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Before going forward with this tutorial, you should have good knowledge of the primitive and reference values, and the differences between them.

JavaScript pass-by-value or pass-by-reference

In JavaScript, all function arguments are always passed by value. It means that JavaScript copies the values of the variables into the function arguments.

Any changes that you make to the arguments inside the function do not reflect the passing variables outside of the function. In other words, the changes made to the arguments are not reflected outside of the function.

If function arguments are passed by reference, the changes of variables that you pass into the function will be reflected outside the function. This is not possible in JavaScript.

Pass-by-value of primitives values

Let’s take a look at the following example.

function square(x) {
    x = x * x;
    return x;

let y = 10;
let result = square(y);

console.log(result); // 100
console.log(y); // 10 -- no change

How the script works.

First, define a square() function that accepts an argument x. The function assigns the square of x to the x argument.

Next, declare the variable y and initialize its value to 10:

Then, pass the y variable into the square() function. When passing the variable y to the square() function, JavaScript copies y value to the x variable.

After that, the square() function changes the x variable. However, it does not impact the value of the y variable because x and y are separate variables.

Finally, the value of the y variable does not change after the square() function completes.

If JavaScript used the pass-by-reference, the variable y would change to 100 after calling the function.

Pass-by-value of reference values

It’s not obvious to see that reference values are also passed by values. For example:

let person = {
  name: 'John',
  age: 25,

function increaseAge(obj) {
  obj.age += 1;



How the script works:

First, define the person variable that references an object with two properties name and age:

Next, define the increaseAge() function that accepts an object obj and increases the age property of the obj argument by one.

Then, pass the person object to the increaseAge() function:

Internally, the JavaScript engine creates the obj reference and make this variable reference the same object that the person variable references.

After that, increase the age property by one inside the increaseAge() function via the obj variable

Finally, accessing the object via the person reference:

It seems that JavaScript passes an object by reference because the change to the object is reflected outside the function. However, this is not the case.

In fact, when passing an object to a function, you are passing the reference of that object, not the actual object. Therefore, the function can modify the properties of the object via its reference.

However, you cannot change the reference passed into the function. For example:

let person = {
  name: 'John',
  age: 25,

function increaseAge(obj) {
  obj.age += 1;

// reference another object
  obj = { name: 'Jane', age: 22 };




{ name: 'John', age: 26 }

In this example, the increaseAage() function changes the age property via the obj argument:

and makes the obj reference another object:

However, the person reference still refers to the original object whose the age property changes to 26. In other words, the increaseAge() function doesn’t change the person reference.

If this concept still confuses you, you can consider function arguments as local variables.


  • JavaScript passes all arguments to a function by values.
  • Function arguments are local variables in JavaScript.

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