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Cover image for Newbie's Guide to Calling vs. Referencing in JavaScript
Alicia Fasciocco
Alicia Fasciocco

Posted on • Originally published at Medium

Newbie's Guide to Calling vs. Referencing in JavaScript

Calling vs. Referencing in JS first appeared on Medium.

For my JavaScript API / Rails back-end project at Flatiron School, I decided to create an app called Interviewr that gives new interviewers the tools (read: questions) they need to conduct a great interview. As an HR Business Partner, I see the need for this kind of app every day, and as a new coder, I felt it was time I built something that solved a real problem.

As with most projects, I got stuck on things such as:

  • Typos
  • Forgetting to seed my database
  • Not having a JSON reader installed on Chrome
  • Calling functions

My 24-hour problem was calling functions-related and it threw an ‘Uncaught Reference Error.’ But, why?!

Here was the (very messy) code in my questions.js file:

newQuestion() {
    var randomNumber = Math.floor(Math.random() *    (this.questions.length - 1));
    if (randomNumber > this.questions.length - 1) {
    alert("You've seen all questions!");
    done = true;
    } else {
= this.questions[randomNumber].content;
  document.getElementById("next").addEventListener("click", function(e) {

Something did NOT like this line:

document.getElementById("next").addEventListener("click", function(e) { newQuestion(); });

The error stated that newQuestion hadn’t been defined at the time it reached the click.

Do you see the problem? It’s the ol’ parentheses. These little guys call a function rather than referencing it. I didn’t just reference newQuestion for later use within the eventListener, I called it in my function. This executes the function where it shouldn’t be executed. So, no. It hadn’t been defined by the time it reached the click.

I went in and refactored my code (a lot) to the following. Suddenly things were working:

  .then(questions => {
    questions.forEach(question => this.questions.push(new  Question(question)))
  .then(() => { 

initBindingsAndEventListeners() {
  this.btn = document.getElementById("next")
  this.btn.addEventListener("click", this.newQuestion.bind(this))

newQuestion() {
  var randomNumber = Math.floor(Math.random() * (this.questions.length - 1));
  document.getElementById('questionDisplay').innerHTML = this.questions[randomNumber].questionHtml();

Within my initBindingsAndEventListeners, I reference newQuestion, which is expected to execute upon a click. The only place I call newQuestion is when I fetch and load my Questions.

Another way to think about it:

  • Calling/newQuestion(), I need this to run now!
  • Referencing/newQuestion, I’m referencing this now, so it can be called later.

One of my favorite things about coding is getting past an error (even if it means getting to a new error). In these moments, you realize how much you don’t know and it can feel pretty crummy — but, stay positive! I talk to Senior Developers who tell me they spend a lot of time Googling and still miss typos in their code. Stories like this keep me going. After all, a classmate told me that the concept of calling vs. referencing is a common JavaScript newbie blindspot…and I’ll take his word for it.

Top comments (1)

wolfhoundjesse profile image
Jesse M. Holmes

Rarely was there ever a more appropriate header image. 😁