JavaScript Foreach: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

Straight to the point! What exactly is forEach in JavaScript, where is it coming from and what are the use cases – including how to use it on the "array-like" objects?

At the end of this guide, you’ll find answers to those questions. If you are familiar with array, let’s take a look at this:

const lists = ["item1", "item2", "item3"]

And if you console.log(lists) or simply add the line to your console, you’ll get your data. That is pretty straight forward.

The notation above is called array literal and it’s very simple to use.

But internally, the JavaScript engine would reconstruct the above literal using the inbuilt Array() constructor function like so:

const lists = new Array("item1", "item2", "item3")

This is the equivalent object notation.

If you replace the literal notation with the above, you’ll see the same structure in the console.

Now, if you go a step further and take a look at the Array constructor in the console, you’ll find a prototype property consisting of several methods. Let’s find out really quick.

Type Array.prototype. in the console:

Array forEach

As you can see the forEach alongside other methods. That is where it’s coming from.

Ok. If you know how the prototype property works in OOP, all the methods defined on it including the forEach are inherited and available to the object instance. In this case, the lists array.

That means we can call it directly on the lists array like so:

lists.forEach()

So what exactly is forEach?

ForEach is one of the means of looping or iterating through arrays. In modern JavaScript, it is commonly used in place of the traditional for loop.

Let’s take a look at its syntax:

forEach(callback(currentElement, index, arr), thisValue)

It receives a callback function as an argument and executes it for each element in the array. This callback function accepts three arguments – the current element (which is required), its index and the Array which the element belongs to – i.e arr.

Also, the thisValue parameter (if specified) will be used as the value of this in the callback.

That is that, let’s see it in practice!

We’ll start with a simple for loop so you have a glimpse of how the loops work. This will also serve as a refresher for us.

So set up your basic .html and link a .js file (or simply use the browser developer tools if you are comfortable with it).

In your .js file, add the following code:

const lists = ["item1", , "item2", "item3"]
const newList = []

for (let i = 0; i < lists.length; i++) {
  newList.push(lists[i])
}

console.log(newList)

Here, we are looping through the lists array and then pushing every iterated element into a newList array.

Please notice the infrequence in the lists array. We are intentionally not defining any elements between the first and the third array items.

If you save the file and check the newList in the console, you should see this output:

["item1", undefined, "item2", "item3"]

We are getting an undefined value on the first index, lists[1] i.e the second array item.

Let’s see how the forEach method handles the same iteration. Replace the for loop with this:

const lists = ["item1", , "item2", "item3"]
const newList = []

lists.forEach(function(list) {
  newList.push(list)
})

console.log(newList)

The output:

["item1", "item2", "item3"]

What is happening?

By using the forEach method, we are saying that “for each of the iterated element (i.e individual list) in the lists array, let’s perform a certain function.

Again, the function is pushing every iterated element into a newList array. But, on getting to the second array item, forEach skips the empty slot and move on.

Let’s optimize our code further.

We can make it more concise by using the ES6 arrow function. If you rewrite the callback using the arrow function, you should have:

const lists = ["item1", , "item2", "item3"]
const newList = []

lists.forEach(list => newList.push(list))
console.log(newList)

Save and revisit the console. It should work perfectly.

Good. That is a great start.

Let’s take a step further by applying the other optional callback parameters. Simply add the following code in the .js file:

let numbers = [2, 4, 6, 8, 10]

numbers.forEach((number, index, arr) => {
  arr[index] = number * 2 // arr = [2, 4, 6, 8, 10]
})

console.log(numbers)

As usual, the forEach is looping through the numbers array and executing the callback function for each element. In this callback, all we are doing is updating the numbers array by multiplying its current iterated element by 2.

And we are referencing the array and its indexes using the arr[index].

Save the file.

The output:

[4, 8, 12, 16, 20]

Moving on.

Applying the second argument of the forEach method – i.e the thisValue

Sometimes, you may be working with this keyword in your forEach loop. And if you are familiar with the keyword, you’ll know it can reference different object.

To bind that keyword to your object of interest, JavaScript forEach provides us with thisValue argument as specified in its syntax.

Let’s see a use case. Start by adding the following code in your .js file:

function MyNumber() {
  this.data = []
}

MyNumber.prototype.multiply = function() {
  console.log("test")
}

const num = new MyNumber()

num.multiply()

If you’ve ever written object-oriented style of code, you should be familiar with the above. We defined a constructor function, MyNumber containing a data property and a multiply method.

In case you are not familiar with the code, I have a step by step guide that explains it to details.

At the moment, the code is not doing anything much. If you save it and check the console, all you’ll see is a “test” message.

Now, let’s update the code so you have:

function MyNumber() {
  this.data = []
}

MyNumber.prototype.multiply = function(numbers) {  numbers.forEach(function(number) {    console.log(this)    this.data.push(number * 2)  })}
const num = new MyNumber()

num.multiply([2, 4, 6])console.log(num.data)

The area of focus is the multiply method. Its function is receiving array as an argument which we are looping through using the forEach method.

The logic here is that we want to update the empty data array by pushing new array elements into it. So we need to reference the data property using this keyword within the callback.

But if you save the file and look at the console, you’ll see something like this:

foreach thisValue

In addition to the console error, we are also seeing the Window object because we console.log(this) inside the forEach.

Meaning that this is referencing the global object which is the Window. Instead, we want this to reference the current object instance.

That is where the second argument of the forEach comes in. So simply add this as the argument and save your file. You should be good.

numbers.forEach(function(number) {
  console.log(this)
  this.data.push(number * 2)
}, this)

If you check the console once again, you’ll see that this is now pointing to the object instance.

Output:

[4, 8, 12]

Using the arrow function as a callback

You can avoid using this as the second parameter of the forEach method if you replace its callback function with an arrow function. Like so:

numbers.forEach(number => {
  console.log(this)
  this.data.push(number * 2)
})

Save and test your code. It will work because arrow function lexically bind this value – i.e the value of this keyword is determined by its context or surrounding scope.

ForEach() always return undefined

You have to be cautious about this because it’s easy to forget. If you try to return a forEach function, you’ll get an undefined value.

Let’s see. Add the following code in the .js file.

let numbers = [2, 4, 6, 8, 10]

const myNum = numbers.forEach(number => {
  return number * 2
})

console.log(myNum)

As you can see, we are returning the forEach logic and assigning the result in the myNum variable. If you save the file and open the console, you’ll see an undefined value.

Well, if you’d like to return something, use another method like map(). It has a similar definition to the forEach.

Let’s take the same code and replace forEach with map method like so:

let numbers = [2, 4, 6, 8, 10]

const myNum = numbers.map(number => {
  return number * 2
})

console.log(myNum)

Save your file and revisit the console.

Output:

[4, 8, 12, 16, 20]

Unlike the forEach(), the map() method returns a new array containing the results of calling a function on every array element.

Working with Array-like Objects

If you have ever worked with the HTML DOM, you should be familiar with the DOM methods like getElementsByClassName(), getElementsByTagName() and querySelectorAll().

These methods can be used to gather a bunch of elements in a document. And they either return an HTMLCollection or a NodeList (both of which are array-like objects).

In this section, you’ll learn how to iterate these objects using the forEach. Let’s see a practical example. Add the following to your .html file:

<ul class="list">
  <li class="list-item">item1</li>
  <li class="list-item">item2</li>
  <li class="list-item">item3</li>
  <li class="list-item">item4</li>
</ul>

If you try to grab all the li elements using the DOM methods, you’ll have:

let itemsByClassName = document.getElementsByClassName("list-item")
console.log(itemsByClassName)

Output:

HTMLCollection(4) [li.list-item, li.list-item, li.list-item, li.list-item]
0: li.list-item
1: li.list-item
2: li.list-item
3: li.list-item
length: 4
__proto__: HTMLCollection

OR…

let itemsByQuerySelector = document.querySelectorAll(".list-item")
console.log(itemsByQuerySelector)

Output:

NodeList(4) [li.list-item, li.list-item, li.list-item, li.list-item]
0: li.list-item
1: li.list-item
2: li.list-item
3: li.list-item
length: 4
__proto__: NodeList

From the output, you would think they are arrays because they look like so (since they contain indexes and length property). But they are not!

Both the HTMLCollection and the NodeList are objects that look like an array, hence Array-like objects.

What that means is that most of the Array methods available through the Array.prototype. would not be available on them. Instead, they inherit methods from Object.prototype.

So how can we use the forEach to loop through the li elements?

Fortunately, NodeList inherits a few of these Array methods of which the forEach is one of them. So, we can iterate the NodeList directly using the forEach method like so:

let itemsByQuerySelector = document.querySelectorAll(".list-item")

itemsByQuerySelector.forEach(item => console.log(item.innerText))

In the callback, we are logging the inner text for each of the iterated elements.

Output:

item1
item2
item3
item4

If you do the same thing with the HTMLCollection, you’ll get this error:

Uncaught TypeError: itemsByClassName.forEach is not a function

To loop through this type of Array-like object, we can use a call() method. This allows us to use a method that belongs to another object.

In our case, we want to call the forEach method available on the Array.prototype object and then use it on the HTMLCollection.

Your code should look like so:

let itemsByClassName = document.getElementsByClassName("list-item")

Array.prototype.forEach.call(itemsByClassName, item =>
  console.log(item.innerText)
)

Save and check the console. You should have the same output.

Converting Array-like Objects to Array

An alternative to looping through the array-like objects is to first transform it into an array. We can use a method called Array.from() or use the Spread syntax () for that.

Let’s quickly take a look.

let itemsByClassName = document.getElementsByClassName("list-item")
let itemsArray = Array.from(itemsByClassName)
console.log(itemsArray)

It’s pretty straight forward.

Output:

(4) [li.list-item, li.list-item, li.list-item, li.list-item]
0: li.list-item
1: li.list-item
2: li.list-item
3: li.list-item
length: 4
__proto__: Array(0)

The result is the same if you use the spread operator like so:

let itemsByClassName = document.getElementsByClassName("list-item")
let itemsArray = [...itemsByClassName]
console.log(itemsArray)

The spread syntax () “spreads” or expands the array-like object inside the square brackets, [] making it a proper array.

Now, you can use the forEach method directly on the array.

Another example of an array-like object.

Before we roundup, you may come across this structure of Array-like objects:

const arrayLike = {
  0: "item1",
  1: "item2",
  2: "item3",
  length: 3,
}

Unlike the earlier once, this type is not iterable and you cannot use the spread syntax to convert it to an array. In this case, you simply use the Array.from() like so:

const newArray = Array.from(arrayLike)
console.log(newArray)

Output:

["item1", "item2", "item3"]

From there, you can call the forEach method on the output to loop through. Or if you like, simply use the earlier method of calling the forEach indirectly using the call() method like so:

const arrayLike = {
  0: "item1",
  1: "item2",
  2: "item3",
  length: 3,
}

Array.prototype.forEach.call(arrayLike, item => console.log(item))

If you save the file and check the console, you should see your items.

Conclusion

We have seen almost all the use cases of the forEach method. From iterating through a simple array to working with the array-like objects and almost all that is in-between. Now, you should be able to apply it in your project.

If you have any questions, please let me know through the comment section. And if you like this tutorial, endeavor to share it around the web and subscribe for more updates.

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