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Shallow and Deep copy in JavaScript Objects

Shallow and Deep copy in JavaScript Objects

How different types of object cloning works in JS ?
Hello Readers , hope you all are doing good . Today we’re going to talk about objects in JavaScript and different ways to clone an object . This discussion will help us in understanding shallow and deep copy mechanisms as well . We will follow the below path in our journey:

1. Object Basics

If you are a JS enthusiast , you might have heard this

Everything in JavaScript is an object

Let’s rephrase the above sentence to – Nearly everything in JS is an object , except the primitives i.e. null , undefined , strings, numbers, Boolean, and symbols. MDN says –

JavaScript is designed on a simple object-based paradigm. An object is a collection of properties, and a property is an association between a name (or key) and a value. A property’s value can be a function, in which case the property is known as a method.

Functions are first-class objects in JS because they can store properties , methods etc. just like any other object . Function objects can be called and this ability differentiates it from other objects.

Object Representation (Example) –

We can also check and prove that array , functions etc are objects by using __proto__ and Prototype chaining.

2. Different Ways of cloning an object

Cloning of an object A results in a new object B , which either points to same referenced object (same memory) as A , or a different copy altogether. There are multiple options available for cloning an object –

3. Shallow Copy vs Deep Copy

Now , let’s try to understand the object cloning by considering the below example :

Suppose we have an object dev1 with properties – name and role . If we clone this object using = operator , we will get a copy of dev1 (let’s say dev2) . Try to assign a different value to the name property of dev2 , and log both dev1 and dev2 in console.

This is knows as Shallow Copy , as dev2 is referencing the same memory address as dev1 , = is not creating a new object.

In order to create a new object , we can use either the spread operator { … } or Object.assign() method. Let’s see how it works (we’ll be cloning dev1 and create 2 new objects dev3 and dev4) :-

You might’ve noticed the difference , change in value of a property in dev3/dev4 doesn’t change the value of the property in dev1.

But there’s a gotcha. If there’s a nested object and the value of nested property is changed in dev3 (cloned object) , the change would get reflected in dev1 (original object) as well . So the above methods can be termed as Partial Deep Cloning strategies.

So we changed the nested property primary in dev2 object but it changed the value of primary in the original object as well.

In order to get a Deep copy / clone of a nested object , we can use JSON.parse(JSON.stringify()) method. Let’s check the same example , but with JSON.parse() strategy.

Now we have got a perfect deeply cloned object , and these are the methods which developers use in the vast majority of the scenarios.

Let’s talk about lodash now . Lodash is a JavaScript library which provides utility functions for common programming tasks based on functional paradigm. But why do we need lodash for deep cloning when we already have JSON.parse(JSON.stringify()) ? Let’s find out.

Suppose our object has a property getHobbies , and the value of this property is a function (which returns an array of hobbies) . The object also has a joiningDate property , and the value of this property is a Date object. If we try to deeply clone this object using JSON.parse() , we will notice that it doesn’t work on functions (it gets deleted from the new object) and date (data type is different than original object).

We can see that :

  1. getHobbies property (function) is deleted from dev2 .
  2. Date type of joiningDate in dev2 is string , but it should be an object (as in dev1).

To solve the above issue , cloneDeep utility method from lodash library can be used to create a deep clone.

So we installed lodash library from npm using npm/yarn and used cloneDeep utility to clone dev1 object. Unlike JSON.parse() , it works on functions and date objects as well (see above example).


Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. Today we learned about Objects in JavaScript (basics) , different ways to clone an object , and the difference between shallow copy and deep copy .

Thank you for reading !

Written by Deep Kiran ( Frontend Developer ) @ Sails Software Solution

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