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Checking if a property exists JS: Objects

When working with objects, you sometimes need to check if a property exists and do something if it doesn't. The easiest way to do this is to check it against undefined, yet this approach is not universal. Sometimes it just won't work as expected.

if (obj.key === undefined) {
  // the logic

Imagine a function that has to count the number of identical elements in an array:

// Log in

const bag = [
  'apple', 'banana', 'pear',
  'apricot', 'apple', 'banana',
  'apple', 'orange', 'pear',

// Exit

const result = {
  apple: 3,
  banana: 2,
  pear: 2,
  orange: 1,
  apricot: 1,

Its algorithm is simple enough, but there is one subtle point. While iterating over the array, this function takes the result object, extracts the desired property from it, and increments the value by one. But this is in cases where the property already exists. What if it doesn't? The first time an element appears, a relevant property with a value of 1 in the result object since it's initially empty. Look at how it's implemented:

const countFruits = (fruits) => {
  const result = {};

  for (const name of fruits) {
    // Checking if it exists
    if (result[name] === undefined) {
      result[name] = 1;
    } else {
      result[name] += 1;

  return result;

In a situation like this, comparing a value to undefined will always work, but only because undefined cannot be inside an existing property. But this isn't always the case. Look at this code:

const obj = {
  key: doSomething(),

In the above example, the key value is the result of calling doSomething(). If this function can return undefined, it will appear that the key is defined in the object, but its value is undefined.

In JavaScript, there is a more reliable and more proper way to check the existence of property without comparing values, using the Object.hasOwn() method. This is how the countFruits(), function changes if you use this property:

const countFruits = (fruits) => {
  const result = {};

  for (const name of fruits) {
    // Checking if it exists
    if (Object.hasOwn(result, name)) {
      result[name] += 1;
    } else {
      result[name] = 1;

  return result;

Nullish coalescing operator

In our fruit search example, you can't just have undefined as a value inside the result object. There will always be a number, starting from one. Moreover, even checking if the value exists is superfluous. All we need to do is retrieve the current value and be able to set a default value. You can do this by using the nullish coalescing operator. It allows you to set a default value when the value is null or undefined.

let value;

value ?? 'wow'; // 'wow'

value = null;
value ?? 'wow'; // 'wow'

value = true;
value ?? 'wow'; // true
for (const name of fruits) {
  result[name] = (result[name] ?? 0) + 1;

Recommended materials

  1. has() function from the lodash library

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