JavaScript – First steps

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HTML, CSS and JavaScript

Mostly, JavaScript runs in your web browser alongside HTML and CSS, and can be added to any web page using a script tag. The script element can either contain JavaScript directly (internal) or link to an external resource via a srcattribute (external).

A browser then runs JavaScript line-by-line, starting at the top of the file or script  element and finishing at the bottom (unless you tell it to go elsewhere).


You can just put the JavaScript inside a script  element:

    alert("Hello, world.");


An external JavaScript resource is a text file with a .js extension, just like an external CSS resource with a .cssextension.

To add a JavaScript file to your page, you just need to use a script tag with a src attribute pointing to the file. So, if your file was called script.js and sat in the same directory as your HTML file, your script element would look like this:

<script src="script.js"></script>


The last way is great for getting instant feedback, and it’s recommend if you just want to try a line out quickly.

In a modern browser you’ll find some developer tools – often you can right click on a page, then click “inspect element” to bring them up. Find the console and you’ll be able to type JavaScript, hit enter and have it run immediately.

Search the net if you can’t find your dev tools or console – they’re changing in browsers all the time.

Let’s go!

To get started, the best way is the internal method. You can modify the contents of the script  element and refresh the page just like you’re used to – quick and easy.

Now it’s time to learn some JavaScript. Good luck!

Variables and Data

Storing data so we can use it later is one of the most important things when writing code. Fortunately, JavaScript can do this! If it couldn’t, it’d be pretty darn useless.

So let’s ask the user (that’s you) for their surname (check your driving license, or ask a friend).

var surname = prompt('Greetings friend, may I enquire as to your surname?');

A little box will pop-up, asking (very courteously if I may say) for your surname. Type your surname in and hit ‘OK’.

The surname you entered is now saved, and it can be referred to as surname. You can get what you entered back out again by typing surname into the console. You should see your surname appearing back to you underneath! Exciting!

You’ve created a variable.


Think, if you will, of a variable as a shelf with a name so it’s easy to get back to. You’ve named a shelf surname.

You can name a variable anything you like, but it’s best to name it in a way that tells what you’ve stored there. For example, surname is better than mything or s.

When you type a variable name into the console you are asking the browser, which looks after the shelves, to go find the shelf and give what’s on it to you. This is also known as the variable’s value. The value can be almost anything – insurname, you’ve stored some letters, known as a string. You can also store numbers and a myriad other kinds of data.

So, a variable has a name and a value.

They are the way we store data, and you’ll be using them a lot.

There are two parts to creating a variable; declaration and initialization. Once it’s created, you can assign (or set) its value.


Declaration is declaring a variable to exist. To return to the shelf metaphor, it’s like picking an empty shelf in a massive warehouse and putting a name on it.

As above, to declare a variable, use the var keyword followed by the variable name, like this:

var surname;
var age;


Initialization is giving a variable its value for the first time. The value can change later, but it is only initialized once.

You initialize a variable using the equals sign (=). You can read it as “the value of the variable on the left should be the data on the right”:

var name = "Tom";

“Tom” is a string – a collection of letters. A string is surrounded by single or double quote marks.

var age = 20;

20 is just a number – and numbers don’t go in quotes.


As mentioned, you can set a variable’s value as many times as you like. It’s called assignment and it looks very similar to initialization. You again use the equals sign, but there’s no need for the var keyword because we’ve already declared the variable.

It’s like this, yo:

name = "Andy";
age = 43;

Only do this if you’ve declared the variable using the var keyword!

Doing Math

Variables can be used to store strings and numbers (amongst other things), but here the focus is on numbers.

How much fruit?

In your console, let’s create two variables. One will be the number of apples we have, the second will be the number of pears.

var apples = 5, pears = 10;

That creates two variables… but there’s only one var keyword? Yup, it’s a shorthand for declaring and initializing multiple variables at the same time. By using the var keyword once and separating the new variables with commas you can save yourself some work.

Now, use these two variables to figure out how many pieces of fruit there are in total.

var piecesOfFruit = apples + pears;

So that’s new.

You’re asking the browser to work out the sum on the right before assigning the result to piecesOfFruit – and you’re not adding the variable names, you’re adding the values of the variables. The browser knows that, when it sees a variable like this, you want to do something with the value. So it goes and gets each variable’s value before doing the sum.

The sum is called piecesOfFruit, not pieces of fruit. This is because variable names cannot contain spaces! There’s a set of rules somewhere about what you can and can’t use, but for now just use letters with no spaces.

Splitting the fruit

Let’s say you want to split your fruit between 3 people. How much fruit does each person get?

var piecesForEachPerson = piecesOfFruit / 3;

Thank goodness we have this JavaScript thing, otherwise you’d need a calculator for that one…

You’re using a forward slash (“ / ”) to indicate division: divide the thing on the left by the thing on the right.

Precedence & operators

For doing sums you can use various symbols: add (“ + ”), subtract (“ – ”), divide (“ / ”) and multiply (“ * ”).

Mathematical symbols are called operators; that is, they operate on some data. We’ll meet even more operators later on, but you should know that, like on a calculator, the symbols are worked out in a particular order, called operator precedence. Things in parentheses – that’s these: “ ( ” and “ ) ” – are done first, then multiplication and division, then addition and subtraction.

Here’s an example, stepping through how the browser runs it:

(10 + 2) / 2 + 4 * 2

The part in brackets is worked out first. So this becomes…

12 / 2 + 4 * 2

…which works out to…

6 + 4 * 2

Then things are done in operator precedence order. If multiple sums are of the same precedence then they are evaluated left to right.

The multiplication is higher precedence so is done first, which works out to…

6 + 8

This is used to work out the final value:




A really important part of programming is being able to compare values in order to make decisions in code. When a comparison is made the outcome is either true or false; a special kind a of data called a boolean. This is logic.

Like when doing math, there’s a set of operators that work on booleans. They are used to compare two values, on the left and right of the operator, to produce a boolean value.


To find out when two values are equal, use the triple equals operator (“===”).

15.234 === 15.234


We can also determine if two values are not equal using the triple not equal operator (“!==”).

15.234 !== 18.4545


It’s important to know that strings containing a number and an actual number are not equal.

'10' === 10


Greater than and less than

Comparing two numbers is useful, for example, to determine which of two is larger or smaller. This first example is a comparison of 10 and 5 to see if 10 is larger, using the greater than operator (“>”).

10 > 5


Next we use the less than operator (“<”) to determine if the left value is smaller.

20.4 < 20.2


That example gives back (or returns) false, because 20.4 is not a smaller number than 20.2.

Combined comparisons

Combining a comparison of equality and size can be done with the greater than or equal to and less than or equal to operators (“>=” and “<=” respectively).

10 >= 10


10 <= 5



Logic is used to make decisions in code; choosing to run one piece of code or another depending on the comparisons made. This requires use of something called a conditional. There are a few different conditionals that you might want to use, but we’ll just focus the one used most commonly: if.


It’s very simple: if some logic (the condition) is true, run a block of code. You can also supply more code to be run if the condition is not true, and supply additional conditions and blocks of code to optionally be run. These forms are calledif-else, as you’ll see below.

The most simple if statement looks something like this:

if (10 > 5) {
    // Run the code in here

The code between the braces – “{” and “}” – is called a block, and this one is linked to the if statement. It’s only run if theconditional (between the parentheses) is true.

10 is indeed greater than 5, so the code in the block would run.


The if-else form of an if statement is used to run an alternative piece of code if the conditional is not true. The code in the if block below will be ignored, for example – only the code in the else block will be run.

if (43 < 2) {
    // Run the code in here
} else {
    // Run a different bit of code


Loops are a way of repeating the same block of code over and over. They’re incredibly useful, and are used, for example, to carry out an action on every item in an array (we will come to arrays later) or in searching.

Two of the most common loops are while loops and for loops. They combine a conditional and a block, running the block over and over until the logic of the conditional is no longer true, or until you force them to stop.


A while loop repeats a block of code while a condition is true. Like an if statement, the condition is found in parentheses.

var i = 1;
while (i < 10) {
    i = i + 1;
// i is now 10

After looping has finished the code carries on running from just after the closing brace (“}”) of the loop’s block.


A for loop is similar to an if statement, but it combines three semicolon-separated pieces information between the parentheses: initialization, condition and a final expression.

The initialization part is for creating a variable to let you track how far through the loop you are – like i in the whileexample; the condition is where the looping logic goes – the same as the condition in the while example; and the finalexpression is run at the end of every loop.

for (var i = 1; i < 10; i++) {

This gives us alert boxes containing the numbers 1 to 10 in order.


Functions are reusable blocks of code that carry out a specific task. To execute the code in a function you call it. A function can be passed arguments to use, and a function may return a value to whatever called it.

You can save functions as the value of a variable, and you call a function using this variable and a pair of parentheses. This is also called invoking the function.


To create a function, use the function keyword. You then list the arguments in parentheses, and then supply a block that contains the function’s code. Here’s a function that adds two numbers:

var add = function (a, b) {
    return a + b;

a and b are the function’s parameters, and the value it returns is signified by the return keyword. The return keyword also stops execution of the code in the function; nothing after it will be run.

var result = add(1, 2); // result is now 3

This calls add with the arguments 1 and 2, which, inside add, will be saved in the variables a and b.


JavaScript objects are like a real life objects; they have properties and abilities. A JavaScript object is, in that sense, a collection of named properties and methods – a function. An object can be stored in a variable, and the properties and methods accessed using the dot syntax.

A human, for example, has a name and an age, and could talk, move or learn JavaScript. Name and age are propertiesof the human, and are essentially pieces of data. Talking, moving and learning are more like functions – there’s some complex behavior involved. When a JavaScript object has such an ability, it is called a method.

Variables can hold objects, and creating an object is done using a special syntax signified by braces:

var jedi = {
    name: "Yoda",
    age: 899,
    talk: function () { alert("another... Sky... walk..."); }

The Jedi’s name and age are properties – they are essentially variables within the object and can store anything a variable can. talk is a property that holds a function – a method.

You can get data back out of an object using the dot syntax:;




//produces an alert box

You can also reassign properties of an object: = "Mace Windu";

And add new ones on the fly:

jedi.lightsaber = "purple";

Properties can be any kind of data including objects and arrays. Adding an object as a property of another object creates a nested object:

var person = {
    age: 122
}; = {
    first: "Jeanne",
    last: "Calment"

Creating an empty object and adding properties and methods to it is possible too:

var dog = {};

dog.bark = function () { alert("Woof!"); };


Arrays are lists of any kind of data, including other arrays. Each item in the array has an index — a number — which can be used to retrieve an element from the array.

The indices start at 0; that is, the first element in the array has the index 0, and subsequent elements have incrementally increasing indices, so the last element in the array has an index one less than the length of the array.In JavaScript, you create an array using the array-literal syntax:

var emptyArray = [];

var shoppingList = ['Milk', 'Bread', 'Beans'];

You retrieve a specific element from an array using square bracket syntax:



It’s also possible to set the value at a particular index, again using the square bracket syntax:

shoppingList[1] = 'Cookies';

// shoppingList is now ['Milk', 'Cookies', 'Beans']

You can find the number of elements in the array using its length property:



You can use push and pop methods to add and remove elements from the end of the array:

shoppingList.push('A new car');

// shoppingList is now ['Milk', 'Bread', 'Beans', 'A new car']


// shoppingList is back to ['Milk', 'Bread', 'Beans']

Here’s an example that creates, pushes, pops and iterates over an array, passing each name to a function called helloFrom. helloFrom returns a string with a greeting: “Hello from ” and then the person’s name. After the pushing and popping, the final list of people is: “Tom”, “Yoda”, “Ron” and “Bob”.

var helloFrom = function (personName) {
    return "Hello from " + personName;

var people = ['Tom', 'Yoda', 'Ron'];

people.push('Dr Evil');


for (var i=0; i < people.length; i++) {
    var greeting = helloFrom(people[i]);




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