javascript- the story of var, let and const

What is scope?

Before we get into let and const, let's simply define what scope means in JavaScript context.

In JavaScript, scope can be defined as the area that something covers, which in the end determines the variables it has the access to. There are two main kinds of scope, one being the global scope, and the other one being the local scope.

★ Global Scope

If a variable is defined outside of all functions and curly braces (which can be referred to as blocks), it is in the global scope and it can be accessed from anywhere from your code. Although it looks easier to declare every variable globally, it is not advised to, as it can cause name collisions and unintended modifications. You should declare variables as locally as possible so that only the code blocks who actually need that variable will be able to access it or change it.

★ Local Scope

In JavaScript, there are two main kinds of local scope, one being the function scope, and the other one being the block scope. Any variable declared inside these scopes is considered to be local variables.

Any variable declared in function scope (between the curly braces in the function definition) can only be used inside the same scope. It cannot be accessed from anywhere. Also, functions do not have access to each other's scopes. They all have their individual scopes.

If a function is defined inside of another function, the inner function has the access to the outer function's variables, but the outer function doesn't have access to the inner function's variables. This is called lexical scoping.

A block is any code in between curly braces, and if you declare any variable inside a block using 'let' and 'const', it will only be available inside of that block.

What is Closure?

A closure in JavaScript is a function that is defined inside of another function. The closure has access to three different scopes, one is its own functional scope, the second one is the outer function's variables (outer function's function scope), and the third one is the global scope. Closures are usually returned so that they can be used to create side effects and create private variables.

Let's create a very simple closure:

function outerFn() {
  const outerVariable = "Hello from the OuterFn!"
  return function innerFn() {

outerFn()() // Alert: "Hello from the OuterFn!"

Side effects are anything a piece of code does that can be observed from outside. To be counted as a side effect, it should either have an effect on the code that comes after it or change the display in some way. A side effect can be logging something to the console, writing to a file or the screen, modifying external variables (variables outside of its own scope), setting a timeout or an interval, an Ajax request, or calling other functions that have side effects.

Let's create an example of closure with some side effect:

// You want to create a function that will celebrate your friend's birthday, but on their birthday.
// It should also inform you about their age.
function celebrateBirthday(name, age) {
  return function createAlertAndLogInformation() {
    alert(`Happy birthday, ${name}!`)
    console.log(`${name} is ${age} years old.`)

const celebrateFriend1 = celebrateBirthday("Friend1", 30)

console.log(typeof celebrateFriend1) // function

You don't always have to return a function, you can return an object that has methods you can call.

function celebrateBirthday(name, age) {
  return {
    createAlertAndLogInformation() {
      alert(`Happy birthday, ${name}!`)
      console.log(`${name} is ${age} years old.`)
    sayHi() {

const celebrateFriend1 = celebrateBirthday("Friend1", 30)

console.log(typeof celebrateFriend1) // object

In both of the examples above, the age variable is only exposed by the createAlertAndLogInformation closure. It cannot be reached or manipulated by outside sources, so it serves as one of the reasons why we use closures: data privacy.

Another reason to use closures is to use functions to create functions (which can be referred to as function composition). Let's create a simple example of this:

function createGreeting(greeting, name) {
  return `${greeting}, ${name}-san.`

const morningGreetingJp = name => createGreeting("Ohayou gozaimasu", name)
const eveningGreetingJp = name => createGreeting("Konbanwa", name)


var, let and const: the differences

Before ES6, there was a single way to declare a variable, and that was by using the keyword var. This keyword had its own set of problems, and this article will discuss what ES6 (ES2015) improved by introducing let and const syntaxes instead of var.

Let's go through the differences one by one.

★ One of the biggest problems with declaring variables defined with the "var" keyword was that you could overwrite variable declarations without an error (which means, you could declare the same variable multiple times, which could be very problematic if you're not doing it on purpose). In a small application, you might not run into this type of problem, but when your code becomes larger, you might accidentally overwrite a variable that you did not intend to overwrite. Because this behavior does not throw an error, searching and fixing bugs becomes more difficult. The introduction of the let keyword solved this problem.

var wizard = "James"
var wizard = "Sirius"
console.log(wizard) // prints 'Sirius'. You declared and initialized the same variable twice. This is not optimal.

let wizard = "James"
let wizard = "Harry" // throws an error. You cannot declare the same variable twice if you use "let".

★ When you declared a variable using the "var" keyword, you could always reassign a new value to them. But what about values that should not be changed or reassigned throughout the code? The introduction of let and const put an end to this problem. If you declare a variable with let, you can reassign its value. You can even declare a variable without assigning any value. On the other hand, the const keyword should be chosen if you’re not planning on changing the value of this variable (which then becomes a constant). But if you are using "const", the variable also has to be initialized when declared and it cannot be reassigned. This should be your default choice unless you need to re-assign it during runtime, it keeps your code explicit and clear.

var wizard = "James";
wizard = "Sirius";
console.log(wizard) // prints Sirius. You reassigned its value in the second line.

let wizard = "James";
let owl;
owl = "Hedwig";
wizard = "Harry"
console.log(wizard, owl) // prints Harry Hedwig. You can reassign the value if you declare a variable with 'let', just like 'var'.

const cat; // throws an error. You cannot declare but not initialize a constant variable.

const cat = "Crookshanks";
cat = "Nelly" // throws an error. You cannot reassign a value to a constant variable.

★ With let and const, a new concept was introduced to JS, named block scope, which was introduced at the beginning of this article. It means a variable is only available in the block you define it in or any lower blocks.

A block is a snippet surrounded with curly braces ({}).

With the "var" keyword, any variable you define inside a block scope could be reached from the scope above it (if it's in a function, it can be reached by the functional scope, if it's not, it can be reached by the global scope), and that led to many confusions.

Variables declared with "let" have block scope. They are not accessible outside of their scopes.

Let's see some examples:

var wizard = "Ron"
if (true) {
  // this space in between curly braces is called a "block".
  var witch = "Hermione"

console.log(witch, wizard) // This prints out Hermione Ron. When defined with var the witch variable exists outside of the block scope as well.

if (true) {
  let school = "Hogwarts"
  console.log(school) // This prints out Hogwarts

console.log(school) // This prints out undefined. When defined with let, the school variable exists only in the block scope, but not globally.

Note: Reference type data (arrays, objects) acts a little bit differently. In the reference type, variables don't hold the value itself but a pointer to that value. If a variable that is declared with the "const" keyword is holding a reference type data, you can't reassign a value to it, but you can manipulate the variable inside with built-in methods (like push, pop, shift, unshift, etc. for arrays).


  1. The Modern JavaScript Tutorial-
  2. MDN web docs
  3. Academind - Maximilian Schwarzmüller
  4. Eloquent JavaScript: A Modern Introduction to Programming
  5. w3schools
  6. JavaScript Scope and Closures by Zell Liew
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