Applying Constructors in JavaScript

I’ve split off my JavaScript serialization library, where deserialized objects maintain their prototype chain. One of the problems I ran into was applying a provided constructor function to an arbitrary number of arguments. Due to abstraction leaks in the language’s design, this turns out to be disappointingly more complicated than I thought. Fortunately there’s a portable workaround hack that works.

The goal of this article is to define a create function to replace the new operator. This function will take a constructor function and an arbitrary number of arguments for the constructor. Below, these pairs should have identical effects.

new Greeter('Kelsey');
create(Greeter, 'Kelsey');

new RegExp('abc', 'i');
create(RegExp, 'abc', 'i');

new Date(0);
create(Date, 0);

Function Application Review

Functions are full-fledged objects with their own methods, the three most important of which being call, apply, and bind. The first two invoke the function and the last one creates a new function.

call is used when a particular context (this) needs to be explicitly set. The argument provided as the first argument will be the context and the remaining arguments will be the normal function arguments.

function foo(a, b, c) {
    return [this, a, b, c];
}, 1, "bar", 3);
// => [0, 1, "bar", 3], 1, "bar", 3);
// => [[object Window], 1, "bar", 3]
// => [null, 1, "bar", 3] (strict mode)

Normally, null and undefined cannot be passed as this: they will automatically be replaced with the global object. In strict mode, these values are passed directly as this. Also, primitive types will be boxed — wrapped in an object.

apply is exactly like call, but the arguments are provided as an array. This is necessary for truly dynamic function calls since the arguments aren’t fixed.

foo.apply(0, [1, "bar", 3]);
// => [0, 1, "bar", 3]

Finally, bind is also like call except that it performs partial application. It returns a function with the context and initial arguments locked in place.

var bar = foo.bind(0, 1, "bar");
// => [0, 1, "bar", 3]

Notice how a call to bind looks like a call to call. The arguments are provided individually. What if I wanted a bind that was shaped like apply? That is, what if the arguments I want to lock in place are listed in an array? Here’s is the really cool part: bind itself is a function, so it can be applied to the array of arguments.

var baz = foo.bind.apply(foo, [0, 1, "bar"]);
// => [0, 1, "bar", 3]

This can be a little confusing because there are two contexts being bound. The first context is the context for bind, which is the function (foo) being partially applied. The second context is this (0) being locked into place.

Manual Object Construction

Generally to create a new object in JavaScript, the new operator is applied to a constructor function. How it works is generally very simple:

  1. Create a new object with the constructor’s prototype (__proto__) as its prototype.
  2. Apply the constructor function to this object.

The first step can be accomplished with the relatively recent Object.create() function. The second is just a normal function call.

function Greeter(name) { = name;

Greeter.prototype.greet = function() {
    return "Hello, " +;

// Standard construction with the new operator
var greeter = new Greeter('Kelsey');

greeter.greet();  // => "Hello, Kelsey"

// Manual construction with Object.create()
var manual = Object.create(Greeter.prototype);, 'Kelsey');

manual.greet();  // => "Hello, Kelsey"

Above, call had to be used in order to set the context of the call. Similarly, if there’s an array of arguments, apply could be used instead.

Greeter.apply(manual, ['Kelsey']);
manual.greet();  // => "Hello, Kelsey"

Getting it Right

The above doesn’t entirely capture everything about the new operator. Constructors are allowed to return an object (i.e. not a primitive value) other than this, and that will be the newly constructed object — even if it’s an entirely different type!

function Foo() {
    return new Greeter('Chris');

new Foo().greet();  // => "Hello, Chris"

Here’s the proper way to write create, assuming the language doesn’t throw a curve-ball at us in some corner case.

function create(constructor) {
    var args =, 1);
    var object = Object.create(constructor.prototype);
    var result = constructor.apply(object, args);
    if (typeof result === 'object') {
        return result;
    } else {
        return object;

create(Greeter, 'Chris').greet();  // => "Hello, Chris"
create(Foo).greet();  // => "Hello, Chris"

The Abstraction Leak

The above works with any JavaScript objects defined by the developer, but, unfortunately, built in types have special privilege that complicates their construction. It does work with RegExp,

create(RegExp, 'abc', 'i').test('abC');  // => true

However, it does not work with Date or the other built in types,

create(Date, 0).toISOString(); // => TypeError

There are two reasons for this: the built in types don’t actually use the prototype chain. Object.create() cannot create built in types! Below I will use the toString method from the Object prototype to see what the runtime really thinks these types are.

function toString(object) {

var fakeDate = Object.create(Date.prototype);
toString(fakeDate);  // => "[object Object]"
toString(new Date());  // => "[object Date]"

The object returned by Object.create() isn’t actually a Date object as far as the runtime is concerned. The same applies to Number, RegExp, String, etc. If you try to call any methods on these objects, it will throw a type error.

Worse, with the exception of RegExp, the built in type constructors don’t return objects either. The wrapper objects Boolean, Number, and String return the primitive version of their arguments. Date returns a primitive string.

typeof Date(0);  // "string"

So the only way to create a Date or these other built in types (except RegExp) is through the new operator. To loop back around to the original problem: we have an array of arguments and a constructor. We want to apply the constructor to the array to create a new object. The conflict is that new and apply can’t be used at the same time, so it would seem there’s no way to write generic create function that works with built in types without explicitly making them a special case.

The Workaround

Fortunately, kybernetikos at Stack Overflow found an ingenious solution to this. We can have our cake and eat it, too. We can mix new and apply by hacking bind. It turns out to be a lot simpler than the “proper” create definition above.

function create(constructor) {
    var factory = constructor.bind.apply(constructor, arguments);
    return new factory();

It works with all the built in types, covering all the examples at the top of the article.

toString(create(Date, 0));  // => "[object Date]"
toString(create(RegExp, 'abc'));  // => "[object RegExp]"
create(Greeter, 'Kelsey').greet();  // => "Hello, Kelsey"

The bizarre thing here is that new still gets to break the rules. Normally, bind locks in this permanently, so that it can’t be overridden even by call. Here’s foo again demonstrating this.

function foo(a, b, c) {
    return [this, a, b, c];

foo.bind(100).call(0, 1, 2, 3);  // => [100, 1, 2, 3]

The factory constructor in create already has this bound, but new gets to override it anyway. Moreso — and this is really important for my purposes — the constructor name survives this process, through both the unofficial name property and toString method! Normally functions returned by bind have no name.

Greeter.bind(null).name;  // ""
create(Greeter, '');  // => "Greeter"

Thanks to this hack, this final version of create is essentially what I’m using in my library to reconstruct arbitrary “value” objects. I’m lucky I came across it or I really would have been stuck.

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Chris Wellons (PGP)
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