Of how to implement transient in JavaScript

What’s transient anyway ?

Ninjavascript

Java programmers are probably familiar with the concept of transient as it is a keyword in this language. By marking an object property as transient, you tell Java that this property should be skipped in serialization.

While this kind of functionality should arguably not be part of a programming language, but live in its standard library (as a decorator maybe), last week at work, I kind of wished Javascript had such a functionality.

We are using AngularJS for our UI, and our UI-model had some extra property that we don’t want to persist on the server. There is a couple different ways to address this problem when it happens :

To tell the truth, I just went with solution 1. While tricks are exciting, they can rapidly make of you a bad coworker as magic tend to obsfuscate code.

Anyway, let’s state formally our …

Javascript puzzle of the day

Implement the function called transient such that the following script does not print any error on your console. Alternatively you can use this JsFiddle.

function transient(obj, key) {
    // ...  you need to implement this
}

// ... while the following should stay untouched

function assert(predicate, description) {  
    if (predicate !== true) {
        console.log("FAILED", description)
    }
}

function SomeObject() {
    this.someProp = { "name": "José Bové" }
    this.transientProp  = { "name": "Aimé Jacquet" }
}

var obj = new SomeObject();
transient(obj, "transientProp")

var obj2 = new SomeObject();
transient(obj2, "transientProp")
obj2.transientProp.age = 53;

assert(obj.someProp !== undefined,
    "someProp should stay accessible" )

assert(obj.transientProp !== undefined,
    "transientProp should stay accessible")

assert(obj.transientProp.age === undefined, 
    "transientProp should not be shared between objects")

assert(obj2.transientProp.age === 53,
    "transientProp should not be shared between objects")

assert(JSON.parse(JSON.stringify(obj)).someProp !== undefined,
    "someProp should still be serialized")

assert(JSON.parse(JSON.stringify(obj)).transientProp === undefined, 
    "transientProp should not be serialized")

The solution

Disclaimer Some adaptation should be done to the following solution to make it compatible for IE, as it relies heavily on __proto__. I wont do it here as it would make the trick harder to read.

The idea relies on the fact that JSON.stringify will only serialized object’s own property, and ignore those he has access to through prototypal inheritance.

But what is JS’s prototypal inheritance all about?


Ninjavascript

Linked lists, by Jean-Francois Millet (1814 - 1875)



Well prototypal inheritance is just about linked list. All javascript object belong to a linked list. The reference leading to the next object in this linked list is explicitely accessible via youObj.__proto__ on most browser (sorry for IE).

When looking for an object’s property via obj.myattr or obj["myattr"], a JS interpreter will first check if obj has a property of its own named myattr. If it doesn’t, the interpreter will lookup recursively in the next element of the prototype chain, until he find the property, or the end of the prototype chain.

This mechanism is mostly used for inheritance purposes. In that case, instances' prototype are poiting to their class prototype, while classes on the other hand are pointing to their mother class.

But there are other uses to the prototype chain. For instance it brilliantly backs up the concept of child-scope in angularJS.

In our problem, we use it to dynamically add an extra prototype layer to host the transient properties of our object. This layer will be unique for each instance of the object, which is kind of unusual.

function transient(obj, k) {
    if (obj.hasOwnProperty(k)) {
        var v = obj[k]
        if (typeof v != "object") {
            throw "Does not work well with integral types.";
        }
        delete obj[k];
        if (!obj.__proto__.__transientninja__) {
            obj.__proto__ = {
                "__proto__": obj.__proto__,
                "__transientninja__": true
            }
        }
        obj.__proto__[k] = v;
    }
}

What other use of the prototype chain can you think of?