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A Beginner’s Guide to Currying in Functional JavaScript

If you’ve come across the term currying before, but never knew what it meant, you can be forgiven for thinking of it as some exotic, spicy technique that you didn’t need to bother about. But currying is actually a very simple concept, and it addresses some familiar problems when dealing with function arguments, while opening up a range of flexible options for the developer.

One of the advantages touted for functional JavaScript is shorter, tighter code that gets right to the point in the fewest lines possible, and with less repetition. Sometimes this can come at the expense of readability. Until you’re familiar with the way the functional JavaScript works, code written in this way can be harder to read.

Currying, or partial application, is one of the functional techniques that can sound confusing to people familiar with more traditional ways of writing JavaScript. But when applied properly, it can actually make your functional JavaScript more readable.

What Is Currying?


Briefly, currying is a way of constructing functions that allows partial application of a function’s arguments. What this means is that you can pass all of the arguments a function is expecting and get the result, or pass a subset of those arguments and get a function back that’s waiting for the rest of the arguments. It really is that simple.

Currying is elemental in languages such as Haskell and Scala, which are built around functional concepts. JavaScript has functional capabilities, but currying isn’t built in by default (at least not in current versions of the language). But we already know some functional tricks, and we can make currying work for us in JavaScript, too.

To give you a sense of how this could work, let’s create our first curried function in JavaScript, using familiar syntax to build up the currying functionality that we want. As an example, let’s imagine a function that greets somebody by name. We all know how to create a simple greet function that takes a name and a greeting, and logs the greeting with the name to the console:

var greet = function(greeting, name) {
  console.log(greeting + ", " + name);
greet("Hello", "Heidi"); //"Hello, Heidi"

This function requires both the name and the greeting to be passed as arguments in order to work properly. But we could rewrite this function using simple nested currying, so that the basic function only requires a greeting, and it returns another function that takes the name of the person we want to greet.

Our First Curry

var greetCurried = function(greeting) {
  return function(name) {
    console.log(greeting + ", " + name);

This tiny adjustment to the way we wrote the function lets us create a new function for any type of greeting, and pass that new function the name of the person that we want to greet:

var greetHello = greetCurried("Hello");
greetHello("Heidi"); //"Hello, Heidi"
greetHello("Eddie"); //"Hello, Eddie"

We can also call the original curried function directly, just by passing each of the parameters in a separate set of parentheses, one right after the other:

greetCurried("Hi there")("Howard"); //"Hi there, Howard"

Why not try this out in your browser?

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