Strict mode

ECMAScript 5's strict mode is a way to opt in to a restricted variant of JavaScript. Strict mode isn't just a subset: it intentionally has different semantics from normal code. Browsers not supporting strict mode will run strict mode code with different behavior from browsers that do, so don't rely on strict mode without feature-testing for support for the relevant aspects of strict mode. Strict mode code and non-strict mode code can coexist, so scripts can opt into strict mode incrementally.

Strict mode makes several changes to normal JavaScript semantics. First, strict mode eliminates some JavaScript silent errors by changing them to throw errors. Second, strict mode fixes mistakes that make it difficult for JavaScript engines to perform optimizations: strict mode code can sometimes be made to run faster than identical code that's not strict mode. Third, strict mode prohibits some syntax likely to be defined in future versions of ECMAScript.

See transitioning to strict mode, if you want to change your code to work in the restricted variant of JavaScript.

Sometimes, you'll see the standard, non-strict, mode referred to as "sloppy mode". This isn't an official term, but you should be aware of it, just in case.

Invoking strict mode

Strict mode applies to entire scripts or to individual functions. It doesn't apply to block statements enclosed in {} braces; attempting to apply it to such contexts does nothing. eval code, Function code, event handler attributes, strings passed to WindowTimers.setTimeout(), and the like are entire scripts, and invoking strict mode in them works as expected.

Strict mode for scripts

To invoke strict mode for an entire script, put the exact statement "use strict"; (or 'use strict';) before any other statements.

// Whole-script strict mode syntax
"use strict";
var v = "Hi!  I'm a strict mode script!";

This syntax has a trap that has already bitten a major site: it isn't possible to blindly concatenate non-conflicting scripts. Consider concatenating a strict mode script with a non-strict mode script: the entire concatenation looks strict! The inverse is also true: non-strict plus strict looks non-strict. Concatenation of strict mode scripts with each other is fine, and concatenation of non-strict mode scripts is fine. Only concatenating strict and non-strict scripts is problematic. It is thus recommended that you enable strict mode on a function-by-function basis (at least during the transition period).

You can also take the approach of wrapping the entire contents of a script in a function and having that outer function use strict mode. This eliminates the concatenation problem but it means that you have to explicitly export any global variables out of the function scope.

Strict mode for functions

Likewise, to invoke strict mode for a function, put the exact statement "use strict"; (or 'use strict';) in the function's body before any other statements.

function strict(){
  // Function-level strict mode syntax
  'use strict';
  function nested() { return "And so am I!"; }
  return "Hi!  I'm a strict mode function!  " + nested();
function notStrict() { return "I'm not strict."; }

Changes in strict mode

Strict mode changes both syntax and runtime behavior. Changes generally fall into these categories: changes converting mistakes into errors (as syntax errors or at runtime), changes simplifying how the particular variable for a given use of a name is computed, changes simplifying eval and arguments, changes making it easier to write "secure" JavaScript, and changes anticipating future ECMAScript evolution.

Converting mistakes into errors

Strict mode changes some previously-accepted mistakes into errors. JavaScript was designed to be easy for novice developers, and sometimes it gives operations which should be errors non-error semantics. Sometimes this fixes the immediate problem, but sometimes this creates worse problems in the future. Strict mode treats these mistakes as errors so that they're discovered and promptly fixed.

First, strict mode makes it impossible to accidentally create global variables. In normal JavaScript mistyping a variable in an assignment creates a new property on the global object and continues to "work" (although future failure is possible: likely, in modern JavaScript). Assignments which would accidentally create global variables instead throw in strict mode:

"use strict";
                       // Assuming a global variable mistypedVariable exists
mistypedVaraible = 17; // this line throws a ReferenceError due to the 
                       // misspelling of variable

Second, strict mode makes assignments which would otherwise silently fail throw an exception. For example, NaN is a non-writable global variable. In normal code assigning to NaN does nothing; the developer receives no failure feedback. In strict mode assigning to NaN throws an exception. Any assignment that silently fails in normal code (assignment to a non-writable property, assignment to a getter-only property, assignment to a new property on a non-extensible object) will throw in strict mode:

"use strict";

// Assignment to a non-writable property
var obj1 = {};
Object.defineProperty(obj1, "x", { value: 42, writable: false });
obj1.x = 9; // throws a TypeError

// Assignment to a getter-only property
var obj2 = { get x() { return 17; } };
obj2.x = 5; // throws a TypeError

// Assignment to a new property on a non-extensible object
var fixed = {};
fixed.newProp = "ohai"; // throws a TypeError

Third, strict mode makes attempts to delete undeletable properties throw (where before the attempt would simply have no effect):

"use strict";
delete Object.prototype; // throws a TypeError

Fourth, strict mode prior to Gecko 34 requires that all properties named in an object literal be unique. Normal code may duplicate property names, with the last one determining the property's value. But since only the last one does anything, the duplication is simply a vector for bugs, if the code is modified to change the property value other than by changing the last instance. Duplicate property names are a syntax error in strict mode:

This is no longer the case in ECMAScript 6 (bug 1041128).

"use strict";
var o = { p: 1, p: 2 }; // !!! syntax error

Fifth, strict mode requires that function parameter names be unique. In normal code the last duplicated argument hides previous identically-named arguments. Those previous arguments remain available through arguments[i], so they're not completely inaccessible. Still, this hiding makes little sense and is probably undesirable (it might hide a typo, for example), so in strict mode duplicate argument names are a syntax error:

function sum(a, a, c){ // !!! syntax error
  "use strict";
  return a + b + c; // wrong if this code ran

Sixth, strict mode in ECMAScript 5 forbids octal syntax. Octal syntax isn't part of ECMAScript 5, but it's supported in all browsers by prefixing the octal number with a zero: 0644 === 420 and "\045" === "%". In ECMAScript 6 Octal number is supported by prefixing a number with "0o". i.e. 

var a = 0o10; // ES6: Octal

Novice developers sometimes believe a leading zero prefix has no semantic meaning, so they use it as an alignment device — but this changes the number's meaning! Octal syntax is rarely useful and can be mistakenly used, so strict mode makes octal a syntax error:

"use strict";
var sum = 015 + // !!! syntax error
          197 +

Seventh, strict mode in ECMAScript 6 forbids setting properties on primitive values. Without strict mode, setting properties is simply ignored (no-op), with strict mode, however, a TypeError is thrown.

(function() {
"use strict";

false.true = "";         // TypeError
(14).sailing = "home";     // TypeError
"with".you = "far away"; // TypeError


Simplifying variable uses

Strict mode simplifies how variable names map to particular variable definitions in the code. Many compiler optimizations rely on the ability to say that variable X is stored in that location: this is critical to fully optimizing JavaScript code. JavaScript sometimes makes this basic mapping of name to variable definition in the code impossible to perform until runtime. Strict mode removes most cases where this happens, so the compiler can better optimize strict mode code.

First, strict mode prohibits with. The problem with with is that any name inside the block might map either to a property of the object passed to it, or to a variable in surrounding (or even global) scope, at runtime: it's impossible to know which beforehand. Strict mode makes with a syntax error, so there's no chance for a name in a with to refer to an unknown location at runtime:

"use strict";
var x = 17;
with (obj) // !!! syntax error
  // If this weren't strict mode, would this be var x, or
  // would it instead be obj.x?  It's impossible in general
  // to say without running the code, so the name can't be
  // optimized.

The simple alternative of assigning the object to a short name variable, then accessing the corresponding property on that variable, stands ready to replace with.

Second, eval of strict mode code does not introduce new variables into the surrounding scope. In normal code eval("var x;") introduces a variable x into the surrounding function or the global scope. This means that, in general, in a function containing a call to eval every name not referring to an argument or local variable must be mapped to a particular definition at runtime (because that eval might have introduced a new variable that would hide the outer variable). In strict mode eval creates variables only for the code being evaluated, so eval can't affect whether a name refers to an outer variable or some local variable:

var x = 17;
var evalX = eval("'use strict'; var x = 42; x");
console.assert(x === 17);
console.assert(evalX === 42);

Relatedly, if the function eval is invoked by an expression of the form eval(...) in strict mode code, the code will be evaluated as strict mode code. The code may explicitly invoke strict mode, but it's unnecessary to do so.

function strict1(str){
  "use strict";
  return eval(str); // str will be treated as strict mode code
function strict2(f, str){
  "use strict";
  return f(str); // not eval(...): str is strict if and only
                 // if it invokes strict mode
function nonstrict(str){
  return eval(str); // str is strict if and only 
                    // if it invokes strict mode

strict1("'Strict mode code!'");
strict1("'use strict'; 'Strict mode code!'");
strict2(eval, "'Non-strict code.'");
strict2(eval, "'use strict'; 'Strict mode code!'");
nonstrict("'Non-strict code.'");
nonstrict("'use strict'; 'Strict mode code!'");

Thus names in strict mode eval code behave identically to names in strict mode code not being evaluated as the result of eval.

Third, strict mode forbids deleting plain names. delete name in strict mode is a syntax error:

"use strict";

var x;
delete x; // !!! syntax error

eval("var y; delete y;"); // !!! syntax error

Making eval and arguments simpler

Strict mode makes arguments and eval less bizarrely magical. Both involve a considerable amount of magical behavior in normal code: eval to add or remove bindings and to change binding values, and arguments by its indexed properties aliasing named arguments. Strict mode makes great strides toward treating eval and arguments as keywords, although full fixes will not come until a future edition of ECMAScript.

First, the names eval and arguments can't be bound or assigned in language syntax. All these attempts to do so are syntax errors:

"use strict";
eval = 17;
var obj = { set p(arguments) { } };
var eval;
try { } catch (arguments) { }
function x(eval) { }
function arguments() { }
var y = function eval() { };
var f = new Function("arguments", "'use strict'; return 17;");

Second, strict mode code doesn't alias properties of arguments objects created within it. In normal code within a function whose first argument is arg, setting arg also sets arguments[0], and vice versa (unless no arguments were provided or arguments[0] is deleted). arguments objects for strict mode functions store the original arguments when the function was invoked. arguments[i] does not track the value of the corresponding named argument, nor does a named argument track the value in the corresponding arguments[i].

function f(a){
  "use strict";
  a = 42;
  return [a, arguments[0]];
var pair = f(17);
console.assert(pair[0] === 42);
console.assert(pair[1] === 17);

Third, arguments.callee is no longer supported. In normal code arguments.callee refers to the enclosing function. This use case is weak: simply name the enclosing function! Moreover, arguments.callee substantially hinders optimizations like inlining functions, because it must be made possible to provide a reference to the un-inlined function if arguments.callee is accessed. arguments.callee for strict mode functions is a non-deletable property which throws when set or retrieved:

"use strict";
var f = function() { return arguments.callee; };
f(); // throws a TypeError

"Securing" JavaScript

Strict mode makes it easier to write "secure" JavaScript. Some websites now provide ways for users to write JavaScript which will be run by the website on behalf of other users. JavaScript in browsers can access the user's private information, so such JavaScript must be partially transformed before it is run, to censor access to forbidden functionality. JavaScript's flexibility makes it effectively impossible to do this without many runtime checks. Certain language functions are so pervasive that performing runtime checks has considerable performance cost. A few strict mode tweaks, plus requiring that user-submitted JavaScript be strict mode code and that it be invoked in a certain manner, substantially reduce the need for those runtime checks.

First, the value passed as this to a function in strict mode is not forced into being an object (a.k.a. "boxed"). For a normal function, this is always an object: either the provided object if called with an object-valued this; the value, boxed, if called with a Boolean, string, or number this; or the global object if called with an undefined or null this. (Use call, apply, or bind to specify a particular this.) Not only is automatic boxing a performance cost, but exposing the global object in browsers is a security hazard, because the global object provides access to functionality that "secure" JavaScript environments must restrict. Thus for a strict mode function, the specified this is not boxed into an object, and if unspecified, this will be undefined:

"use strict";
function fun() { return this; }
console.assert(fun() === undefined);
console.assert( === 2);
console.assert(fun.apply(null) === null);
console.assert( === undefined);
console.assert(fun.bind(true)() === true);

That means, among other things, that in browsers it's no longer possible to reference the window object through this inside a strict mode function.

Second, in strict mode it's no longer possible to "walk" the JavaScript stack via commonly-implemented extensions to ECMAScript. In normal code with these extensions, when a function fun is in the middle of being called, fun.caller is the function that most recently called fun, and fun.arguments is the arguments for that invocation of fun. Both extensions are problematic for "secure" JavaScript, because they allow "secured" code to access "privileged" functions and their (potentially unsecured) arguments. If fun is in strict mode, both fun.caller and fun.arguments are non-deletable properties which throw when set or retrieved:

function restricted()
  "use strict";
  restricted.caller;    // throws a TypeError
  restricted.arguments; // throws a TypeError
function privilegedInvoker()
  return restricted();

Third, arguments for strict mode functions no longer provide access to the corresponding function call's variables. In some old ECMAScript implementations arguments.caller was an object whose properties aliased variables in that function. This is a security hazard because it breaks the ability to hide privileged values via function abstraction; it also precludes most optimizations. For these reasons no recent browsers implement it. Yet because of its historical functionality, arguments.caller for a strict mode function is also a non-deletable property which throws when set or retrieved:

"use strict";
function fun(a, b)
  "use strict";
  var v = 12;
  return arguments.caller; // throws a TypeError
fun(1, 2); // doesn't expose v (or a or b)

Paving the way for future ECMAScript versions

Future ECMAScript versions will likely introduce new syntax, and strict mode in ECMAScript 5 applies some restrictions to ease the transition. It will be easier to make some changes if the foundations of those changes are prohibited in strict mode.

First, in strict mode a short list of identifiers become reserved keywords. These words are implements, interface, let, package, private, protected, public, static, and yield. In strict mode, then, you can't name or use variables or arguments with these names.

function package(protected){ // !!!
  "use strict";
  var implements; // !!!

  interface: // !!!
  while (true){
    break interface; // !!!

  function private() { } // !!!
function fun(static) { 'use strict'; } // !!!

Two Mozilla-specific caveats: First, if your code is JavaScript 1.7 or greater (for example in chrome code or when using the right <script type="">) and is strict mode code, let and yield have the functionality they've had since those keywords were first introduced. But strict mode code on the web, loaded with <script src=""> or <script>...</script>, won't be able to use let/yield as identifiers. Second, while ES5 unconditionally reserves the words class, enum, export, extends, import, and super, before Firefox 5 Mozilla reserved them only in strict mode.

Second, strict mode prohibits function statements not at the top level of a script or function. In normal code in browsers, function statements are permitted "everywhere". This is not part of ES5 (or even ES3)! It's an extension with incompatible semantics in different browsers. Future ECMAScript editions will hopefully specify new semantics for function statements not at the top level of a script or function. Prohibiting such function statements in strict mode "clears the deck" for specification in a future ECMAScript release:

"use strict";
if (true){
  function f() { } // !!! syntax error

for (var i = 0; i < 5; i++){
  function f2() { } // !!! syntax error

function baz(){ // kosher
  function eit() { } // also kosher

This prohibition isn't strict mode proper, because such function statements are an extension of basic ES5. But it is the recommendation of the ECMAScript committee, and browsers will implement it.

Strict mode in browsers

The major Browsers now implement strict mode. However, don't blindly depend on it since there still are numerous Browser versions used in the wild that only have partial support for strict mode or do not support it at all (e.g. Internet Explorer below version 10!). Strict mode changes semantics. Relying on those changes will cause mistakes and errors in browsers which don't implement strict mode. Exercise caution in using strict mode, and back up reliance on strict mode with feature tests that check whether relevant parts of strict mode are implemented. Finally, make sure to test your code in browsers that do and don't support strict mode. If you test only in browsers that don't support strict mode, you're very likely to have problems in browsers that do, and vice versa.


Specification Status Comment
ECMAScript 5.1 (ECMA-262)
The definition of 'Strict Mode Code' in that specification.
Standard Initial definition. See also: Strict mode restriction and exceptions
ECMAScript 2015 (6th Edition, ECMA-262)
The definition of 'Strict Mode Code' in that specification.
Standard Strict mode restriction and exceptions
ECMAScript 2017 Draft (ECMA-262)
The definition of 'Strict Mode Code' in that specification.
Draft Strict mode restriction and exceptions

See also


© 2016 Mozilla Contributors
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License v2.5 or later.

ECMAScript5 JavaScript Strict Mode