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Must Know Details about ES2016 Features

Posted July 12, 2016

Good news, in June 2016 ECMAScript 2016 was approved. It contains the features that passed the stage 4, which means finished, of the TC39 process:

This edition is smaller than ECMAScript 2015, but it doesn't mean less important. Still it has details that you should know before using the new features.

The new method array.includes(item, [fromIndex]) allows to determine if an array contains a specific element. The precedent approach, less comfortable, to verify an element existence is to use array.indexOf(item) !== -1.
The difference between the two of course is the shorter usage of include(). However these methods use different equality algorithms and threat variously the empty slots in array.

The exponentiation operator ** has edge cases when it comes to NaN.

The current article covers the details about ES2016 features with informative examples. Also it makes a comparison with older approaches in terms of compatibility, so you could migrate JavaScript code without surprises.

1. The array method includes()

The array method includes(element, [fromIndex]) determines whether an array contains a specific element and returns the corresponding boolean (true if element is found, false otherwise). An optional argument fromIndex allows to search from a specific index.

Let's see some basic examples:

let months = ['June', 'July', 'August'];
months.includes('June'); // => true
months.includes('January'); // => false

'June' element exists in months array, so includes() method returns true. For a non available 'January' element, the method returns false.

Notice that includes() requires the searched element to match by type, because it uses for comparison the same value zero algorithm (a slight modified version of strict equality):

let items = ['1', 5, 8];
items.includes(1); // => false
items.includes(8); // => true

items contains a string '1'. However when searching for a number items.includes(1) there is no match (false is returned), because '1' and 1 are different types (string and number correspondingly).

When searching for objects, the method will match only references to the same object:

class Season {
constructor(name) { = name;
let winter = new Season('Winter');
let summer = new Season('Summer');
let seasons = [winter, new Season('Summer')];
seasons.includes(winter); // => true
seasons.includes(summer); // => false

seasons.includes(winter) returns true, because winter variable is an object reference contained in seasons.
On the other hand seasons.includes(summer) returns false, since the collection does not have an item that references summer object. new Season('Summer') (indicated in the array literal) is a reference to a different instance, thus not equal to summer.

The includes() method is available in typed arrays too:

let int8Array = Int8Array.from([17, 25]);
int8Array.includes(17); // => true

1.1 Searching from an index

The method array.includes(element, [fromIndex]) accepts a second optional parameter fromIndex, which enables searching from a specific index:

  • For a number greater or equal to zero and less than array length, it indicates the index to start the search.
  • For a number greater or equal to the array length, includes() always returns false.
  • For a negative number, the search starts from a computed index: array.length + fromIndex.
  • If not specified, it defaults to 0.

Let's follow an example:

let countries = ['UK', 'USA', 'Ireland', 'France'];
countries.includes('UK', 1); // => false
countries.includes('Ireland', 1); // => true
countries.includes('USA', 6); // => false

'UK' element has index 0 in countries. However the search starts from 1 and the index 0 is skipped, so the element is not found.
'Ireland' has index 2, thus the search countries.includes('Ireland', 1) from index 1 is able to find it.
The 'USA' element is checked from index 6, which is bigger than the array length 4. includes() method for such situations returns false.

For a negative from index parameter, the search starts from array.length + fromIndex up to the end of array:

let numbers = [56, 11, 58, 89, 100];
numbers.includes(11, -2); // => false
numbers.includes(89, -2); // => true

The index to begin searching parameter is a negative number -2 and the search starts from index 5 - 2 = 3. The searched 11 is compared only with 89 and 100 elements, so there is no match.
When searching for 89 element with the same -2 offset, it is a match.

1.2 Searching for NaN

includes() method uses same value zero comparison algorithm (see here why), which is a modified version of the strict equality comparison. The main difference between the two is NaN with NaN equality consideration:

  • Same value zero considers that NaN is equal with NaN
  • Strict equality considers that NaN is not equal with NaN

Because includes() uses the same value zero comparison, it is possible to identify NaN elements:

let weirdNumbers = [-1, 100, NaN];
weirdNumbers.includes(NaN); // => true

weirdNumbers contains a NaN, so includes() method is able to find it.

indexOf() array method has a different behavior in this situation, because it uses the strict equality comparison. Even if the array contains NaN, indexOf() returns -1 (meaning element not found):

let weirdNumbers = [-1, 100, NaN];
weirdNumbers.indexOf(NaN); // => -1
NaN === NaN; // => false

weirdNumbers contains NaN, however indexOf() returns -1.
Strict equality operator === uses the same comparison algorithm, so NaN === NaN is false too.

Even if includes() can find NaN, it is best to code your application not to generate NaN (which indicates that a wrong operation on numbers was applied).

1.3 Searching in a sparse array

An array in JavaScript is sparse when it contains empty slots (a.k.a. holes), i.e. the elements do not have contiguous indexes starting from 0. Sparse arrays can be created using:

  • An array literal with missing element between commas [4, ,5]
  • An array constructor new Array(n), where n is a number
  • After applying delete array[index] operator

Let's see how an array literal creates a sparse array:

let sparseArray = [1, , 3];
sparseArray[1]; // => undefined
sparseArray[2]; // => 3

sparseArray contains an empty slot at index 1. Accessing an empty slot sparseArray[1] evaluates to undefined.

includes() method does not skip the holes in array during the search iteration. Because accessing a hole evaluates to undefined, calling includes(undefined) returns a match when a hole is encountered:

let sparseArray = [1, , 3];
sparseArray.includes(undefined); // => true

Since sparseArray has an empty slot at index 1, executing sparseArray.includes(undefined) returns true.

Many other array methods do skip the empty slots, as their array iteration algorithm verifies if the element exists.
This rule applies to indexOf() method too:

let sparseArray = [1, , 3];
sparseArray.indexOf(undefined); // => -1

indexOf() method returns -1 when searching for undefined in an array with holes.

Of course, the general rule is to avoid at all dealing with sparse arrays.

2. The exponentiation operator

The exponentiation operator base ** exponent raises the base to the power exponent.

Let's consider some examples:

2 ** 3; // => 8
5 ** 2; // => 25
0.5 ** 1; // => 0.5

The appropriate equivalent of this operator is Math.pow(base, exponent) function.

It is possible to combine the exponentiation with an assignment **= for a shorter form:

let num = 2;
num **=4;
num; // => 16

When combining the unary minus operator -number with the exponentiation: -x ** y, JavaScript first evaluates x to power y, then applies the minus sign to the result. Exponentiation has a higher priority over the unary minus operator.
The execution of -x ** y is equivalent to -(x ** y). For instance -5 ** 2 equals to -25.

2.1 Exponent special cases

Any number, including NaN, powered to 0 exponent evaluates to 1:

25 ** 0; // => 1
NaN ** 0; // => 1
Infinity ** 0; // => 1

If the exponent is NaN, the exponentiation result is always NaN, for any base value:

25 ** NaN; // => NaN
-5 ** NaN; // => NaN
NaN ** NaN; // => NaN

3. Finale

ECMAScript 2016 does not introduce big changes in the language. But it's the beginning of the JavaScript certain progress in smaller steps.

Without doubt includes() is a long-awaited method to check the existence of an element. The workaround used before that indexOf(item) !== -1 is not a comfortable alternative.

includes() method handles differently NaN and empty slots in arrays. In my opinion it evaluates these situations better and more predictable. In the end it's ok to return true when searching NaN value in an array that contains a NaN, instead of -1 (missing) like indexOf() does.

You probably won't deal a lot with the exponentiation operator, however a short form to raise to power it's nice to have in the pocket.

We, developers, are creating the future of JavaScript. If you have an interesting idea about a new language feature, do not hesitate to contribute to ECMAScript.

In your opinion, what important feature JavaScript still misses? Feel free to write a comment below.

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Dmitri Pavlutin

About Dmitri Pavlutin

Software developer and sometimes writer. My daily routine consists of (but not limited to) drinking coffee, coding, writing, overcoming boredom 😉. Living in the sunny Barcelona. 🇪🇸