An Introduction to Writing Your Own JavaScript Compatibility Shims

Originally published in the A Drip of JavaScript newsletter.

We've talked in several past issues about the need to use compatibility shims to get newer features of JavaScript ported back into older browsers. Today we're going to talk about how those shims work and how you can write your own.

We are going to create a shim for the previously discussed Array#map, which is not available in IE8 and below. To recap, the map method returns a new array which is created by running a transformation function over each element of the original array, like so:

var evens = [2, 4, 6, 8, 10];

var odds = { return val - 1; });

// Outputs: [1, 3, 5, 7, 9]

Perhaps the most important part of writing a compatibility shim is using feature detection to ensure that we don't accidentally overwrite the map method in a modern browser.

// Only use the shim if map isn't defined
if (! {
    // Create and attach shim here

Once we know that we are in a mapless browser, we can actually create the shim itself.

// Only use the shim if map isn't defined
if (! {
    // Map will accept a single function as an argument = function(fn) {
        var i,
            mappedArr = [];

        for (i = 0; i < this.length; i++) {
            // Run the callback function over each element
            // to get the updated value
            newVal = fn(this[i]);

            // Push the new value onto the new array

        // Return our new array
        return mappedArr;

Now if you load that code up in IE8 and below, you should have a functional (if incomplete) map method where it was completely missing before.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that this particular implementation of map isn't production-worthy. For one thing, it doesn't take into account the fact that map will pass in the index and array as arguments to the callback function. It also fails to account for the fact that map itself will accept a second argument to set its this value. For details, see our previous discussion of map, as well as the detailed documentation on MDN.

And that leads me to the second most important part of writing a compatibility shim. You need to make sure that you get the functionality right. A lot of the time it is really simple to code for the most common use cases, but much more difficult to ensure that you've covered all of the uncommon ones. If you'd like to see how much of a difference that makes, take a look at ES5-shim's implementation of map. It is significantly more complex.

Because of this complexity, it is generally best to rely on an established library with lots of unit tests to do the heavy lifting for you. However, if your goal is to learn about a new feature of JavaScript, building your own implementation will teach you more of the ins and outs than anything else.

Thanks for reading!

Josh Clanton

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