What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

Problem: What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

I have been reading a bunch of React code and I see stuff like this that I don’t understand:

handleChange = field => e => {
  /// Do something here

Solutions What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

Solution 1: What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

That is a curried function

First, examine this function with two parameters …

const add = (x, y) => x + y
add(2, 3) //=> 5

Here it is again in curried form …

const add = x => y => x + y

Here is the same1 code without arrow functions …

const add = function (x) {
  return function (y) {
    return x + y

Focus on return

It might help to visualize it another way. We know that arrow functions work like this – let’s pay particular attention to the return value.

const f = someParam => returnValue

So our add function returns a function – we can use parentheses for added clarity. The bolded text is the return value of our function add

const add = x => (y => x + y)

In other words add of some number returns a function

add(2) // returns (y => 2 + y)

Calling curried functions

So in order to use our curried function, we have to call it a bit differently …

add(2)(3)  // returns 5

This is because the first (outer) function call returns a second (inner) function. Only after we call the second function do we actually get the result. This is more evident if we separate the calls on two lines …

const add2 = add(2) // returns function(y) { return 2 + y }
add2(3)             // returns 5

Applying our new understanding to your code

related: ”What’s the difference between binding, partial application, and currying?”

OK, now that we understand how that works, let’s look at your code

handleChange = field => e => {
  /// Do something here

We’ll start by representing it without using arrow functions …

handleChange = function(field) {
  return function(e) {
    // Do something here
    // return ...

However, because arrow functions lexically bind this, it would actually look more like this …

handleChange = function(field) {
  return function(e) {
    // Do something here
    // return ...

Maybe now we can see what this is doing more clearly. The handleChange function is creating a function for a specified field. This is a handy React technique because you’re required to setup your own listeners on each input in order to update your applications state. By using the handleChange function, we can eliminate all the duplicated code that would result in setting up change listeners for each field. Cool!

1 Here I did not have to lexically bind this because the original add function does not use any context, so it is not important to preserve it in this case.

Even more arrows

More than two arrow functions can be sequenced, if necessary –

const three = a => b => c =>
  a + b + c

const four = a => b => c => d =>
  a + b + c + d

three (1) (2) (3) // 6

four (1) (2) (3) (4) // 10

Curried functions are capable of surprising things. Below we see $ defined as a curried function with two parameters, yet at the call site, it appears as though we can supply any number of arguments. Currying is the abstraction of arity –

const $ = x => k =>
  $ (k (x))
const add = x => y =>
  x + y

const mult = x => y =>
  x * y
$ (1)           // 1
  (add (2))     // + 2 = 3
  (mult (6))    // * 6 = 18
  (console.log) // 18
$ (7)            // 7
  (add (1))      // + 1 = 8
  (mult (8))     // * 8 = 64
  (mult (2))     // * 2 = 128
  (mult (2))     // * 2 = 256
  (console.log)  // 256

Partial application

Partial application is a related concept. It allows us to partially apply functions, similar to currying, except the function does not have to be defined in curried form –

const partial = (f, ...a) => (...b) =>
  f (...a, ...b)

const add3 = (x, y, z) =>
  x + y + z

partial (add3) (1, 2, 3)   // 6

partial (add3, 1) (2, 3)   // 6

partial (add3, 1, 2) (3)   // 6

partial (add3, 1, 2, 3) () // 6

partial (add3, 1, 1, 1, 1) (1, 1, 1, 1, 1) // 3

Here’s a working demo of partial you can play with in your own browser –

const partial = (f, ...a) => (...b) =>
  f (...a, ...b)
const preventDefault = (f, event) =>
  ( event .preventDefault ()
  , f (event)
const logKeypress = event =>
  console .log (event.which)
  .querySelector ('input[name=foo]')
  .addEventListener ('keydown', partial (preventDefault, logKeypress))
<input name="foo" placeholder="type here to see ascii codes" size="50">

Solution 2: What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

A general tip: If you get confused by any of new JavaScript syntax and how it will compile, you can check Babel. For example, copying your code in Babel and selecting the ES 2015 preset will give an output like this

handleChange = function handleChange(field) {
  return function (e) {
    // Do something here
What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

Solution 3: What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

Understanding the available syntaxes of arrow functions will give you an understanding of what behaviour they are introducing when ‘chained’ like in the examples you provided.

“What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?”

When an arrow function is written without block braces, with or without multiple parameters, the expression that constitutes the function’s body is implicitly returned. In your example, that expression is another arrow function.

No arrow funcs              Implicitly return `e=>{…}`    Explicitly return `e=>{…}` 
function (field) {         |  field => e => {            |  field => {
  return function (e) {    |                             |    return e => {
      e.preventDefault()   |    e.preventDefault()       |      e.preventDefault()
  }                        |                             |    }
}                          |  }                          |  }

Another advantage of writing anonymous functions using the arrow syntax is that they are bound lexically to the scope in which they are defined. From ‘Arrow functions’ on MDN:

An arrow function expression has a shorter syntax compared to function expressions and lexically binds the this value. Arrow functions are always anonymous.

This is particularly pertinent in your example considering that it is taken from a reactjs application. As as pointed out by @naomik, in React you often access a component’s member functions using this. For example:

Unbound                     Explicitly bound            Implicitly bound 
function (field) {         |  function (field) {       |  field => e => {
  return function (e) {    |    return function (e) {  |    
      this.setState(...)   |      this.setState(...)   |    this.setState(...)
  }                        |    }.bind(this)           |    
}                          |  }.bind(this)             |  }

Solution 4: What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

Think of it like this, every time you see a arrow, you replace it with function.
function parameters are defined before the arrow.
So in your example:

field => // function(field){}
e => { e.preventDefault(); } // function(e){e.preventDefault();}

and then together:

function (field) { 
    return function (e) { 

From the docs:

// Basic syntax:
(param1, param2, paramN) => { statements }
(param1, param2, paramN) => expression
   // equivalent to:  => { return expression; }

// Parentheses are optional when there's only one argument:
singleParam => { statements }
singleParam => expression

Solution 5: What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

It might be not totally related, but since the question mentioned react uses case (and I keep bumping into this SO thread): There is one important aspect of the double arrow function which is not explicitly mentioned here. Only the ‘first’ arrow(function) gets named (and thus ‘distinguishable’ by the run-time), any following arrows are anonymous and from React point of view count as a ‘new’ object on every render.

Thus double arrow function will cause any PureComponent to rerender all the time.

“What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?”


You have a parent component with a change handler as:

handleChange = task => event => { ... operations which uses both task and event... };

and with a render like:

{ tasks.map(task => <MyTask handleChange={this.handleChange(task)}/> }

handleChange then used on an input or click. And this all works and looks very nice. BUT it means that any change that will cause the parent to rerender (like a completely unrelated state change) will also re-render ALL of your MyTask as well even though they are PureComponents.

This can be alleviated many ways such as passing the ‘outmost’ arrow and the object you would feed it with or writing a custom shouldUpdate function or going back to basics such as writing named functions (and binding the this manually…)

Solution 6: What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?

The example in your question is that of a curried function which makes use of arrow function and has an implicit return for the first argument.

Arrow function lexically bind this i.e they do not have their own this argument but take the this value from the enclosing scope

“What do multiple arrow functions mean in JavaScript?”

An equivalent of the above code would be

const handleChange = (field) {
  return function(e) {
     /// Do something here

One more thing to note about your example is that define handleChange as a const or a function. Probably you are using it as part of a class method and it uses a class fields syntax

so instead of binding the outer function directly, you would bind it in the class constructor

class Something{
    constructor(props) {
       this.handleChange = this.handleChange.bind(this);
    handleChange(field) {
        return function(e) {
           // do something

Another thing to note in the example is the difference between implicit and explicit return.

const abc = (field) => field * 2;

Above is an example of implicit return ie. it takes the value field as argument and returns the result field*2 which explicitly specifying the function to return

For an explicit return you would explicitly tell the method to return the value

const abc = () => { return field*2; }

Another thing to note about arrow functions is that they do not have their own arguments but inherit that from the parents scope as well.

For example if you just define an arrow function like

const handleChange = () => {
   console.log(arguments) // would give an error on running since arguments in undefined

As an alternative arrow functions provide the rest parameters that you can use

const handleChange = (...args) => {

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