Fat Arrow (=>) in CoffeeScript: Purpose and usage

CoffeeScript @ Freshers.in Training

This article delves into the purpose of the “fat arrow” in CoffeeScript, complemented by examples to illustrate its functionality.┬áThe “fat arrow” (=>) in CoffeeScript is a shorthand for defining functions, and it serves a crucial role in handling the this context within functions. The “fat arrow” (=>) in CoffeeScript is a powerful feature for simplifying function syntax and managing the context of this.

Purpose of the “Fat Arrow”

The primary purpose of the “fat arrow” is to lexically bind the this value. In JavaScript, this can vary based on the calling context, leading to common pitfalls, especially in callbacks and event handlers. The “fat arrow” in CoffeeScript addresses this issue by ensuring that this within the function always refers to the context in which the function was defined.

Comparison with regular Arrow (->)

CoffeeScript also offers the regular arrow (->) for function definition. The difference lies in how this is treated:

  • Regular Arrow (->): Does not bind this. Its value is determined by the function’s calling context.
  • Fat Arrow (=>): Lexically binds this to the context where the function is defined.

Examples

To better understand the “fat arrow”, let’s look at some examples.

Example 1: Using => in an Object Method

Consider an object with a method that uses a timeout. We want this to refer to the object itself.

CoffeeScript:

class Greeter
  constructor: (name) ->
    @name = name
  delayedGreet: ->
    setTimeout (=> alert "Hello, #{@name}"), 1000
g = new Greeter("Alice")
g.delayedGreet() # Alerts "Hello, Alice" after 1 second

JavaScript Equivalent:

class Greeter {
  constructor(name) {
    this.name = name;
  }
  delayedGreet() {
    setTimeout(() => {
      alert("Hello, " + this.name);
    }, 1000);
  }
}
var g = new Greeter("Alice");
g.delayedGreet(); // Alerts "Hello, Alice" after 1 second

In this example, the => ensures that this.name within setTimeout refers to the name property of the Greeter instance.

Example 2: Regular arrow vs. fat arrow

Demonstrating the difference in how this is treated:

CoffeeScript:

class Counter
  count: 0
  increment: ->
    setInterval (=> @count++), 1000
  incrementWithoutFatArrow: ->
    setInterval (-> @count++), 1000
counter = new Counter()
counter.increment()               # `this` is correctly bound, count will increment
counter.incrementWithoutFatArrow() # `this` is not bound, count will not increment

JavaScript equivalent:

class Counter {
  constructor() {
    this.count = 0;
  }
  increment() {
    setInterval(() => {
      this.count++;
    }, 1000);
  }
  incrementWithoutFatArrow() {
    setInterval(function() {
      this.count++;
    }, 1000);
  }
}
var counter = new Counter();
counter.increment();                // `this` is correctly bound, count will increment
counter.incrementWithoutFatArrow();  // `this` is not bound, count will not increment

In the increment method, => binds this to the instance of Counter, whereas in incrementWithoutFatArrow, this inside setInterval does not refer to the Counter instance.

Author: user