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PCjs Coding Conventions

Here are a few highlights of the (evolving) JavaScript coding conventions used in PCjs.

Tabs vs. Spaces

I’ve configured my IDE (WebStorm) to NEVER use tab characters in .js files (spaces only) and to ALWAYS use tab characters in almost every other type of text file. This is largely because when a web browser displays a JavaScript file (either in the main window or in the Developer Tools window), tabs usually screw up the formatting, which I find annoying when I’m debugging. XML files, on the other hand, are usually reformatted by the browser anyway, so in those cases, I opt for smaller files and use real tabs.

Note that most of the JavaScript delivered by a PCjs production server will have been compiled by Google’s Closure Compiler, which completely eliminates all non-essential whitespace, so this is just a development preference, with little to no impact on production files.

Regardless of the choice of tab character however, I almost always use 4-column tab stops, except in legacy .asm files, where 8-column tab stops were the norm.

I’ve noticed that 2-column tab stops have recently become popular, especially in Node projects; NPM, for example, will rewrite package.json files, replacing my 4-column spacing with 2-column spacing. I don’t fight that trend – I just ignore it.


Property names with all UPPER-CASE letters (with optional numbers and/or underscores) represent constants.

I originally adopted this rule in part because it’s a popular C language convention, but also because it made it easy to write a preprocessing script (see the PCjs Grunt task prepjs in /modules/grunts/prepjs/) that replaced all such property references with the corresponding property values and then removed the original property definitions. Of course, this convention also depended on the properties never being modified or enumerated.

I later discovered that Google’s Closure Compiler does an excellent job of automatically inlining properties that are never modified or enumerated, so the prepjs preprocessing script is no longer used, but I’ve stuck with the UPPER-CASE convention.

I don’t bother with JSDoc @const annotations, because 1) the project contains far too many constants, 2) all the constants are already effectively annotated by virtue of being UPPER-CASE, and 3) there is no noticeable improvement in the Closure Compiler’s inlining capability with the addition of @const.

All constants associated with a component are normally attached to the component’s constructor; ie, as properties of the constructor. If you think of a JavaScript constructor as a “class’, then constants attached to the constructor can be thought of as “class constants”.

For example, the ChipSet component, which manages (among other things) Programmable Interrupt Controllers or PICs, could define the constant for an EOI command like this:

ChipSet.EOI = 0x20;                     // non-specific EOI (end-of-interrupt)

but since the EOI command is actually one of a number Operation Command Words (specifically, OCW2), I include an “OCW2_” prefix in the constant name:

ChipSet.OCW2_EOI = 0x20;                // non-specific EOI (end-of-interrupt)

and since I also like to group constants that are associated with a particular register or port, and since I don’t want the ChipSet constructor becoming littered with property constants, I first define a constant object; in this case, PIC_LO:

ChipSet.PIC_LO = {};
ChipSet.PIC_LO.OCW2_EOI = 0x20;         // non-specific EOI (end-of-interrupt)
ChipSet.PIC_LO.OCW2_EOI_SPEC = 0x60;    // specific EOI
ChipSet.PIC_LO.OCW2_EOI_ROT = 0xA0;     // rotate on non-specific EOI
ChipSet.PIC_LO.OCW2_EOI_ROTSPEC = 0xE0; // rotate on specific EOI

By using fully-qualified property names for each constant, the code has a more C-like appearance (think #define) that’s also easier to preprocess.

However, I’ve gradually switched to the more conventional JavaScript object notation for class constants:

ChipSet.PIC_LO = {
    OCW2_EOI:           0x20,           // non-specific EOI (end-of-interrupt)
    OCW2_EOI_SPEC:      0x60,           // specific EOI
    OCW2_EOI_ROT:       0xA0,           // rotate on non-specific EOI
    OCW2_EOI_ROTSPEC:   0xE0            // rotate on specific EOI

because, again, the Closure Compiler does an excellent job inlining such constants (or indeed any property that is never modified or enumerated).


While we’re talking about constants, it’s important to be aware of constants that are not scoped to any particular component.

In /machines/shared/lib/defines.js, DEBUG is set to TRUE, enabling all debug-only code by default. It is also declared as a @define so that the Closure Compiler can override it, setting it to FALSE and disabling debug-only code.

To ensure that debug-only code is not simply disabled but also removed, the code should be wrapped with:

if (DEBUG) {
    [code to be removed by the Closure Compiler]

In many cases, the compiler is able to completely remove calls to debug-only class methods; eg:

Component.assert(off >= 0 && off < this.cb);

However, calls to debug-only instance methods seem to be more problematic, so all such calls are wrapped; eg:

if (DEBUG) this.log('load("' + sFileURL + '")');

There are a number of other important shared constants in /machines/shared/lib/defines.js and PCjs-specific constants in /machines/pcx86/lib/defines.js; refer to those files for more information.

Braces and Parentheses

Most opening braces appear at the end of the line containing the associated “if”, “while”, “for”, “switch”, “function”, etc, preceded by a single space. And most opening parentheses are also preceded by a single space, except when following “function” or a function name, in which case there is NO space.

There’s always the occasional exception. For example, the opening brace of all the top-level (documented) functions in a module may appear on its own line, because the extra whitespace can make the code a bit more readable.

It’s also important to be aware of JavaScript’s automatic semicolon insertion feature and the associated danger of putting an opening brace below a return statement that wants to return an object literal. As long as you (and your IDE) are aware of that specific danger, there’s no need to be dogmatic about opening braces.

Variable Names

I still tend to follow Charles Simonyi’s “Hungarian” naming conventions – or rather, a naming convention loosely inspired by Hungarian.

For example, if I need a string or numeric variable representing a “thing,” I will name it “sThing” if it’s a string or “iThing” if it’s a number (or possibly “nThings” if it represents a total of Things or “cThings” if it’s a counter of Things). If a string or numeric variable has a very short-term use, I’ll probably just name it “s” or “i”.

As I mention below, I still tend to distinguish single characters from strings too, which means I may sometimes prefix character variables with “ch” and character counters with “cch”.

Of course, variable name prefixes like “s” and “n” are irrelevant if you’ve already given your variables meaningful names like “nameOfPerson” or “numberOfPeople”. And that’s fine – I sometimes do that as well. But in general, I still prefer variable names like “sPerson” and “nPeople”.

I don’t try to come up with special prefixes for Objects. If there’s a Person object, for example, I’ll probably use colloquial names like “personHere” or “personThere”. I am stricter with Arrays though: I prefix array variables with “a”, arrays of strings and numbers with “as” and “ai” (or “an”), arrays of arrays with “aa”, etc. As for Arrays of anything else, I usually don’t bother with anything more than an “a” prefix.

Quotation Marks

Because of my C background, I prefer to use double-quotes around multi-character strings and single quotes around single-character strings. While the reasons for doing so are largely historical and currently irrelevant, characters are STILL the building blocks of strings, and even the JavaScript String class contains methods that deal with individual characters (eg, charCodeAt() and fromCharCode()). So for any code that deals explicitly with individual characters, I like to reinforce that with single quotes.

Also, to emphasize that object property names aren’t really strings (even though strings can be used as property names), I tend to use single quotes when quoting property names. That does make me somewhat inconsistent with the JSON standard, which insists that property names be double-quoted, but JSON.stringify() takes care of that, so it’s not really a problem. Besides, I have a lot of quibbles with the JSON standard, like its “disapproval” of comments and hexadecimal constants, and its failure to faithfully serialize and deserialize uninitialized Array objects, but I’ll leave my gripes about JSON for another post.

Generally speaking, the only time I quote property names is when I have to. I’ll use the “dot” syntax; eg:

obj.prop = true;

instead of:

obj['prop'] = true;

unless the property name doesn’t conform to variable name syntax (eg, if it starts with a digit) or if it’s a “public” property and therefore I can’t risk Google’s Closure Compiler “minifying” the property name to something else.

I break my own quoting rules slightly when dealing with strings that contain double-quotes, since it’s more readable to put double-quotes inside single-quoted strings than to “escape” every double-quote with a backslash.

For code that I originally wrote in PHP and later ported to JavaScript, there was a tendency in the original code to always use double-quotes around strings and “escape” double-quotes regardless, and that tendency may linger in code I didn’t feel like rewriting much, but the tendency was due more to idiosyncrasies of PHP than any convention of mine; for example:

Because of PHP’s restrictions on single-quoted strings, I tended to avoid them. However, in JavaScript, those restrictions/features don’t exist.


Most of the PCjs code is documented with JSDoc annotations – not because I want to be able to generate documentation (although that’s something to think about), but because it’s the only way to tell both the Closure Compiler and my IDE exactly what data types are passed around. The goals are to minimize the number of “code inspection” warnings in the IDE and produce warning-free compilations.

In order to use the Closure Compiler’s ADVANCED_OPTIMIZATIONS option and get maximum performance (and maximum “minification”, a form of “uglification”), every function and its parameters needs to be fully typed; otherwise, the Compiler generates way too many warnings/errors – at least, that was the case when I first started using it a couple of years ago.

I’ve adopted a zero-tolerance policy for warnings: nothing gets checked in if the Closure Compiler generates even a single warning.

And finally, speaking of warnings, I’ve had to tell WebStorm to “shut up” about a few:

I acknowledge those those features can introduce bugs if you’re not careful, so I make sure I’m careful. I don’t subscribe to the dogmatic approach that others (eg, the author of JSLint) take about so-called “risky” features. I agree that it’s always a good idea to walk to the crosswalk before crossing a street, but I don’t agree that it’s never a good idea to cross in the middle sometimes, too.

I’ve also made the following “weak warnings” instead of “warnings”:

because it’s a useful warning, but I don’t like being penalized for functions that have been “prototyped” a specific way but can’t always be implemented exactly as prototyped.

Jeff Parsons
Sep 30, 2014