Skip to main content Accessibility Feedback

What is hoisting in vanilla JavaScript?

One topic a lot of people told me they find confusing is hoisting.

To explain what it is, we need to first quickly look at the two different ways you can create a function.

Note: I posted an update to this article with some clarifying points here.

Function expressions vs. function declarations

There are two ways to create a function: function expressions and function declarations.

With a function declaration, you start with the function operator, then assign it a name. With a function expression, you create a variable, and assign an anonymous function to it.

// Function declaration
function add(num1, num2) {
	return num1 + num2;

// Function expression
var add = function (num1, num2) {
	return num1 + num2;

They more-or-less do the same thing, with one important caveat: function declarations are hoisted, while function expressions are not.

So… what is hoisting, exactly?

When a JavaScript file is compiled by the browser, but before it’s actually executed, function declarations are stored in memory but left exactly where they are in your code.

When the JS file actually runs, the browser is already aware of those functions before it gets to them in the code.

It’s like they’ve been hoisted to the top of the file (even though they actually remain exactly where they were).

// This was hoisted, so it works
// returns 6
add(3, 3);
function add(num1, num2) {
	return num1 + num2;

// This was not, so it doesn't
// returns Uncaught TypeError: subtract is not a function
subtract(7, 4);
var subtract = function (num1, num2) {
	return num1 - num2;

Here’s a demo you can play with.

Is hoisting good or bad?

Like many things in coding, it depends.

Personally, I think it can result in sloppier and less structured code. But it doesn’t have to. Many people like that it allows them to author their code top down in a way that they find more readable.

I personally prefer function expressions, as I feel it creates a bit more rigid of a code structure.