What is the difference between call and apply in JavaScript?

Query:

What is the difference between using Function.prototype.apply() and Function.prototype.call() to invoke a function?

var func = function() {
  alert('hello!');
};

func.apply(); vs func.call();

Are there performance differences between the two aforementioned methods? When is it best to use call over apply and vice versa?

Difference between call and apply in JavaScript:

The difference is that apply lets you invoke the function with arguments as an array; call requires the parameters be listed explicitly. A useful mnemonic is A for array and C for comma.”

See MDN’s documentation on apply and call.

Pseudo syntax:

theFunction.apply(valueForThis, arrayOfArgs)

theFunction.call(valueForThis, arg1, arg2, ...)

There is also, as of ES6, the possibility to spread the array for use with the call function, you can see the compatibilities here.

Sample code:

function theFunction(name, profession) {
    console.log("My name is " + name + " and I am a " + profession +".");
}
theFunction("John", "fireman");
theFunction.apply(undefined, ["Susan", "school teacher"]);
theFunction.call(undefined, "Claude", "mathematician");
theFunction.call(undefined, ...["Matthew", "physicist"]); // used with the spread operator

Here’s a good mnemonic to understand the difference between call and apply in JavaScript. Apply uses Arrays and Always takes one or two Arguments. When you use Call you have to Count the number of arguments.

call vs apply in JavaScript- Answer #2:

Basically, they differ on how they handle function arguments.

The apply() method is identical to call(), except apply() requires an array as the second parameter. The array represents the arguments for the target method.”

So:

// assuming you have f
function f(message) { ... }
f.call(receiver, "test");
f.apply(receiver, ["test"]);

Answer #3:

To answer the part about when to use each function, use apply if you don’t know the number of arguments you will be passing, or if they are already in an array or array-like object (like the arguments object to forward your own arguments. Use call otherwise, since there’s no need to wrap the arguments in an array.

f.call(thisObject, a, b, c); // Fixed number of arguments

f.apply(thisObject, arguments); // Forward this function's arguments

var args = [];
while (...) {
    args.push(some_value());
}
f.apply(thisObject, args); // Unknown number of arguments

When I’m not passing any arguments (like your example), I prefer call since I’m calling the function. apply would imply you are applying the function to the (non-existent) arguments.

There shouldn’t be any performance differences, except maybe if you use apply and wrap the arguments in an array (e.g. f.apply(thisObject, [a, b, c]) instead of f.call(thisObject, a, b, c)). I haven’t tested it, so there could be differences, but it would be very browser specific. It’s likely that call is faster if you don’t already have the arguments in an array and apply is faster if you do.

Answer #4:

To understand the difference by understanding the reference of this, go through the answer below.

What this Refers to When a Function is Called

When calling a function of the form foo.bar.baz(), the object foo.bar is referred to as the receiver. When the function is called, it is the receiver that is used as the value for this:

var obj = {};
obj.value = 10;
/** @param {...number} additionalValues */
obj.addValues = function(additionalValues) {
  for (var i = 0; i < arguments.length; i++) {
    this.value += arguments[i];
  }
  return this.value;
};
// Evaluates to 30 because obj is used as the value for 'this' when
// obj.addValues() is called, so obj.value becomes 10 + 20.
obj.addValues(20);

If there is no explicit receiver when a function is called, then the global object becomes the receiver. As explained in “goog.global” on page 47, window is the global object when JavaScript is executed in a web browser. This leads to some surprising behavior:

var f = obj.addValues;
// Evaluates to NaN because window is used as the value for 'this' when
// f() is called. Because and window.value is undefined, adding a number to
// it results in NaN.
f(20);
// This also has the unintentional side effect of adding a value to window:
alert(window.value); // Alerts NaN

Even though obj.addValues and f refer to the same function, they behave differently when called because the value of the receiver is different in each call. For this reason, when calling a function that refers to this, it is important to ensure that this will have the correct value when it is called. To be clear, if this were not referenced in the function body, then the behavior of f(20) and obj.addValues(20) would be the same.

Because functions are first-class objects in JavaScript, they can have their own methods. All functions have the methods call() and apply() which make it possible to redefine the receiver (i.e., the object that this refers to) when calling the function. The method signatures are as follows:

/**
* @param {*=} receiver to substitute for 'this'
* @param {...} parameters to use as arguments to the function
*/
Function.prototype.call;
/**
* @param {*=} receiver to substitute for 'this'
* @param {Array} parameters to use as arguments to the function
*/
Function.prototype.apply;

Note that the only difference between call() and apply() is that call() receives the function parameters as individual arguments, whereas apply() receives them as a single array:

// When f is called with obj as its receiver, it behaves the same as calling
// obj.addValues(). Both of the following increase obj.value by 60:
f.call(obj, 10, 20, 30);
f.apply(obj, [10, 20, 30]);

The following calls are equivalent, as f and obj.addValues refer to the same function:

obj.addValues.call(obj, 10, 20, 30);
obj.addValues.apply(obj, [10, 20, 30]);

However, since neither call() nor apply() uses the value of its own receiver to substitute for the receiver argument when it is unspecified, the following will not work:

// Both statements evaluate to NaN
obj.addValues.call(undefined, 10, 20, 30);
obj.addValues.apply(undefined, [10, 20, 30]);

The value of this can never be null or undefined when a function is called. When null or undefined is supplied as the receiver to call() or apply(), the global object is used as the value for receiver instead. Therefore, the previous code has the same undesirable side effect of adding a property named value to the global object.

It may be helpful to think of a function as having no knowledge of the variable to which it is assigned. This helps reinforce the idea that the value of this will be bound when the function is called rather than when it is defined.


Answer #5:

It is useful at times for one object to borrow the function of another object, meaning that the borrowing object simply executes the lent function as if it were its own.

A small code example:

var friend = {
    car: false,
    lendCar: function ( canLend ){
      this.car = canLend;
 }

}; 

var me = {
    car: false,
    gotCar: function(){
      return this.car === true;
  }
};

console.log(me.gotCar()); // false

friend.lendCar.call(me, true); 

console.log(me.gotCar()); // true

friend.lendCar.apply(me, [false]);

console.log(me.gotCar()); // false

These methods are very useful for giving objects temporary functionality.

Answer #6:

Another example with Call, Apply and Bind. The difference between Call and Apply is evident, but Bind works like this:

  1. Bind returns an instance of a function that can be executed
  2. First Parameter is ‘this
  3. Second parameter is a Comma separated list of arguments (like Call)

}

function Person(name) {
    this.name = name; 
}
Person.prototype.getName = function(a,b) { 
     return this.name + " " + a + " " + b; 
}

var reader = new Person('John Smith');

reader.getName = function() {
   // Apply and Call executes the function and returns value

   // Also notice the different ways of extracting 'getName' prototype
   var baseName = Object.getPrototypeOf(this).getName.apply(this,["is a", "boy"]);
   console.log("Apply: " + baseName);

   var baseName = Object.getPrototypeOf(reader).getName.call(this, "is a", "boy"); 
   console.log("Call: " + baseName);

   // Bind returns function which can be invoked
   var baseName = Person.prototype.getName.bind(this, "is a", "boy"); 
   console.log("Bind: " + baseName());
}

reader.getName();
/* Output
Apply: John Smith is a boy
Call: John Smith is a boy
Bind: John Smith is a boy
*/

What is the difference between call and apply in JavaScript? Answer #7:

From the MDN docs on Function.prototype.apply() :

The apply() method calls a function with a given this value and arguments provided as an array (or an array-like object).

Syntax

fun.apply(thisArg, [argsArray])

From the MDN docs on Function.prototype.call() :

The call() method calls a function with a given this value and arguments provided individually.

Syntax

fun.call(thisArg[, arg1[, arg2[, ...]]])

From Function.apply and Function.call in JavaScript :

The apply() method is identical to call(), except apply() requires an array as the second parameter. The array represents the arguments for the target method.


Code example :

var doSomething = function() {
    var arr = [];
    for(i in arguments) {
        if(typeof this[arguments[i]] !== 'undefined') {
            arr.push(this[arguments[i]]);
        }
    }
    return arr;
}

var output = function(position, obj) {
    document.body.innerHTML += '<h3>output ' + position + '</h3>' + JSON.stringify(obj) + '\n<br>\n<br><hr>';
}

output(1, doSomething(
    'one',
    'two',
    'two',
    'one'
));

output(2, doSomething.apply({one : 'Steven', two : 'Jane'}, [
    'one',
    'two',
    'two',
    'one'
]));

output(3, doSomething.call({one : 'Steven', two : 'Jane'},
    'one',
    'two',
    'two',
    'one'
));

Hope you learned something from this post.

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