What does “use strict” do in JavaScript, and what is the reasoning behind it?


12 Answers

It's a new feature of ECMAScript 5. John Resig wrote up a nice summary of it.

It's just a string you put in your JavaScript files (either at the top of your file or inside of a function) that looks like this:

"use strict";

Putting it in your code now shouldn't cause any problems with current browsers as it's just a string. It may cause problems with your code in the future if your code violates the pragma. For instance, if you currently have foo = "bar" without defining foo first, your code will start failing...which is a good thing in my opinion.

Question

Recently, I ran some of my JavaScript code through Crockford's JSLint, and it gave the following error:

Problem at line 1 character 1: Missing "use strict" statement.

Doing some searching, I realized that some people add "use strict"; into their JavaScript code. Once I added the statement, the error stopped appearing. Unfortunately, Google did not reveal much of the history behind this string statement. Certainly it must have something to do with how the JavaScript is interpreted by the browser, but I have no idea what the effect would be.

So what is "use strict"; all about, what does it imply, and is it still relevant?

Do any of the current browsers respond to the "use strict"; string or is it for future use?




There's a good talk by some people who were on the ECMAScript committee: Changes to JavaScript, Part 1: ECMAScript 5" about how incremental use of the "use strict" switch allows JavaScript implementers to clean up a lot of the dangerous features of JavaScript without suddenly breaking every website in the world.

Of course it also talks about just what a lot of those misfeatures are (were) and how ECMAScript 5 fixes them.




"Use Strict"; is an insurance that programmer will not use the loose or the bad properties of JavaScript. It is a guide, just like a ruler will help you make straight lines. "Use Strict" will help you do "Straight coding".

Those that prefer not to use rulers to do their lines straight usually end up in those pages asking for others to debug their code.

Believe me. The overhead is negligible compared to poorly designed code. Doug Crockford, who has been a senior JavaScript developer for several years, has a very interesting post here. Personally, I like to return to his site all the time to make sure I don't forget my good practice.

Modern JavaScript practice should always evoke the "Use Strict"; pragma. The only reason that the ECMA Group has made the "Strict" mode optional is to permit less experienced coders access to JavaScript and give then time to adapt to the new and safer coding practices.




The main reasons why developers should use "use strict" are:

  1. Prevents accidental declaration of global variables.Using "use strict()" will make sure that variables are declared with var before use. Eg:

    function useStrictDemo(){
     'use strict';
     //works fine
     var a = 'No Problem';
    
     //does not work fine and throws error
     k = "problem"
    
     //even this will throw error
     someObject = {'problem': 'lot of problem'};
    }
    
  2. N.B: The "use strict" directive is only recognized at the beginning of a script or a function.
  3. The string "arguments" cannot be used as a variable:

    "use strict";
    var arguments = 3.14;    // This will cause an error
    
  4. Will restrict uses of keywords as variables. Trying to use them will throw errors.

In short will make your code less error prone and in turn will make you write good code.

To read more about it you can refer here.




If people are worried about using use strict it might be worth checking out this article:

ECMAScript 5 'Strict mode' support in browsers. What does this mean?
NovoGeek.com - Krishna's weblog

It talks about browser support, but more importantly how to deal with it safely:

function isStrictMode(){
    return !this;
} 
/*
   returns false, since 'this' refers to global object and 
   '!this' becomes false
*/

function isStrictMode(){   
    "use strict";
    return !this;
} 
/* 
   returns true, since in strict mode the keyword 'this'
   does not refer to global object, unlike traditional JS. 
   So here, 'this' is 'undefined' and '!this' becomes true.
*/



Using 'use strict'; does not suddenly make your code better.

The JavaScript strict mode is a feature in ECMAScript 5. You can enable the strict mode by declaring this in the top of your script/function.

'use strict';

When a JavaScript engine sees this directive, it will start to interpret the code in a special mode. In this mode, errors are thrown up when certain coding practices that could end up being potential bugs are detected (which is the reasoning behind the strict mode).

Consider this example:

var a = 365;
var b = 030;

In their obsession to line up the numeric literals, the developer has inadvertently initialized variable b with an octal literal. Non-strict mode will interpret this as a numeric literal with value 24 (in base 10). However, strict mode will throw an error.

For a non-exhaustive list of specialties in strict mode, see this answer.


Where should I use 'use strict';?

  • In my new JavaScript application: Absolutely! Strict mode can be used as a whistleblower when you are doing something stupid with your code.

  • In my existing JavaScript code: Probably not! If your existing JavaScript code has statements that are prohibited in strict-mode, the application will simply break. If you want strict mode, you should be prepared to debug and correct your existing code. This is why using 'use strict'; does not suddenly make your code better.


How do I use strict mode?

  1. Insert a 'use strict'; statement on top of your script:

    // File: myscript.js
    
    'use strict';
    var a = 2;
    ....
    

    Note that everything in the file myscript.js will be interpreted in strict mode.

  2. Or, insert a 'use strict'; statement on top of your function body:

    function doSomething() {
        'use strict';
        ...
    }
    

    Everything in the lexical scope of function doSomething will be interpreted in strict mode. The word lexical scope is important here. See this answer for a better explanation.


What things are prohibited in strict mode?

I found a nice article describing several things that are prohibited in strict mode (note that this is not an exclusive list):

Scope

Historically, JavaScript has been confused about how functions are scoped. Sometimes they seem to be statically scoped, but some features make them behave like they are dynamically scoped. This is confusing, making programs difficult to read and understand. Misunderstanding causes bugs. It also is a problem for performance. Static scoping would permit variable binding to happen at compile time, but the requirement for dynamic scope means the binding must be deferred to runtime, which comes with a significant performance penalty.

Strict mode requires that all variable binding be done statically. That means that the features that previously required dynamic binding must be eliminated or modified. Specifically, the with statement is eliminated, and the eval function’s ability to tamper with the environment of its caller is severely restricted.

One of the benefits of strict code is that tools like YUI Compressor can do a better job when processing it.

Implied Global Variables

JavaScript has implied global variables. If you do not explicitly declare a variable, a global variable is implicitly declared for you. This makes programming easier for beginners because they can neglect some of their basic housekeeping chores. But it makes the management of larger programs much more difficult and it significantly degrades reliability. So in strict mode, implied global variables are no longer created. You should explicitly declare all of your variables.

Global Leakage

There are a number of situations that could cause this to be bound to the global object. For example, if you forget to provide the new prefix when calling a constructor function, the constructor's this will be bound unexpectedly to the global object, so instead of initializing a new object, it will instead be silently tampering with global variables. In these situations, strict mode will instead bind this to undefined, which will cause the constructor to throw an exception instead, allowing the error to be detected much sooner.

Noisy Failure

JavaScript has always had read-only properties, but you could not create them yourself until ES5’s Object.createProperty function exposed that capability. If you attempted to assign a value to a read-only property, it would fail silently. The assignment would not change the property’s value, but your program would proceed as though it had. This is an integrity hazard that can cause programs to go into an inconsistent state. In strict mode, attempting to change a read-only property will throw an exception.

Octal

The octal (or base 8) representation of numbers was extremely useful when doing machine-level programming on machines whose word sizes were a multiple of 3. You needed octal when working with the CDC 6600 mainframe, which had a word size of 60 bits. If you could read octal, you could look at a word as 20 digits. Two digits represented the op code, and one digit identified one of 8 registers. During the slow transition from machine codes to high level languages, it was thought to be useful to provide octal forms in programming languages.

In C, an extremely unfortunate representation of octalness was selected: Leading zero. So in C, 0100 means 64, not 100, and 08 is an error, not 8. Even more unfortunately, this anachronism has been copied into nearly all modern languages, including JavaScript, where it is only used to create errors. It has no other purpose. So in strict mode, octal forms are no longer allowed.

Et cetera

The arguments pseudo array becomes a little bit more array-like in ES5. In strict mode, it loses its callee and caller properties. This makes it possible to pass your arguments to untrusted code without giving up a lot of confidential context. Also, the arguments property of functions is eliminated.

In strict mode, duplicate keys in a function literal will produce a syntax error. A function can’t have two parameters with the same name. A function can’t have a variable with the same name as one of its parameters. A function can’t delete its own variables. An attempt to delete a non-configurable property now throws an exception. Primitive values are not implicitly wrapped.


Reserved words for future JavaScript versions

ECMAScript 5 adds a list of reserved words. If you use them as variables or arguments, strict mode will throw an error. The reserved words are:

implements, interface, let, package, private, protected, public, static, and yield


Further Reading




Just wanted to add some more points.

The Reason to Use Strict Mode--->

  • Strict mode makes it easier to write "secure" JavaScript.

  • Strict mode changes previously accepted "bad syntax" into real
    errors.

  • As an example, in normal JavaScript, mistyping a variable name
    creates a new global variable.

  • In strict mode, this will throw an error, making it impossible to accidentally create a global variable.

  • In strict mode, any assignment to a non-writable property, a
    getter-only property, a non-existing property, a non-existing
    variable, or a non-existing object, will throw an error.

The things that will throw errors in Strict Mode Using a variable, without declaring it, is not allowed:

"use strict";
 x = 3.14;                // This will cause an error

Objects are variables too.

Using an object, without declaring it, is not allowed:

  "use strict";
  x = {p1:10, p2:20};      // This will cause an error

Deleting a variable (or object) is not allowed.

  "use strict";
   var x = 3.14;
   delete x;                // This will cause an error

For security reasons, eval() is not allowed to create variables in the scope from which it was called:

"use strict";
 eval ("var x = 2");
 alert (x);               // This will cause an error

In function calls like f(), the this value was the global object. In strict mode, it is now undefined.

"use strict" is only recognized at the beginning of a script.




If you use a browser released in the last year or so then it most likely supports JavaScript Strict mode. Only older browsers around before ECMAScript 5 became the current standard don't support it.

The quotes around the command make sure that the code will still work in older browsers as well (although the things that generate a syntax error in strict mode will generally just cause the script to malfunction in some hard to detect way in those older browsers).




Normally java script does not follow strict rules hence increasing chances of errors. After using "use strict", the java script code should follow strict set of rules as like in other programming languages such as use of terminators, declaration before initialization etc.

If "use strict" is used then the code should be written by following a strict set of rules hence decreasing the chances of errors and ambiguities.




"use strict"; is the ECMA effort to make JavaScript a little bit more robust. It brings in JS an attempt to make it at least a little "strict" (other languages implement strict rules since the 90s). It actually "forces" JavaScript developers to follow some sort of coding best practices. Still, JavaScript is very fragile. There is no such thing as typed variables, typed methods, etc. I strongly recommend JavaScript developers to learn a more robust language such as Java or ActionScript3, and implement the same best practices in your JavaScript code, it will work better and be easier to debug.




Note that use strict was introduced in EcmaScript 5 and was kept since then.

Below are the conditions to trigger strict mode in ES6 and ES7:

  • Global code is strict mode code if it begins with a Directive Prologue that contains a Use Strict Directive (see 14.1.1).
  • Module code is always strict mode code.
  • All parts of a ClassDeclaration or a ClassExpression are strict mode code.
  • Eval code is strict mode code if it begins with a Directive Prologue that contains a Use Strict Directive or if the call to eval is a direct eval (see 12.3.4.1) that is contained in strict mode code.
  • Function code is strict mode code if the associated FunctionDeclaration, FunctionExpression, GeneratorDeclaration, GeneratorExpression, MethodDefinition, or ArrowFunction is contained in strict mode code or if the code that produces the value of the function’s [[ECMAScriptCode]] internal slot begins with a Directive Prologue that contains a Use Strict Directive.
  • Function code that is supplied as the arguments to the built-in Function and Generator constructors is strict mode code if the last argument is a String that when processed is a FunctionBody that begins with a Directive Prologue that contains a Use Strict Directive.



I would like to offer a somewhat more founded answer complementing the other answers. I was hoping to edit the most popular answer, but failed. I tried to make it as comprehensive and complete as I could.

You can refer to the MDN documentation for more information.

"use strict" a directive introduced in ECMAScript 5.

Directives are similar to statements, yet different.

  • use strict does not contain key words: The directive is a simple expression statement, which consists of a special string literal (in single or double quotes). JavaScript engines, that do not implement ECMAScript 5, merely see an expression statement without side effects. It is expected that future versions of ECMAScript standards introduce use as a real key word; the quotes would thereby become obsolete.
  • use strict can be used only at the beginning of a script or of a function, i.e. it must precede every other (real) statement. It does not have to be the first instruction in a script of function: it can be preceded by other statement expressions that consist of string literals ( and JavaScript implementations can treat them as implementation specific directives). String literals statements, which follow a first real statement (in a script or function) are simple expression statements. Interpreters must not interpret them as directives and they have no effect.

The use strict directive indicates that the following code (in a script or a function) is strict code. The code in the highest level of a script (code that is not in a function) is considered strict code when the script contains a use strict directive. The content of a function is considered strict code when the function itself is defined in a strict code or when the function contains a use strict directive. Code that is passed to an eval() method is considered strict code when eval() was called from a strict code or contains the use strict directive itself.

The strict mode of ECMAScript 5 is a restricted subset of the JavaScript language, which eliminates relevant deficits of the language and features more stringent error checking and higher security. The following lists the differences between strict mode and normal mode (of which the first three are particularly important):

  • You cannot use the with-statement in strict mode.
  • In strict mode all variables have to be declared: if you assign a value to an identifier that has not been declared as variable, function, function parameter, catch-clause parameter or property of the global Object, then you will get a ReferenceError. In normal mode the identifier is implicitly declared as a global variable (as a property of the global Object)
  • In strict mode the keyword this has the value undefined in functions that were invoked as functions (not as methods). (In normal mode this always points to the global Object). This difference can be used to test if an implementation supports the strict mode:
var hasStrictMode = (function() { "use strict"; return this===undefined }());
  • Also when a function is invoked with call() or apply in strict mode, then this is exactly the value of the first argument of the call()or apply() invocation. (In normal mode null and undefined are replaced by the global Object and values, which are not objects, are cast into objects.)

  • In strict mode you will get a TypeError, when you try to assign to readonly properties or to define new properties for a non extensible object. (In normal mode both simply fail without error message.)

  • In strict mode, when passing code to eval(), you cannot declare or define variables or functions in the scope of the caller (as you can do it in normal mode). Instead, a new scope is created for eval() and the variables and functions are within that scope. That scope is destroyed after eval() finishes execution.
  • In strict mode the arguments-object of a function contains a static copy of the values, which are passed to that function. In normal mode the arguments-object has a somewhat "magical" behaviour: The elements of the array and the named function parameters reference both the same value.
  • In strict mode you will get a SyntaxError when the delete operator is followed by a non qualified identifier (a variable, function or function parameter). In normal mode the delete expression would do nothing and is evaluated to false.
  • In strict mode you will get a TypeError when you try to delete a non configurable property. (In normal mode the attempt simply fails and the delete expression is evaluated to false).
  • In strict mode it is considered a syntactical error when you try to define several properties with the same name for an object literal. (In normal mode there is no error.)
  • In strict mode it is considered a syntactical error when a function declaration has multiple parameters with the same name. (In normal mode there is no error.)
  • In strict mode octal literals are not allowed (these are literals that start with 0x. (In normal mode some implementations do allow octal literals.)
  • In strict mode the identifiers eval and arguments are treated like keywords. You cannot change their value, cannot assign a value to them, and you cannot use them as names for variables, functions, function parameters or identifiers of a catch block.
  • In strict mode are more restrictions on the possibilities to examine the call stack. arguments.caller and arguments.callee cause a TypeError in a function in strict mode. Furthermore, some caller- and arguments properties of functions in strict mode cause a TypeError when you try to read them.



When adding "use strict";, the following cases will throw a SyntaxError before the script is executing:

  • Paving the way for future ECMAScript versions, using one of the newly reserved keywords (in prevision for ECMAScript 6): implements, interface, let, package, private, protected, public, static, and yield.

  • Declaring function in blocks

    if(a<b){ function f(){} }
    
  • Octal syntax

    var n = 023;
    
  • this point to the global object.

     function f() {
          "use strict";
          this.a = 1;
     };
     f(); 
    
  • Declaring twice the same name for a property name in an object literal

     {a: 1, b: 3, a: 7} 
    

    This is no longer the case in ECMAScript 6 (bug 1041128).

  • Declaring two function arguments with the same name function

    f(a, b, b){}
    
  • Setting a value to an undeclared variable

    function f(x){
       "use strict";
       var a = 12;
       b = a + x*35; // error!
    }
    f();
    
  • Using delete on a variable name delete myVariable;

  • Using eval or arguments as variable or function argument name

    "use strict";
    arguments++;
    var obj = { set p(arguments) { } };
    try { } catch (arguments) { }
    function arguments() { } 
    

Sources:






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