Why do you need to invoke an anonymous function on the same line?


I was reading some posts about closures and saw this everywhere, but there is no clear explanation how it works - everytime I was just told to use it...:

// Create a new anonymous function, to use as a wrapper
    // The variable that would, normally, be global
    var msg = "Thanks for visiting!";

    // Binding a new function to a global object
    window.onunload = function(){
        // Which uses the 'hidden' variable
        alert( msg );
// Close off the anonymous function and execute it

Ok I see that we will create new anonymous function and then execute it. So after that this simple code should work (and it does):

(function (msg){alert(msg)})('SO');

My question is what kind of magic happens here? I thought that when I wrote:

(function (msg){alert(msg)})

then a new unnamed function would be created like function ""(msg) ...

but then why doesn't this work?

(function (msg){alert(msg)});

Why does it need to be in the same line?

Could you please point me some posts or give me an explanation?

7/26/2015 3:23:58 PM

Accepted Answer

Drop the semicolon after the function definition.

(function (msg){alert(msg)})

Above should work.

DEMO Page:

I have discussed this kind of pattern in this post:

jQuery and $ questions


If you look at ECMA script specification, there are 3 ways you can define a function. (Page 98, Section 13 Function Definition)

1. Using Function constructor

var sum = new Function('a','b', 'return a + b;');
alert(sum(10, 20)); //alerts 30

2. Using Function declaration.

function sum(a, b)
    return a + b;

alert(sum(10, 10)); //Alerts 20;

3. Function Expression

var sum = function(a, b) { return a + b; }

alert(sum(5, 5)); // alerts 10

So you may ask, what's the difference between declaration and expression?

From ECMA Script specification:

FunctionDeclaration : function Identifier ( FormalParameterListopt ){ FunctionBody }

FunctionExpression : function Identifieropt ( FormalParameterListopt ){ FunctionBody }

If you notice, 'identifier' is optional for function expression. And when you don't give an identifier, you create an anonymous function. It doesn't mean that you can't specify an identifier.

This means following is valid.

var sum = function mySum(a, b) { return a + b; }

Important point to note is that you can use 'mySum' only inside the mySum function body, not outside. See following example:

var test1 = function test2() { alert(typeof test2); }

alert(typeof(test2)); //alerts 'undefined', surprise! 

test1(); //alerts 'function' because test2 is a function.

Live Demo

Compare this to

 function test1() { alert(typeof test1) };

 alert(typeof test1); //alerts 'function'

 test1(); //alerts 'function'

Armed with this knowledge, let's try to analyze your code.

When you have code like,

    function(msg) { alert(msg); }

You created a function expression. And you can execute this function expression by wrapping it inside parenthesis.

    (function(msg) { alert(msg); })('SO'); //alerts SO.
8/14/2017 8:45:16 AM

It's called a self-invoked function.

What you are doing when you call (function(){}) is returning a function object. When you append () to it, it is invoked and anything in the body is executed. The ; denotes the end of the statement, that's why the 2nd invocation fails.


One thing I found confusing is that the "()" are grouping operators.

Here is your basic declared function.

Ex. 1:

var message = 'SO';

function foo(msg) {


Functions are objects, and can be grouped. So let's throw parens around the function.

Ex. 2:

var message = 'SO';

function foo(msg) {  //declares foo

(foo)(message);     // calls foo

Now instead of declaring and right-away calling the same function, we can use basic substitution to declare it as we call it.

Ex. 3.

var message = 'SO';

(function foo(msg) {
})(message);          // declares & calls foo

Finally, we don't have a need for that extra foo because we're not using the name to call it! Functions can be anonymous.

Ex. 4.

var message = 'SO';

(function (msg) {   // remove unnecessary reference to foo

To answer your question, refer back to Example 2. Your first line declares some nameless function and groups it, but does not call it. The second line groups a string. Both do nothing. (Vincent's first example.)

(function (msg){alert(msg)});  
('SO');                       // nothing.

(msg); //Still nothing.


(msg); //works

An anonymous function is not a function with the name "". It is simply a function without a name.

Like any other value in JavaScript, a function does not need a name to be created. Though it is far more useful to actually bind it to a name just like any other value.

But like any other value, you sometimes want to use it without binding it to a name. That's the self-invoking pattern.

Here is a function and a number, not bound, they do nothing and can never be used:

function(){ alert("plop"); }

So we have to store them in a variable to be able to use them, just like any other value:

var f = function(){ alert("plop"); }
var n = 2;

You can also use syntatic sugar to bind the function to a variable:

function f(){ alert("plop"); }
var n = 2;

But if naming them is not required and would lead to more confusion and less readability, you could just use them right away.

(function(){ alert("plop"); })(); // will display "plop"
alert(2 + 3); // will display 5

Here, my function and my numbers are not bound to a variable, but they can still be used.

Said like this, it looks like self-invoking function have no real value. But you have to keep in mind that JavaScript scope delimiter is the function and not the block ({}).

So a self-invoking function actually has the same meaning as a C++, C# or Java block. Which means that variable created inside will not "leak" outside the scope. This is very useful in JavaScript in order not to pollute the global scope.


It's just how JavaScript works. You can declare a named function:

function foo(msg){

And call it:


Or, you can declare an anonymous function:

var foo = function (msg) {

And call that:


Or, you can just never bind the function to a name:


Functions can also return functions:

function make_foo() {
    return function(msg){ alert(msg) };


It's worth nothing that any variables defined with "var" in the body of make_foo will be closed over by each function returned by make_foo. This is a closure, and it means that the any change made to the value by one function will be visible by another.

This lets you encapsulate information, if you desire:

function make_greeter(msg){
    return function() { alert(msg) };

var hello = make_greeter("Hello!");


It's just how nearly every programming language but Java works.


The code you show,

(function (msg){alert(msg)});

consist of two statements. The first is an expression which yields a function object (which will then be garbage collected because it is not saved). The second is an expression which yields a string. To apply the function to the string, you either need to pass the string as an argument to the function when it is created (which you also show above), or you will need to actually store the function in a variable, so that you can apply it at a later time, at your leisure. Like so:

var f = (function (msg){alert(msg)});

Note that by storing an anonymous function (a lambda function) in a variable, your are effectively giving it a name. Hence you may just as well define a regular function:

function f(msg) {alert(msg)};

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