Understanding the JavaScript Prototype Chain and Inheritance

In this blog post, we'll dive deep into the world of JavaScript and explore the concepts of Prototype Chain and Inheritance. These two concepts are fundamental to understanding how objects work in JavaScript, and they play a critical role in making JavaScript a versatile and powerful language. So, whether you're a beginner or an experienced JavaScript developer, it's essential to understand these concepts to build more efficient and scalable applications. Let's begin!

The JavaScript Object

Before we dive into the prototype chain and inheritance, it's important to understand the basics of JavaScript objects. An object in JavaScript is a collection of key-value pairs, where each key is a string or a symbol, and the value can be any data type, including other objects. Objects are created using the object literal syntax or the new keyword with a constructor function. Here's an example:

const person = { firstName: "John", lastName: "Doe" };

In the example above, we've created a simple person object with two properties: firstName and lastName.

The Prototype Chain

In JavaScript, every object has a prototype, which is another object that it inherits properties and methods from. This prototype object has its own prototype, creating a chain of objects known as the prototype chain. This chain ends with the null object, which has no prototype.

The prototype chain plays a vital role in how JavaScript resolves property and method lookups. When you try to access a property or method on an object, JavaScript first looks for it on the object itself. If it doesn't find it there, it moves up the prototype chain, checking each object in the chain until it either finds the property/method or reaches the end of the chain (i.e., the null object).

To understand the prototype chain better, let's consider an example:

const person = { firstName: "John", lastName: "Doe" }; console.log(person.toString()); // Output: "[object Object]"

In the example above, we're trying to access the toString() method on the person object. However, we didn't define the toString() method on the person object. So, JavaScript looks up the prototype chain and finds the toString() method on the Object.prototype object, which is the prototype of our person object.

You can access an object's prototype using the Object.getPrototypeOf() method or the deprecated __proto__ property. Here's an example:

const personPrototype = Object.getPrototypeOf(person); console.log(personPrototype); // Output: {constructor: ƒ Object(), ...} console.log(person.__proto__); // Output: {constructor: ƒ Object(), ...}

The new Keyword and Constructor Functions

Constructor functions are special functions in JavaScript that are used to create new objects. They follow the naming convention of starting with a capital letter. When a constructor function is called with the new keyword, JavaScript creates a new object, sets its prototype to the constructor function's prototype property, and calls the constructor function with the new object as its context (this).

Let's create a Person constructor function and use it to create a new person object:

function Person(firstName, lastName) { this.firstName = firstName; this.lastName = lastName; } const person = new Person("John", "Doe"); console.log(person); // Output: Person {firstName: "John", lastName: "Doe"}

In the example above, the Person constructor function sets the firstName and lastName properties on the newly created person object. The new object's prototype is setto the Person.prototype object. This means that any properties or methods defined on the Person.prototype object will be available to all objects created using the Person constructor function.

Let's add a method to the Person.prototype object:

Person.prototype.getFullName = function() { return this.firstName + " " + this.lastName; }; console.log(person.getFullName()); // Output: "John Doe"

In the example above, we added the getFullName() method to the Person.prototype object. Since the person object's prototype is set to the Person.prototype object, it has access to the getFullName() method.

Inheritance in JavaScript

Inheritance is a way of creating new objects that inherit the properties and methods of existing objects. JavaScript uses prototype-based inheritance, which means that inheritance is achieved through the prototype chain.

To create an object that inherits from another object, you need to set the new object's prototype to the existing object's prototype. The most common way to do this is by using the Object.create() method.

Let's create a Student object that inherits from the Person object:

function Student(firstName, lastName, studentID) { Person.call(this, firstName, lastName); this.studentID = studentID; } Student.prototype = Object.create(Person.prototype); Student.prototype.constructor = Student; const student = new Student("Jane", "Doe", "S12345"); console.log(student.getFullName()); // Output: "Jane Doe"

In the example above, we created a Student constructor function that inherits from the Person constructor function. We first call the Person constructor function using the call() method to set the firstName and lastName properties. Then, we set the Student.prototype object to a new object created with the Person.prototype object as its prototype. Finally, we set the constructor property of the Student.prototype object back to the Student constructor function.

Now, when we create a new student object, it has access to the getFullName() method from the Person.prototype object because it's in its prototype chain.

The class Syntax

Although JavaScript is a prototype-based language, ES6 introduced the class syntax to make it easier to create constructor functions and set up inheritance. The class syntax is just syntactic sugar over the existing prototype-based inheritance system.

Let's rewrite our Person and Student objects using the class syntax:

class Person { constructor(firstName, lastName) { this.firstName = firstName; this.lastName = lastName; } getFullName() { return this.firstName + " " + this.lastName; } } class Student extends Person { constructor(firstName, lastName, studentID) { super(firstName, lastName); this.studentID = studentID; } } const student = new Student("Jane", "Doe", "S12345"); console.log(student.getFullName()); // Output: "Jane Doe"

In the example above, we used the class syntax to create the Person and Student objects. The extends keyword sets up the prototype chain, so the Student object inherits from the Person object. The super() function is used to call the parent class's constructor function.


In this blog post, we've explored the JavaScript prototype chain and inheritance in-depth. We covered the basics of JavaScript objects, the prototype chain, constructor functions, prototype-based inheritance, and the ES6 class syntax.

Understanding the prototype chain and inheritance is crucial for writing efficient and scalable JavaScript code, as it allows you to create objects that share common properties and methods, making your code more modular and easier to maintain. Moreover, it enables you to take advantage of the powerful concept of polymorphism, where objects of different types can be treated as objects of a common type.

Here are a few key takeaways from this post:

  1. Every JavaScript object has a prototype, which is another object it inherits properties and methods from.
  2. The prototype chain is a series of objects linked through their prototypes, ending with the null object.
  3. Constructor functions are used to create new objects and set their prototypes.
  4. Inheritance in JavaScript is achieved through the prototype chain, by setting the prototype of one object to another object's prototype.
  5. ES6 introduced the class syntax, which is a more convenient way of working with constructor functions and setting up inheritance, but it's still built upon the prototype-based inheritance system.

With this understanding of the JavaScript prototype chain and inheritance, you can now create more efficient, modular, and scalable applications. Keep learning and experimenting with different object-oriented programming patterns in JavaScript to further enhance your skills and expertise as a JavaScript developer.

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