We cover how to declare and initialize, mutate and use variables and constants.
What is a variable
A variable is a data container that stores behind-the-scenes data temporarily in a system’s memory (RAM) while the program runs. We give these variables meaningful names to allow us to easily work with the data inside.
A variable can store a single type of data, such as a string of characters that form a sentence or a number.
How to declare a variable
To declare a variable, we write the keyword var , followed by the name we want to give the variable and we terminate the statement with a semicolon ( ; ).
This will create an empty variable with whatever unique name we give it. This variable is now ready to accept data to store.
How to assign data to a variable
Now that we have a variable, we can add some data inside of it. To assign data to a variable, we write its name, followed by the = operator and then any data we want to give it. Lastly, we end the statement with a semicolon again.
unique_name = value;
Now the variable will have data stored inside it and we can use it.
// declaration var message; // assign data message = "Hello World";
How to initialize a variable with a value
If we know the data we want to store beforehand, we can directly assign data to the variable when we declare it. This is called variable initialization.
To initialize a variable, we write the var keyword and the name we want to give it, then the assignment operator ( = ) and the data we want to assign to the variable. This statement needs to be ended with a semicolon as well.
var unique_name = data;
// initialization var message = "Hello World";
How to use a variable
To use a variable, we simply refer to it by its name. The translator will pull the data from the variable and substitute it wherever we use it.
We can modify the code from our first application.
<script> var message = "Hello World"; document.write(message); // document.write("Hello World"); </script>
In the example above, we create a variable called message with the words “Hello World”. Where we previously wrote the words directly into the document.write() function, we now write the variable name.
When we save the document and open it in the browser, we can see that the words inside the variable are displayed on the page.
As another example, let’s do some simple math with variables.
<script> var x = 5; var y = 3; var result = x + y; document.write("5 + 3 = ", result); </script>
In the example above, we add the value of y to the value of x and store the result in a variable called result. Then we print the result to the webpage.
So the translator substitutes the variable name with its value. The example above would essentially look like this.
8 = 5 + 3 document.write("5 + 3 = ", 8);
How to change data in a variable
A variable is mutable, which means that we can change the data inside the variable at any time we need. We don’t have to set up a new variable each time we need data.
To change, or mutate, the data inside a variable, we simply assign the new data to it with the assignment operator.
<script> var message = "<p>Hello World</p>"; document.write(message); // mutate data message = "<p>Greetings</p>"; document.write(message); </script>
In the example above, we mutate the message variable to hold a new value.
What is a constant
A constant is the same as a variable except that it’s value cannot change during runtime.
This is useful so that the application doesn’t accidentally change a value that shouldn’t be changed, such as the value of pi or gravity.
How to declare/initialize a constant
We cannot declare a constant without a value. If we want to create a constant, we must initialize it with a value.
To initialize a constant, we use the keyword const instead of the keyword var.
const UNIQUE_NAME = value;
We write the name in all capital letters as a convention. It allows us to easily distinguish between regular variables and constants.
const PI = 3.14;
How to use a constant
Using a constant is the same as using a variable. We simply refer to the constant’s name where we need to.
<script> const PI = 3.14; var radius = 3; // calculate the area of a circle var area = PI * radius * radius; document.write(area); </script>
In the example above, we use the constant PI to calculate the area of a circle.
Variable & Constant naming rules and conventions
There are a few rules we should consider when naming our variables and constants.
- A name must start with a letter (a to z or A to Z), an underscore ( _ ), or a dollar sign ( $ ).
- A name cannot start with a number, but may contain numbers.
- Names are case sensitive. For example var a and var A are different variables.
// correct var message; var _message; var $message; // incorrect var #LostSock#TheStruggleIsReal; var (^_^); // correct var MamboNumber5; // incorrect var 21JumpStreet; // correct var a_unique_name; // incorrect var const; // case sensitive var learning; var Learning; var LEARNING;
It’s also a good idea to always follow the naming conventions, especially when working as part of a team.
- Variable names should use snake_case. All letters of the name is lowercase and multiple words are separated by underscores.
- Constant names should be in ALL_CAPS and multiple should also be separated by underscores.
- Names should not be abbreviated.
- Names should be singular, not plural.
// correct var this_is_a_variable; const THIS_IS_A_CONSTANT; // incorrect var ThisIsPascalCaseNaming; var thisIsCamelCaseNaming; // correct var delete_me; // incorrect var del_me; //correct var employee_list; // incorrect var employees;
It should be noted though that you may be required to follow different conventions by your employer. It doesn’t really matter which convention you follow, the key is consistency.
In this tutorial course we will be following the conventions above, as well as some others that we’ll get to when needed.
Summary: Points to remember
- Variables and constants are temporary data containers, when the application stops (for whatever reason) the data inside is lost.
- Variables can be mutated at runtime, whereas constants cannot.
- Variables use the var keyword at declaration and initialization, and constants use the const keyword.
- Constants cannot be empty, they must be initialized with a value.