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Converting a Value to String in JavaScript

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Converting a Value to String in JavaScript

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In JavaScript, there are three main ways in which any value can be converted to a string. This blog post explains each way, along with its advantages and disadvantages.

Three approaches for converting to string

The three approaches for converting to string are:

  1. value.toString()
  2. "" + value
  3. String(value)

The problem with approach #1 is that it doesn’t work if the value is null or undefined. That leaves us with approaches #2 and #3, which are basically equivalent.

  • ""+value: The plus operator is fine for converting a value when it is surrounded by non-empty strings. As a way for converting a value to string, I find it less descriptive of one’s intentions. But that is a matter of taste, some people prefer this approach to String(value).
  • String(value): This approach is nicely explicit: Apply the function String() to value. The only problem is that this function call will confuse some people, especially those coming from Java, because String is also a constructor. However, function and constructor produce completely different results:
        > String("abc") === new String("abc")
        false
    
        > typeof String("abc")
        'string'
        > String("abc") instanceof String
        false
    
        > typeof new String("abc")
        'object'
        > new String("abc") instanceof String
        true
    

    The function produces, as promised, a string (a primitive [1]). The constructor produces an instance of the type String (an object). The latter is hardly ever useful in JavaScript, which is why you can usually forget about String as a constructor and concentrate on its role as converting to string.

A minor difference between ""+value and String(value)

Until now you have heard that + and String() convert their “argument” to string. But how do they actually do that? It turns out that they do it in slightly different ways, but usually arrive at the same result.

Converting primitives to string

Both approaches use the internal ToString() operation to convert primitives to string. “Internal” means: a function specified by the ECMAScript 5.1 (§9.8) that isn’t accessible to the language itself. The following table explains how ToString() operates on primitives.

 

Argument Result
undefined "undefined"
null "null"
boolean value either "true" or "false"
number value the number as a string, e.g. "1.765"
string value no conversion necessary

Converting objects to string

Both approaches first convert an object to a primitive, before converting that primitive to string. However, + uses the internal ToNumber() operator (except for dates [2]), while String() uses ToString().
  • ToNumber(): To convert an object obj to a primitive, invoke obj.valueOf(). If the result is primitive, return that result. Otherwise, invoke obj.toString(). If the result is primitive, return that result. Otherwise, throw a TypeError.
  • ToString(): Works the same, but invokes obj.toString() before obj.valueOf().
With the following object, you can observe the difference:
    var obj = {
        valueOf: function () {
            console.log("valueOf");
            return {}; // not a primitive, keep going
        },
        toString: function () {
            console.log("toString");
            return {}; // not a primitive, keep going
        }
    };  

Interaction:

    > "" + obj
    valueOf
    toString
    TypeError: Cannot convert object to primitive value

    > String(obj)
    toString
    valueOf
    TypeError: Cannot convert object to primitive value

Most objects use the default implementation of valueOf() which returns this for objects. Hence, that method will always be skipped by ToNumber().

    > var x = {}
    > x.valueOf() === x
    true

Instances of Boolean, Number, and String wrap primitives and valueOf returns the wrapped primitive. But that still means that the final result will be the same as for toString(), even though it will have been produced in a different manner.

    > var n = new Number(756)
    > n.valueOf() === n
    false
    > n.valueOf() === 756
    true

Conclusion

Which of the three approaches for converting to string should you choose? value.toString() can be OK, if you are sure that value will never be null or undefined. Otherwise, ""+value and String(value) are mostly equivalent. Which one people prefer is a matter of taste. I find String(value) more explicit.

Related posts

  1. JavaScript values: not everything is an object [primitives versus objects]
  2. What is {} + {} in JavaScript? [explains how the + operator works]
  3. String concatenation in JavaScript [how to best concatenate many strings]

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Published at DZone with permission of Axel Rauschmayer, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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