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JavaScript Objects: Referencing Own Properties



  • Contrast the definitions of "property" and "method".
  • Access properties within a method of the same object using this.


  1. Fork and clone this repository.
  2. Create a new branch, training, for your work.
  3. Checkout to the training branch.
  4. Install dependencies with npm install.

Kinds of Properties

Suppose we have the following object literal:

  foo: 'bar',
  baz: function () {
    // How do I access the value stored in 'foo' above?

foo and baz are both properties, also known as keys. We typically use the term "keys" when object literals are used as dictionaries. When we mix data and methods, we should prefer the term "object" over "dictionary". So, we'll also call the accessor name a "property" instead of a "key".

foo is a data item, referred to as a property. On the other hand, baz points to a function that can be invoked, and is known as a method.

For the remainder of this talk, we will be focusing exclusively on how we can use this inside of a method to point to value defined elsewhere in an object literal. All other uses of this are out-of-scope.

The answer to the question posed in the previous code snippet is that we use this to refer to the object's own properties. That is to say, when we use this inside a method, that method is contained within an object. For the patterns used in this talk, the containing object is what this refers to.

  foo: 'bar',
  baz: function () {

Do not over-generalize. We usually cannot know what this refers to until the code runs.


One way to break up the complexity of a problem is by using multiple kinds of objects together, and having each object be responsible for representing a small part of the problem. But these objects don't need to exist in isolation - objects can have other objects (or even collections of other objects) as properties.

Suppose that we wanted to create a simple program ('RunTracker') that helps people prepare for running a 5k. Each day that a person runs, they create a record of their run which contains:

  • the date and time of the run
  • the distance covered, in meters
  • the time taken, in seconds

The program also stores information about the user (the user's name and email address) and can perform some calculations (total distance run, longest distance run so far, and average speed).

Lab: Diagram and Model

Using the description of the program above, create an entity diagram.

  1. Identify the entities (kinds of objects) needed in the program.
  2. Draw a box for each entity and label it with the singular, capitalized entity name.
  3. Connect any entities that are related using a line.
  4. List attributes and methods of each entity separately within each entity's box.

Demo: Write Methods With this

When we start thinking about how the methods for 'User' will work, we run into a difficulty. A method for calculating the longest distance run so far needs to be able to access, and refer to, all of the runs associated with that particular user. We will use this to make that connection.

average = totalSum / totalCount speed = totalDist / totalTime

Watch as I demonstrate how to complete writing each method.

const user = {
  name: 'Christopher Robin',
  email: '',
  runs: [
      date: '2017-05-25 15:00',
      distance: 1200,
      timeTaken: 600
      date: '2017-05-25 15:00',
      distance: 1400,
      timeTaken: 800
  totalDistance: function () {},
  longestRunDistance: function () {},
  averageSpeed: function () {}

Lab: Self-Referential Objects

In teams, you're going to work on a similar program to our previous one, this time for meal tracking. In particular, you're going to create a 'User' object, complete with several 'Meals'.

Add your code to lib/meals.js, structured similarly to lib/runs.js.

A 'User' needs to have:

  • a name (name)
  • a date-of-birth (bornOn)
  • a target daily calorie intake (calorieTarget)
  • a list of 'Meals' that they've eaten (meals)

Every 'Meal' must have:

  • a title (title), e.g. 'breakfast', 'lunch', 'dinner'
  • a date (date), represented as a string e.g. '2016-06-25'
  • a description (description)
  • a number of estimated calories (calories)

Then, create the following methods for your instance of a 'User':

  • caloriesEatenOn, which accepts a date (in the format above) and calculates the total number of calories consumed on that date.
  • avgDailyCalories, which (as indicated), calculates the average number of calories consumed per day, rounded down to the nearest whole calorie.
  • onTrack, which compares averageDailyCalories to the User's target daily calorie intake, and returns true if average caloric intake is at or below the target (or false if the reverse is true).

Additional Resources


  1. All content is licensed under a CC­BY­NC­SA 4.0 license.
  2. All software code is licensed under GNU GPLv3. For commercial use or alternative licensing, please contact