Undefined NULL - by Shidhin

Scribbles of a UI developer, JavaScript enthusiast

Explaining Call and Apply in JavaScript, Through Mr.Dave

| Comments

Call and Apply, makes sense. Who is Mr.Dave ?

First, I admit the title looks bit weird. I know this topic has been explained a thousand times in many JavaScript blogs, and I don’t want to repeat the same here too. So I am gonna explain this through a person ‘Dave’.

Yesterday I got a chance to explain the call and apply methods in JavaScript to some of my friends. I had to pick a real world scenario to make them properly understand how it works. Here I am going to explain the same. Excuse me if this is going to be dumb story.

Real world scenario

Let’s assume, you’ve got a friend called Dave, and he is very smart. An interesting thing about him is, he has developed a method for booking flight tickets for cheap and easily. Basically how he has done this is by creating lot of contacts in this field, so that he can get more offers while flight booking. It took him many months to get it done.

Whenever Dave wants to make a flight booking, he calls his friends ( the contacts he made ) and tells them a secret code. They verifies the code and returns good offer details to him. After that, he provides the details of his travel and payment ..etc. He gets the tickets printed on his name, age, and id card number. Till now, all is well !

Now, if you want to a book a flight ticket using the same method, what will you do ?

  • You can build the same method as Dave built.
    • No ! that’s gonna take lot of time
  • You can ask Dave to use this method.
    • This is okay, but the ticket will have always Dave’s name, age and id card number
  • Fool Dave’s friends by impersonating as Dave and provide your details
    • Whaaaaat ?

Yeah, you are going to do the third step now. That’s the exact need of call and apply in JavaScript.

Structure of Dave in Code

Dave looks more like this in the code :

var Dave = {
    name : 'Dave',
    age    : '30',
    getIdNumber: function(){
        return 'id number of dave';   },
    bookCheapFlightTickets: function( place, numberOfPeople, paymentDetails ){
        function sendSecretCode(){
            // Dave's own logic for generating secret code
            // and sending to his friends
            // ...      }
        function bookTickets(){
            // book the tickets using the given details
            // the ticket will be printed always in this.name , this.age, this.getIdNumber() and here **this** is pointing to Dave
            return "Ticket is booked for "+ this.name + ", " + this.age +", "+ this.getIdNumber();
        var isVerified = sendSecretCode();
        return isVerified ? bookTickets() : false;  }};

Do you see any problem here ? The bookCheapFlightTickets() is complex. Also you cannot just execute it with Dave.bookCheapFlightTickets() by giving the place, numberOfPeople, and paymentDetails as parameters. Yes, the problem is the ticket is going to be printed on Dave’s details ( here the details are his name, age and idNumber ).

What are Call and Apply

In simple, call and apply are two methods of the Function object. Normally you can execute a function by appending ‘()’ to its name. Say, a function foo, can be invoked by calling foo(). Alternately, using call or apply :

foo.call( context, param1, param2, param3 );
foo.apply( context, [param1, param2, param3 ]);
Note: Only difference between the ‘call’ and ‘apply’ is the way to you pass the parameters to them. The former takes parameters as comma separated while the latter takes only array of parameters. Honestly, I don’t know why there are two implementations.

Now you may ask, what is this context parameter. Yeah, this is the only special thing about call and apply. The context is used for changing the execution context of the function. So when provided, it will replace all this references in the function with itself. Remember, if the context object is null/undefined, the execution context will be defaulted to global window object. i.e., this will reference to the window object. ( this will be changed in ES5 ).

So the main point is anything points to this inside a function can be changed to this context object. Voila, that’s what we’re looking for !

Let’s Apply What You Learnt

So now you know how to fool Dave’s friends by impersonating as Dave. You will be mostly look like below:

var You = {
    name: 'You',
    age:    '29',
    getIdNumber: function(){
        return 'your id number';  }}

Now you can borrow Dave’s method using call or apply.

var davesMethodForFlightBooking = Dave.bookCheapFlightTickets;
// using call
var bookedTicket = davesMethodForFlightBooking.call(You, place, numberOfPeople, paymentDetails);
// using apply
var bookedTicket = davesMethodForFlightBooking.apply(You, [place, numberOfPeople, paymentDetails]);


Call and Apply are two important tools of advanced JavaScript programming. In JavaScript, a function always have an execution context, called as this. When the function is executed normally, like this foo() the execution context points to the global window object. If the function is a method of an object, the execution context points to that object. For example, in the code obj.foo() the execution context this points to obj.

Call and Apply are the only way to change the execution context when a function is invoked. You can pass an object as the first parameter of the Call and Apply and the this reference will point to the object passed the function.

The only difference between the call and apply is the way to you pass the parameters to them. The former takes parameters as comma separated while the latter takes only array of parameters. Honestly, I don’t know why there are two implementations.

That’s it

Thanks for reading ! Please correct me if I made any mistakes in the post.