
name = 'Sally'
// Uncaught TypeError: Assignment to constant variable.
console.log(name)

This may make you think that const variables can never be changed, but in actuality const only prevents a variable from being reassigned. If the const variable was an object, for example, the properties of the object could be changed.

const person = { name: 'Kyle' }
console.log(person.name)
// Prints: Kyle
person.name = 'Sally'
console.log(person.name)
// Prints: Sally

Conclusion

So now you know the differences between var, let, and const, but which one should you use. In my opinion, you should always use either let or const. This is because var has many weird behaviors, such as hoisting and function scoping, which let and const do not have to worry about. Between let and const, I would recommend using const whenever you do not need to reassign the variable value, and only use let when you absolutely have to reassign a variable. This will overall make your code easier to read and reason with.


Kyle Cook

The official Web Dev Simplified blog by Kyle Cook.

Short and simple articles on web development.