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JavaScript Prototypes • Essential Guide & Best Practices



JavaScript, a cornerstone of modern web development, offers a unique approach to object-oriented programming through its prototype-based model. Unlike classical inheritance used in languages like Java or C++, JavaScript employs prototypes—a method where objects inherit directly from other objects. This distinctive feature not only streamlines the process of object creation and inheritance but also introduces a level of flexibility and dynamism that is well-suited to the fluid nature of web applications.

Javascript Prototype Cover Image

In this article, we delve into the world of JavaScript prototypes, exploring how they function, their significance in the broader scope of JavaScript programming, and the ways in which they diverge from more traditional inheritance models. Whether you are a seasoned developer or new to the field, understanding prototypes is crucial for effective JavaScript programming, especially given their pivotal role in popular frameworks and libraries. Through this exploration, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of prototypes, backed by practical examples and best practices, to enhance your JavaScript coding skills.

Understanding JavaScript Prototype

Basics of Prototypes

In JavaScript, a prototype is a fundamental concept used for adding properties and methods to objects. It can be best understood as a template object from which other objects inherit features. Every JavaScript object has a prototype property, which is part of the object and points to another object. This is crucial in the context of inheritance, as it allows one object to inherit the properties and methods of another.

For instance, let’s consider an object person:

let person = {
    name: 'John',
    age: 30

We can create a new object employee that inherits properties from person:

let employee = Object.create(person);
employee.job = 'Developer';

console.log(employee.name); // Output: John

In this example, employee inherits the properties of person through the prototype.

Prototype Chain

The prototype chain is a series of links between objects. Each object has a prototype from which it inherits methods and properties. This chain continues until it reaches an object whose prototype is null, typically Object.prototype.

For example:

function Person(name) {
    this.name = name;

Person.prototype.greet = function() {
    return "Hello, " + this.name;

let employee = new Person("Jane");

console.log(employee.greet()); // Output: Hello, Jane

Figure 1. JavaScript Prototype Chain

JavaScript Prototype Chain

Here, employee inherits the greet method from Person.prototype. When a property or method is called on employee, JavaScript first looks on the object itself, and if it doesn’t find it, it follows the prototype chain upwards until it finds it or reaches the end of the chain.

Difference from Classical Inheritance

Classical inheritance, used in languages like Java or C++, is based on classes. A class defines a blueprint from which objects (instances) are created. Inheritance in these languages involves creating subclasses that inherit from superclasses.

JavaScript’s prototype-based inheritance differs in that there are no classes. Instead, objects inherit directly from other objects. This approach is more dynamic and flexible, as it allows for properties and methods to be added or changed on the fly.

To illustrate, consider the following example using classical inheritance in a class-based language:

class Person {
    String name;

    Person(String name) {
        this.name = name;

    void greet() {
        System.out.println("Hello, " + name);

class Employee extends Person {
    String job;

    Employee(String name, String job) {
        this.job = job;

In contrast, JavaScript achieves similar functionality without classes:

function Person(name) {
    this.name = name;

Person.prototype.greet = function() {
    console.log("Hello, " + this.name);

function Employee(name, job) {
    Person.call(this, name);
    this.job = job;

Employee.prototype = Object.create(Person.prototype);
Employee.prototype.constructor = Employee;

In this JavaScript example, Employee inherits from Person not through a class hierarchy, but through prototypes. This difference underlines the flexible, dynamic nature of JavaScript’s object-oriented approach.

Working with JavaScript Prototypes

Creating Prototypes

Creating a prototype in JavaScript involves defining an object that will serve as the prototype for other objects. This process can be achieved in several ways, including using constructor functions and the Object.create method.

Using Constructor Functions

A common way to create prototypes is through constructor functions. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Define a constructor function
function Animal(name) {
    this.name = name;
2. Add properties or methods to the constructor’s prototype
Animal.prototype.speak = function () {
    console.log(this.name + ' makes a noise.');
3. Create an instance of the object
let dog = new Animal('Dog');
dog.speak(); // Output: Dog makes a noise.

Using Object.create(..)

Another way to create prototypes is by using Object.create(). Here’s how:

1. Define a prototype object
const animalPrototype = {
    speak: function () {
        console.log(this.name + ' makes a noise.');
2. Create a new object using the prototype
let cat = Object.create(animalPrototype);
cat.name = 'Cat';
cat.speak(); // Output: Cat makes a noise.

Modifying Existing Prototypes

Modifying an existing prototype can be useful for adding new methods or properties to all instances of a particular type.

Adding a New Method: To add a new method to a prototype:

Animal.prototype.eat = function () {
    console.log(this.name + ' is eating.');

dog.eat(); // Output: Dog is eating.

Modifying an Existing Method: To modify an existing method:

Animal.prototype.speak = function () {
    console.log(this.name + ' makes a different noise.');

dog.speak(); // Output: Dog makes a different noise.

Practical Examples

Extending built-in JavaScript objects can be useful for adding custom functionality.

Extending the Array Prototype:

Array.prototype.sum = function () {
    return this.reduce((acc, val) => acc + val, 0);

let numbers = [1, 2, 3];
console.log(numbers.sum()); // Output: 6

Extending the String Prototype:

String.prototype.capitalize = function () {
    return this.charAt(0).toUpperCase() + this.slice(1);

let str = 'hello world';
console.log(str.capitalize()); // Output: Hello world

These practical examples demonstrate how JavaScript’s prototype system can be used to extend and modify the functionality of existing types, offering a powerful tool for customization and reusable code. However, it’s important to use this feature judiciously, as modifying built-in prototypes can lead to unexpected behaviors in other parts of your code or third-party libraries.

Prototypes in JavaScript Frameworks and Libraries

JavaScript frameworks and libraries, such as React and Angular, utilize prototypes extensively, though often behind the scenes.

React: In React, the use of prototypes is somewhat abstracted due to the introduction of ES6 classes and functional components. However, under the hood, React components are still based on JavaScript’s prototype model. For instance, class components in React extend the React.Component class, which is essentially prototype inheritance.

class MyComponent extends React.Component {

Here, MyComponent inherits methods from React.Component prototype, like setState and render.

Angular: Angular, particularly in its earlier versions, heavily relied on prototypes for its scope inheritance mechanism. Controllers in AngularJS (Angular 1) use prototype inheritance to share properties and methods across the application.

function ParentController($scope) {
    $scope.value = 'Hello, World!';

function ChildController($scope) {
    // Inherits $scope.value from ParentController

In Angular 2+, with the shift towards TypeScript and classes, the prototype-based approach becomes less visible but still underlies the class-based abstractions.

Impact on Performance

In large-scale applications, the use of prototypes can have significant performance implications.

  1. Memory Efficiency: Prototypes are highly memory efficient. When methods are defined on the prototype, they are shared across all instances, leading to lower memory usage compared to defining methods directly in the constructor.

  2. Performance Overhead: However, modifying prototypes at runtime, especially of built-in objects, can lead to performance issues. For instance, adding methods to Object.prototype can slow down the object property lookup process.

  3. Optimization: Modern JavaScript engines optimize prototype lookup efficiently. But deep prototype chains can still cause a slight delay in method resolution, which can be critical in performance-intensive applications.

Best Practices and Common Pitfalls

Do’s and Don’ts

When working with prototypes, there are several best practices to consider:

1. Define Methods on Prototypes

Instead of defining methods inside the constructor function, define them on the prototype to save memory.

Suppose you are creating a constructor function for a Car object. You might be tempted to define all methods inside the constructor function, but this is not memory efficient. Each time a new Car object is created, a new copy of the method is created too. Instead, defining these methods on the prototype of the Car function ensures that all instances share the same method, saving memory.

Defining Methods Inside Constructor Function (Not Recommended):

function Car(model, year) {
    this.model = model;
    this.year = year;

    this.displayInfo = function() {
        console.log(`This is a ${this.model} from ${this.year}.`);

let car1 = new Car('Toyota', 2020);
let car2 = new Car('Honda', 2018);

car1.displayInfo(); // Works but not memory efficient
car2.displayInfo(); // Works but creates another copy of the method

Defining Methods on Prototypes (Recommended):

function Car(model, year) {
    this.model = model;
    this.year = year;

Car.prototype.displayInfo = function() {
    console.log(`This is a ${this.model} from ${this.year}.`);

let car1 = new Car('Toyota', 2020);
let car2 = new Car('Honda', 2018);

car1.displayInfo(); // Output: This is a Toyota from 2020.
car2.displayInfo(); // Output: This is a Honda from 2018.

In the second example, displayInfo is defined on Car.prototype. As a result, both car1 and car2 inherit the displayInfo method from the same prototype, so there is only one copy of the method in memory, regardless of how many Car instances are created. This is a more efficient way to handle methods that should be available to all instances of an object.

2. Avoid Extending Built-in Prototypes

While it’s possible to extend built-in prototypes like Array or Object, it’s generally considered bad practice as it can lead to unpredictable results and conflicts, especially with third-party libraries.

Extending built-in prototypes in JavaScript, such as those of Array or Object, can cause unforeseen issues and conflicts, particularly with third-party libraries that may rely on the default behavior of these objects. Below are two examples to illustrate this point:

Imagine you decide to add a method to all arrays that allows you to check if an array is empty:

Array.prototype.isEmpty = function() {
    return this.length === 0;

let myArray = [];
console.log(myArray.isEmpty()); // Output: true

While this might seem convenient, it can lead to problems:

Another common temptation is to extend the Object prototype:

Object.prototype.log = function() {

let myObject = { a: 1, b: 2 };
myObject.log(); // Outputs the object

This extension can cause significant issues:

In both cases, a safer alternative is to define utility functions that operate on arrays or objects without altering their prototypes:

function isArrayEmpty(array) {
    return array.length === 0;

function logObject(obj) {

Using these utility functions, you avoid the pitfalls of modifying built-in prototypes while achieving the same functionality.

3. Use Object.create for Inheritance

Favor Object.create for prototype inheritance as it creates a clear prototype chain and is considered more readable and flexible.

Using Object.create for prototype inheritance is a modern and clean way to set up the prototype chain in JavaScript. This approach is often preferred for its clarity and flexibility compared to the more traditional constructor function pattern. Below are examples demonstrating how to use Object.create for inheritance:

Basic Example of Object.create

Suppose you have a person object and you want to create a developer object that inherits from person.

Defining the Base Object:

const person = {
    isHuman: false,
    introduce: function() {
        console.log(`My name is ${this.name}. Am I human? ${this.isHuman}`);

Creating an Inherited Object:

const developer = Object.create(person);

developer.name = 'Alice'; // "name" is a property specific to "developer"
developer.isHuman = true; // Inherits from person, but the value is overridden

developer.introduce(); // Output: My name is Alice. Am I human? true

In this example, developer inherits from person using Object.create. This sets up the prototype chain so that developer has access to the introduce method defined in person.

Advanced Example with Custom Initialization

For more complex cases, you can combine Object.create with a custom initialization function.

Initialization Function:

function createDeveloper(name) {
    let developer = Object.create(person);
    developer.name = name;
    developer.isHuman = true;
    return developer;

const developerBob = createDeveloper('Bob');
developerBob.introduce(); // Output: My name is Bob. Am I human? true

In this advanced example, createDeveloper is a factory function that initializes the developer object with specific properties.

Extending Functionality

You can also extend the functionality of the inherited object:

developer.code = function() {
    console.log(`{this.name} is coding.`);

developer.code(); // Output: Alice is coding.

By using Object.create, you achieve a clear and flexible inheritance structure, where the prototype chain is set up in a way that is easy to understand and modify. This method avoids some of the pitfalls and complexities of the constructor function pattern, especially in cases where multiple levels of inheritance are involved.

Common Mistakes

Developers often make certain mistakes while working with prototypes:

Overriding the Prototype

Completely overriding the prototype of an object can lead to unexpected results, especially if the new prototype lacks methods that existing instances expect.

Confusion Between Prototype and __proto__

Misunderstanding the difference between an object’s prototype (its __proto__ property) and the prototype property on constructor functions can lead to errors. The __proto__ property is the actual object that an instance inherits from, while the prototype property is specific to constructor functions.

Ignoring Prototype Chain in Method Overriding

When overriding methods, it’s important to remember the prototype chain. If a method is overridden in a subclass, it may be necessary to explicitly call the superclass method using SuperClass.prototype.methodName.call(this).

By understanding and adhering to these best practices and common pitfalls, developers can effectively leverage the power of JavaScript prototypes, ensuring more robust and maintainable code.

The Future of Prototypes in JavaScript

Evolution of Prototypes

The concept of prototypes in JavaScript has seen significant evolution since the language’s inception. Initially, JavaScript’s prototype-based model was a unique feature, differentiating it from class-based languages. Over the years, as JavaScript has grown to become one of the most widely used programming languages for web development, its prototype system has also evolved, both in its core mechanics and in how developers interact with it.

In the early days of JavaScript, prototypes were the primary method for creating object hierarchies and reusable code patterns. However, this often led to complex and hard-to-maintain code structures due to JavaScript’s dynamic nature and the verbose syntax required for prototype manipulation.

With the introduction of ECMAScript 2015 (ES6), JavaScript received a significant update that included the class keyword, making it easier to work with prototypes using a syntax that is familiar to developers from class-based languages. Under the hood, these classes are still implemented using JavaScript’s prototype-based inheritance, but the syntax provides a clearer, more structured way to manage object creation and inheritance.

class Animal {
    constructor(name) {
        this.name = name;

    speak() {
        console.log(`${this.name} makes a noise.`);

class Dog extends Animal {
    speak() {
        console.log(`${this.name} barks.`);

In this example, the Dog class extends the Animal class, inheriting its methods and properties through prototypes, but the syntax is more akin to classical inheritance models.

Future Outlook

Looking to the future, prototypes in JavaScript are likely to remain a core part of the language. The evolution towards a more class-like syntax does not diminish the underlying prototype-based mechanics but rather makes them more accessible and easier to use for a broader range of developers.

It’s expected that future versions of JavaScript will continue to enhance the prototype system, possibly introducing more syntactic sugar or tools to make prototype manipulation even more straightforward and less error-prone. Additionally, as web development trends towards more complex and application-like websites, the efficiency and flexibility provided by the prototype model will likely become even more valuable.

Frameworks and libraries will continue to abstract much of the direct prototype manipulation, providing developers with easier and more intuitive ways to leverage the power of prototypes. However, a deep understanding of prototypes and their workings will remain a valuable skill for any JavaScript developer, offering insights into the inner workings of many modern JavaScript frameworks and libraries.

While the surface syntax and ease of use of JavaScript’s prototype system will likely continue to evolve, the fundamental concept of prototypes and prototype inheritance is set to remain a cornerstone of JavaScript programming. As the language evolves, prototypes will continue to provide the flexibility and dynamism that have made JavaScript a mainstay of web development.

In Conclusion

In this comprehensive exploration of JavaScript prototypes, we covered several key aspects:

  1. Understanding Prototypes: We began by defining prototypes in JavaScript and explaining the prototype chain. We emphasized how prototypes are central to JavaScript’s approach to object-oriented programming, differing significantly from classical inheritance models found in other languages.

  2. Working with Prototypes: We provided a practical guide on creating and modifying prototypes, illustrating the process with clear examples. This included how to define methods on prototypes for memory efficiency and why modifying built-in prototypes can lead to conflicts and bugs.

  3. Prototypes in Frameworks and Libraries: We explored the role of prototypes in popular JavaScript frameworks like React and Angular, highlighting their underlying presence despite modern syntactic abstractions.

  4. Best Practices and Common Pitfalls: We outlined the best practices for working with prototypes, such as using Object.create for clear and flexible inheritance. Additionally, we discussed common mistakes to avoid, like overriding the prototype or confusing it with the __proto__ property.

  5. The Future of Prototypes: Finally, we delved into the evolution and future outlook of prototypes in JavaScript. Despite the evolution of syntax and style, the core concept of prototype-based inheritance remains a cornerstone of JavaScript programming.

Understanding prototypes is more than just a technical requirement; it’s a gateway to mastering JavaScript at a deeper level. Prototypes are not just a feature of the language; they are a fundamental part of its identity and philosophy. By grasping prototypes, developers gain insights into the inner workings of JavaScript, enabling them to write more efficient, effective, and elegant code.

As JavaScript continues to evolve, the role of prototypes may change in form but not in significance. They offer a unique flexibility and power that aligns well with the dynamic nature of web development. Whether you’re working on small scripts or large-scale applications, a solid understanding of JavaScript prototypes will be an invaluable part of your toolkit, helping you to navigate and harness the full potential of this versatile language.

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