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The Module Pattern

Modules are an integral piece of any robust application’s architecture and typically help in keeping the units of code for a project both cleanly separated and organized.

In JavaScript, there are several options for implementing modules. These include:

  • Object literal notation

  • The Module pattern

  • AMD modules

  • CommonJS modules

  • ECMAScript Harmony modules

We will be exploring the latter three of these options later on in the book in Chapter 11.

The Module pattern is based in part on object literals, so it makes sense to refresh our knowledge of them first.

Object Literals

In object literal notation, an object is described as a set of comma-separated name/value pairs enclosed in curly braces ({}). Names inside the object may be either strings or identifiers that are followed by a colon. There should be no comma used after the final name/value pair in the object, as this may result in errors.

var myObjectLiteral = {

    variableKey: variableValue,

    functionKey: function () {
      // ...

Object literals don’t require instantiation using the new operator, but shouldn’t be used at the start of a statement, as the opening { may be interpreted as the beginning of a block. Outside of an object, new members may be added to the object literal using assignment as follows: = "someValue";

Below, we can see a more complete example of a module defined using object literal notation:

var myModule = {

  myProperty: "someValue",

  // object literals can contain properties and methods.
  // e.g we can define a further object for module configuration:
  myConfig: {
    useCaching: true,
    language: "en"

  // a very basic method
  myMethod: function () {
    console.log( "Where in the world is Paul Irish today?" );

  // output a value based on the current configuration
  myMethod2: function () {
    console.log( "Caching is:" + ( this.myConfig.useCaching ) ? "enabled" : "disabled" );

  // override the current configuration
  myMethod3: function( newConfig ) {

    if ( typeof newConfig === "object" ) {
      this.myConfig = newConfig;
      console.log( this.myConfig.language );

// Outputs: Where in the world is Paul Irish today?

// Outputs: enabled

// Outputs: fr
  language: "fr",
  useCaching: false

Using object literals can assist in encapsulating and organizing your code. Rebecca Murphey has previously written about this topic in depth, should you wish to read into object literals further.

That said, if we’re opting for this technique, we may be equally as interested in the Module pattern. It still uses object literals but only as the return value from a scoping function.

The Module Pattern

The Module pattern was originally defined as a way to provide both private and public encapsulation for classes in conventional software engineering.

In JavaScript, the Module pattern is used to further emulate the concept of classes in such a way that we’re able to include both public/private methods and variables inside a single object, thus shielding particular parts from the global scope. What this results in is a reduction in the likelihood of our function names conflicting with other functions defined in additional scripts on the page (Figure 9-2).

Module pattern

Figure 9-2. Module pattern


The Module pattern encapsulates “privacy” state and organization using closures. It provides a way of wrapping a mix of public and private methods and variables, protecting pieces from leaking into the global scope and accidentally colliding with another developer’s interface. With this pattern, only a public API is returned, keeping everything else within the closure private.

This gives us a clean solution for shielding logic doing the heavy lifting while only exposing an interface we would like other parts of our application to use. The pattern is quite similar to an immediately-invoked functional expression[1] , except that an object is returned rather than a function.

It should be noted that there isn’t really an explicitly true sense of “privacy” inside JavaScript because unlike some traditional languages, it doesn’t have access modifiers. Variables can’t technically be declared as being public nor private, and so we use function scope to simulate this concept. Within the Module pattern, variables or methods declared are only available inside the module itself, thanks to closure. Variables or methods defined within the returning object, however, are available to everyone.


From a historical perspective, the Module pattern was originally developed by a number of people, including Richard Cornford in 2003. It was later popularized by Douglas Crockford in his lectures. In addition, if you’ve ever played with Yahoo’s YUI library, some of its features may appear quite familiar, because the Module pattern was a strong influence for YUI when creating their components.


Let’s begin looking at an implementation of the Module pattern by creating a module that is self-contained.

var testModule = (function () {

  var counter = 0;

  return {

    incrementCounter: function () {
      return ++counter;

    resetCounter: function () {
      console.log( "counter value prior to reset: " + counter );
      counter = 0;


// Usage:

// Increment our counter

// Check the counter value and reset
// Outputs: 1

Here, other parts of the code are unable to directly read the value of our incrementCounter() or resetCounter(). The counter variable is actually fully shielded from our global scope so it acts just like a private variable would—its existence is limited to within the module’s closure so that the only code able to access its scope, are our two functions. Our methods are effectively namespaced so in the test section of our code, we need to prefix any calls with the name of the module (e.g., testModule).

When working with the Module pattern, we may find it useful to define a simple template for getting started with it. Here’s one that covers namespacing, public, and private variables:

var myNamespace = (function () {

  // A private counter variable
  var myPrivateVar = 0;

  // A private function which logs any arguments
  var myPrivateMethod = function( foo ) {
      console.log( foo );

  return {

    // A public variable
    myPublicVar: "foo",

    // A public function utilizing privates
    myPublicFunction: function( bar ) {

      // Increment our private counter

      // Call our private method using bar
      myPrivateMethod( bar );



Looking at another example, we can see a shopping basket implemented using this pattern. The module itself is completely self-contained in a global variable called basketModule. The basket array in the module is kept private, so other parts of our application are unable to directly read it. It only exists with the module’s closure, so the only methods able to access it are those with access to its scope (i.e., addItem(), getItem(), etc.).

var basketModule = (function () {

  // privates

  var basket = []; 

  function doSomethingPrivate() {

  function doSomethingElsePrivate() {

  // Return an object exposed to the public
  return { 

    // Add items to our basket
    addItem: function( values ) {

    // Get the count of items in the basket
    getItemCount: function () {
      return basket.length;

    // Public alias to a  private function
    doSomething: doSomethingPrivate,

    // Get the total value of items in the basket
    getTotal: function () {

      var itemCount = this.getItemCount(),
          total = 0;

      while (itemCount--) {
        total += basket[itemCount].price;

      return total;

Inside the module, you may have noticed that we return an object. This gets automatically assigned to basketModule so that we can interact with it as follows:

// basketModule returns an object with a public API we can use

  item: "bread",
  price: 0.5

  item: "butter",
  price: 0.3

// Outputs: 2
console.log( basketModule.getItemCount() );

// Outputs: 0.8
console.log( basketModule.getTotal() );

// However, the following will not work:

// Outputs: undefined
// This is because the basket itself is not exposed as a part of our
// the public API
console.log( basketModule.basket ); 

// This also won't work as it only exists within the scope of our
// basketModule closure, but not the returned public object
console.log( basket );

The methods above are effectively namespaced inside basketModule.

Notice how the scoping function in the above basket module is wrapped around all of our functions, which we then call and immediately store the return value of. This has a number of advantages including:

  • The freedom to have private functions that can only be consumed by our module. As they aren’t exposed to the rest of the page (only our exported API is), they’re considered truly private.

  • Given that functions are declared normally and are named, it can be easier to show call stacks in a debugger when we’re attempting to discover what function(s) threw exceptions.

  • As T.J. Crowder has pointed out in the past, it also enables us to return different functions depending on the environment. In the past, I’ve seen developers use this to perform UA testing to provide a codepath in their module specific to IE, but we can easily opt for feature detection these days to achieve a similar goal.

Module Pattern Variations

Import mixins

This variation of the pattern demonstrates how globals (e.g., jQuery, Underscore) can be passed in as arguments to our module’s anonymous function. This effectively allows us to import them and locally alias them as we wish.

// Global module
var myModule = (function ( jQ, _ ) {
    function privateMethod1(){

    function privateMethod2(){
      console.log( _.min([10, 5, 100, 2, 1000]) );
        publicMethod: function(){
// Pull in jQuery and Underscore
}( jQuery, _ ));



This next variation allows us to declare globals without consuming them and could similarly support the concept of global imports seen in the last example.

// Global module
var myModule = (function () {

    // Module object 
  var module = {},
    privateVariable = "Hello World";
  function privateMethod() {
    // ...

  module.publicProperty = "Foobar";
  module.publicMethod = function () {
    console.log( privateVariable );
  return module;


Toolkit and framework-specific module pattern implementations


Dojo provides a convenience method for working with objects called dojo.setObject(). This takes as its first argument a dot-separated string such as myObj.parent.child, which refers to a property called child within an object parent defined inside myObj. Using setObject() allows us to set the value of children, creating any of the intermediate objects in the rest of the path passed if they don’t already exist.

For example, if we wanted to declare basket.core as an object of the store namespace, this could be achieved as follows using the traditional way:

var store = || {};

if ( !store["basket"] ) {
  store.basket = {};

if ( !store.basket["core"] ) {
  store.basket.core = {};

store.basket.core = {
  // of our logic

Or as follows using Dojo 1.7 (AMD-compatible version) and above:

require(["dojo/_base/customStore"], function( store ){

  // using dojo.setObject()
  store.setObject( "basket.core", (function() {

      var basket = [];

      function privateMethod() {

      return {
          publicMethod: function(){



For more information on dojo.setObject(), see the official documentation.


For those using Sencha’s ExtJS, you’re in for some luck, as the official documentation incorporates examples that demonstrate how to correctly use the Module pattern with the framework.

Here we can see an example of how to define a namespace that can then be populated with a module containing both a private and public API. With the exception of some semantic differences, it’s quite close to how the Module pattern is implemented in vanilla JavaScript:

// create namespace

// create application = function () {

  // do NOT access DOM from here; elements don't exist yet
  // private variables

  var btn1,
      privVar1 = 11;

  // private functions
  var btn1Handler = function ( button, event ) {
      console.log( "privVar1", privVar1 );
      console.log( "this.btn1Text=" + this.btn1Text );

  // public space
  return {
    // public properties, e.g. strings to translate
    btn1Text: "Button 1",

    // public methods
    init: function () {

      if ( Ext.Ext2 ) {

        btn1 = new Ext.Button({
          renderTo: "btn1-ct",
          text: this.btn1Text,
          handler: btn1Handler

      } else {

        btn1 = new Ext.Button( "btn1-ct", {
          text: this.btn1Text,
          handler: btn1Handler



Similarly, we can implement the Module pattern when building applications using YUI3. The following example is heavily based on the original YUI Module pattern implementation by Eric Miraglia, but again, isn’t vastly different from the vanilla JavaScript version:

Y.namespace( "store.basket" ) = (function () {

    var myPrivateVar, myPrivateMethod;

    // private variables:
    myPrivateVar = "I can be accessed only within";

    // private method:
    myPrivateMethod = function () {
        Y.log( "I can be accessed only from within" );

    return {
        myPublicProperty: "I'm a public property.",

        myPublicMethod: function () {
            Y.log( "I'm a public method." );

            // Within basket, I can access "private" vars and methods:
            Y.log( myPrivateVar );
            Y.log( myPrivateMethod() );

            // The native scope of myPublicMethod is store so we can
            // access public members using "this":
            Y.log( this.myPublicProperty );



There are a number of ways in which jQuery code unspecific to plug-ins can be wrapped inside the Module pattern. Ben Cherry previously suggested an implementation in which a function wrapper is used around module definitions in the event of there being a number of commonalities between modules.

In the following example, a library function is defined that declares a new library and automatically binds up the init function to document.ready when new libraries (i.e., modules) are created.

function library( module ) {

  $( function() {
    if ( module.init ) {

  return module;

var myLibrary = library(function () {

  return {
    init: function () {
      // module implementation


We’ve seen why the Singleton pattern can be useful, but why is the Module pattern a good choice? For starters, it’s a lot cleaner for developers coming from an object-oriented background than the idea of true encapsulation, at least from a JavaScript perspective.

Second, it supports private data—so, in the Module pattern, public parts of our code are able to touch the private parts, however the outside world is unable to touch the class’s private parts (thanks to David Engfer for the joke).


The disadvantages of the Module pattern are that, as we access both public and private members differently, when we wish to change visibility, we actually have to make changes to each place the member was used.

We also can’t access private members in methods that are added to the object at a later point. That said, in many cases, the Module pattern is still quite useful and, when used correctly, certainly has the potential to improve the structure of our application.

Other disadvantages include the inability to create automated unit tests for private members and additional complexity when bugs require hot fixes. It’s simply not possible to patch privates. Instead, one must override all public methods that interact with the buggy privates. Developers can’t easily extend privates either, so it’s worth remembering privates are not as flexible as they may initially appear.

For further reading on the Module pattern, see Ben Cherry’s excellent in-depth article.

[1] IIFE. See Namespacing Patterns for more on this.

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