[EXTERNAL] Re: Destructuring by &reference

# Ron Buckton (3 years ago)

This was mentioned up-thread, but I wrote up this proposal several years ago (rbuckton/proposal-refs) and am still considering bringing it to committee at some point. However, there are a larger set of cross-cutting concerns for refs in the context of a proposal like rbuckton/proposal-struct (nee. "Typed Objects" or "Value Types"), as well as interop with WASM, that also need to be considered. In the refs proposal I currently use ref rather than &, since & is often ascribed to unmanaged memory addresses in many languages, while ref (at least in C#) is specifically tied to references to memory managed by the GC. That proposal explainer currently includes examples for ref variables, parameters, expressions, destructuring, and support for reified Reference objects.

In userland I currently have esfx.js.org/esfx/api/ref.html as a ref like mechanism:

Import { ref } from "@esfx/ref";

// reference passing

function f(ref_x1, ref_x2) {
console.log(ref_x2.value); // prints 0
console.log(ref_x2.value); // prints 1

let x = 0;
const ref_x1 = ref(() => x, _ => x = _);  // mutable ref to a variable

const ref_x2 = ref(() => x); // immutable ref to a variable

f(ref_x1, ref_x2);
console.log(x); // prints 1

const ar = [0];
const ref_ar0_1 = ref.at(ar, 0); // mutable ref to a property
const ref_ar0_2 = ref.at(ar, 0, /*readonly*/ true); // immutable ref to a property
f(ref_ar0_1, ref_ar0_2);
console.log(ar[0]); // prints 1

Userland destructuring support isn't feasible, however.

In my refs proposal, you have several constructs:

  • ref expressions - These take a binding and create a reified Reference object from them. Examples:
  • let rx = ref x
  • let rfoo = ref obj.foo
  • let rel = ref ar[0]
  • ref declarations - These take a reified Reference object and create a local binding that dereferences them. Examples:
  • let ref x2 = rx - mutable reference
  • const ref foo2 = rfoo - immutable reference
  • function f(ref foo) { ... } - mutable reference argument
  • function f(const ref foo) { ... } - immutable reference argument
  • Reified Reference objects - These are runtime objects with a value property:
  • If the reference is mutable, value has both a getter and a setter.
  • If the reference is immutable, value has only a getter.

If the ref syntax in my proposal were to be adopted, the above example would instead read:

function f(ref x1, ref x2) {
console.log(x2); // prints 0
console.log(x2); // prints 1

let x = 0;
f(ref x, ref x);
console.log(x); // prints 1

In Augusto's example, you would have your choice of object passing or variable passing:

function foo(ref value) {
  value = 'foo';

function second(source) {
  let { ref value } = source; // NOTE `value` is a `Reference` object here
    console.log(typeof value); // object

// The above would be the same as this
    let value = ref source.value; // `value` is a `Reference` object here
  console.log(typeof value); // object

second({ value: "bar" });

I'm still considering the destructuring side of things. Whether you are creating a Reference or dereferencing it is clear for some patterns:

// (a) `ref` Destructuring Targets
// dereferences `obj.x` if `obj.x` is a `Reference`
let { x: ref x } = obj;

// This is equivalent to the following:
let ref x = obj.x; // Probably not what you want...

// (b) `ref` Destructuring Bindings
// creates a `Reference` for `obj.x` and stores it in `x`, so `x` is a reified `Reference`.
let { ref x: x } = obj;

// This is equivalent to the following:
let x = ref obj.x; // Probably not what you want either...

// (c) `ref` Destructuring Targets *and* Bindings
// Create a `Reference` for `obj.x` and dereference it in `x`:
let { ref x: ref x } = obj;

// This is equivalent to the following:
let ref x = ref obj.x; // Probably what you wanted

However, this is less clear for shorthand destructuring assignments or array destructuring:

let { ref x } = obj; // did you mean (a), (b), or (c) above?
let [ref x] = ar; // did you mean (a), (b), or (c) above?

In these two examples, you probably want (c), but there are valid reasons for wanting (a) or (b) as well. The explainer for the proposal currently chooses (a), but I've been reconsidering. None of this is set in stone (since this proposal isn't even at Stage 1 yet), and I'm open to suggestions and discussion on the issue tracker.


From: es-discuss <es-discuss-bounces at mozilla.org> On Behalf Of Andrea Giammarchi

Sent: Thursday, March 4, 2021 12:43 AM To: Augusto Moura <augusto.borgesm at gmail.com>

Cc: es-discuss <es-discuss at mozilla.org>

Subject: [EXTERNAL] Re: Destructuring by &reference

How will you prevent the passing of the object down the pipe?

const downThePipe = ({&source}) => {
  // you can read source
  // you can set source
  source = 'blah';
  // you can't know where source comes from
  // but you could propagate that reference further
  evenFurtherDown({&source, any: 'value'}, Math.random());

  secret: 'nothing out there can reach me',
  get source() { 'this object'; },
  set source(value) {
    console.log('hello', value, this.secret);

You can pass objects already in JS so this changes nothing in terms of logic, except the callback has a way to signal reactive properties or retrieved methods.

Any boilerplate with Proxies would be slower and more convoluted, so this syntax simplieis all the code you wrote via an explicit intent: the callback would like to invoke, or update an accessor, of the given object, without holding, or having, the whole object in its scope.

I hope this explains a bit better why I think this feature would be extremely cool. Polyfills won't need to do much, code remains short and clean, accessors/reactive properties becomes instantly clear (they say accessors are a footgun, here we're flagging these for better awareness) and methods can be invoked with the right context too, without needing whole objects references around.

On Wed, Mar 3, 2021 at 9:03 PM Augusto Moura <augusto.borgesm at gmail.com<mailto:augusto.borgesm at gmail.com>> wrote:

that's basically the entirety of the syntax sugar proposals since ES2015, right?

Definitely no, but talking about the syntax additions since ES2015, they are in one or more of the categories below:

  • avoid known footguns in the language (arrow functions and lexical this, classes and prototype, let/const and block scoping, nullish coalescing operator, etc.)
  • syntax sugars with strong community feedback AND battle proven prior art (classes, destructuring, string templates, rest, spread and default values, async/await, etc.)
  • introducing or specifying new mechanisms that didn't exist before in ecma (modules, classes, varargs, etc.)

also proxy and globalThis are really unrelated to this

Proxy and globalThis (and the with statement for that matter), are mechanisms of value indirection aside from the "classic" instance properties

while leaking objects all over down the pipe is my major concern, something this proposal avoids, as no code will have a reference to the entirety of the source object, they'll deal with a known property name passed by reference, incapable of changing anything else in the source object ... so it's rather a signal, than a convention.

How will you prevent the passing of the object down the pipe? You mean the reference variable being passed to another function and setting the prop into the source object?

function foo(source) {
  let { &value } = source;
  value = 'foo';

function second(source) {
  // You still need to pass the object forward right?

  // Or the proposal is something like this
  let { &value } = source;
  // and then if foo sets the value argument it should reflect in source

Also the usual way of preventing the "passing the full object down" problem is restricting the contract with other functions using a wrapper/proxy, a well defined more specific interface or in the readonly case just omitting the other properties

// Wrapper way
class Nameable {
  constructor(instance) { this.#obj = instance }
  get name() { return this.#obj.name<https://nam06.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fobj.name%2F&data=04%7C01%7Cron.buckton%40microsoft.com%7C19322e83dccd4cbec00108d8dee98ba7%7C72f988bf86f141af91ab2d7cd011db47%7C1%7C0%7C637504442359030680%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=auhWOITedp4copnL22GZZCvMxwDTOn7%2FC2BIgQZ3HQM%3D&reserved=0> }
  set name(newName) { this.#obj.name<https://nam06.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fobj.name%2F&data=04%7C01%7Cron.buckton%40microsoft.com%7C19322e83dccd4cbec00108d8dee98ba7%7C72f988bf86f141af91ab2d7cd011db47%7C1%7C0%7C637504442359040638%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=lmNWtN24YLhn9HHnaobAtpFEe9HSopfKVh0Hx%2BRHmKg%3D&reserved=0> = newName }

function printName(nameable) {
  nameable.name<https://nam06.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fnameable.name%2F&data=04%7C01%7Cron.buckton%40microsoft.com%7C19322e83dccd4cbec00108d8dee98ba7%7C72f988bf86f141af91ab2d7cd011db47%7C1%7C0%7C637504442359050594%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=43nMA9tzNr%2B%2B7cZmQnKx6ZsiViEJBcPNwgsAMUIX%2F8k%3D&reserved=0> += ' [printed]'
function foo(source) {
  printName(new Nameable(source))
foo({ name: 'foo', type: 'pojo' })

// Well defined contract way (using Typescript, but you could rely on duck typing if you trust the good manners of the developers)
interface Nameable {
  name: string;
interface Pojo extends Nameable {
  type: string;

function printName(nameable: Nameable) {
  nameable.name<https://nam06.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fnameable.name%2F&data=04%7C01%7Cron.buckton%40microsoft.com%7C19322e83dccd4cbec00108d8dee98ba7%7C72f988bf86f141af91ab2d7cd011db47%7C1%7C0%7C637504442359060553%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=guqE5AP50l1YXc9H2bw%2Bp91EtJRe8ou%2FRHR75EIBv6w%3D&reserved=0> += ' [printed]'
  // the function still can access the type field by ignoring the typing, but at this point this is the least scary thing a developer in a app
function foo(source: Pojo) {

// Omit and readonly way
function printName(nameable) { /* ... */ }
function foo(source) {
  printName(pick(source, ['name']))
# Andrea Giammarchi (3 years ago)

in PHP &$ref means by reference ... and in C is about the address ... I understand your proposal, but I see few gotchas in it:

let { x: ref x } = obj;

my proposal is:

let {&ref} = obj;

less typing, less eyes crawling, it's about describing the intent to change, or address, obj.ref directly through that ref.

one thing I am not seeing anywhere, is my idea of having ref able to address accessors too (getters and/or setters).

let obj = {
  _: 'value',
  get value() { return this._; },
  set value(str) { this._ = str; }

let {&value} = obj;

value; // "value"
value = "other"; // setter triggered
value; // "other"

The other thing I don't see in your examples, is implicit method binding:

let counter = {
  _: 0,
  get value() { return this._; },
  increment() {

let {&increment, &value} = counter;

// increase the counter by 1 each time
setInterval(increment, 1000);

// at any time
console.log(value); // 0, 1, 2, 3 ...

So, despite myself not having strong feelings about using & as prefix, even if it reasons with some other PL somehow, and works well with non allowed chars as property, variable, name, where &[Symbol.for('thing')] would work just fine, I'd love to have a "pointer" to that thing I want to deal with, without having noise around, the whole object, so that the amount of scoped references per block/function are reduced, and their intent more explicit than ever, with less surprises.

I hope this better explains what I am after