Juri Strumpflohner


It's time to learn CoffeeScript

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Juri Strumpflohner

Seing and reading all the stuff about CoffeeScript, I thought it might be useful to get into that “language” as well in order to get a better understanding. There is a lot of material already online on http://coffeescript.org but still, I learn a lot better and faster if I write my own notes and examples.

Therefore, this tutorial here is basically the result of taking notes and writing down examples of the Fluent Conference 2012 Talk about “A Sip of CoffeeScript” by Gregg Pollack. Unfortunately I wasn’t there myself, but O’Reilly was so kind to grant me full access to the conference video collection.


You can either install CoffeeScript on your machine directly or just try the examples directly on the coffeescript.org website (choosing the “Try CoffeeScript” tab, which is more than enough for this tutorial).


  • Install node + npm
  • Install the CoffeeScript compiler: $ npm install -g coffee-script


$ coffee -c test.coffee
Produces test.js

$ coffee -cw test.coffee
Every time test.coffee updates it will automatically re-compile it.

The same works for entire directories.

$ coffee -c src -o js
Compiles all CoffeeScript files in src to the js folder.

$ coffee -cw src -o js
..continuous compilation on every change of a file in src.

Variables and Functions

Named functions


var coffee = function coffee(){
  return confirm("Ready for CoffeeScript?");


coffee = ->
  confirm "Ready for CoffeeScript?"

CoffeeScript (CS) is intended instead of using the curly brackets. Indentation is normally either 2 spaces or 1 tab.

-> converts to function()

What also important is that in CS, functions always have a return value which automatically is the last line in the function.

Returning a string

If one would like to the return the answer (in the above function) as string, then in JS this would look like

var coffee = function(){
  var result = confirm("Ready for CoffeeScript?");
  return "Your answer is " + result + "!";

in CS instead

coffee = ->
  result = confirm "Ready for CoffeeScript?"
  "Your answer is " + result + "!"

A variant is to write the string concatenation as follows

"Your answer is #{result}!"


  • No variable declaration needed
  • parenthesis are optional; confirm("Ready...") is equal to confirm "Ready..."

Calling functions


coffee = ->




coffee = (message) ->



coffee "Yes"


coffee = (message, other) ->


coffee("Yes", 2)
coffee "Yes", 2

Optional params

Similar to C# where you can define optional parameters as

public void SomeMethod(string x = "hello, world") { ... }

you can write in CS

coffee = (message = "Ready for CoffeeScript") ->
  answer = confirm message
  "Your answer is #{answer}"

Note: no return statement is written explicitly, the last line will be returned automatically.

jQuery with CoffeeScript

The following jQuery JavaScript sample


  function changeTab(e){
    $("#tab li a.active").removeClass("active");

  $("#tab ul li a").click(changeTab);

Would translate to

$ ->
  changeTab = (e) ->
  $("#tab li a.active").removeClass "active"
  $(@).addClass "active"

  $("#tab ul li a").click changeTab


  • jQuery(function($)) can be translated to $ -> or jQuery ($) ->
  • @ = this (shortcut)

Declaring a function inline like

$("#tab ul li a").click(function(e){

translates to

$("#tab ul li a").click (e) ->

An interesting example (from an understanding point of view) is the jQueryhover function as it takes two functions as input. In CS this gets written as

$(".drink li").hover(

or alternatively by first separately declaring the functions.

a = -> $(@).find("span").show();
b = -> $(@).find("span").hide();

$(".drink li").hover a, b

Bind Example


$("#tabs ul li a").bind({
  click: changeTab,
  mouseenter: showNumberOfFlights,
  mouseleave: hideNumberOfFlights


$("#tabs ul li a").bind
  click: changeTab
  mouseenter: showNumberOfFlights
  mouseleave: hideNumberOfFlights

Conditionals and Operators

If statements


if(age < 18)
  alert("Under 18");


if age < 18
  alert "Under 18"

alert "Under 18" if age < 18


CoffeeScript JavaScript
== or is ===
!= or isnt !==
not !
and &&
or ||
true yes on true
false no off false

This allows for statements like

if paid() and coffee() is on then pour()

addCaffeine() if not Decaf()
addCaffeine() unless Decaf()

###Chained comparisons …can also be written very nicely.

if(2 < newLevel && newLevel < 5){ ... }

in CF

if 2 < newLevel < 5
  alert "In range"


message = switch cupsOfCoffee
  when 0 then "Asleep"
  when 1 then "Eyes Open"
  when 2 then "Buzzed"
  when 3 then "Dangerous"

Existential Operators

A common operation in JavaScript is to check on whether something is defined and not null. In CoffeeScript there exists an operator for this, namely

if someVariable?
  alert "It is defined"

Another nice semplicifation is to initialize some default value if it hasn’t been set yet.

if not cupsOfCoffee?
  cupsOfCoffee = 0

cupsOfCoffee = 0 if not cupsOfCoffee?

cupsOfCoffee = 0 unless cupsOfCoffee?

//or most simply
cupsOfCoffee ?= 0

Similarly, a function should only be called on an object if that object actually exists/is defined:

if coffeePot?


In addition, this can be used also in combination with function invocation, i.e. to call a given function on an object only if it actually exists:


which is extremely more expressive than the JavaScript alternative

var _base;

if (typeof vehicle.startEngine === "function") {
  if (typeof (_base = vehicle.startEngine()).shiftGear === "function") {


Arrays can be defined like

locations = ["New York", "Los Angeles", "Washington"]

or by using a newline char instead of a comma:

locations = [
  "New York"
  "Los Angeles"

Looping over…

…the elements is as easy as

locations.forEach(location, index) ->
  alert "Location #{location}"

which is nothing else than using the standard JavaScript forEach

locations.forEach(function(location, index){
  alert "Location " + location;


for location in locations
  alert "Location #{location}"

which should not be confounded with the JavaScript for in loop for iterating over Object literals and which should not be used for array iterations. Instead the above CoffeeScript for ... in loop will be translated into this

for (var i = 0, len = locations.length; i < len; i++) {
  alert locations[i];

Finally, an even more compact version is this one

alert "Location #{location}" for location in locations


Ranges can be defined like

range = [1..4]

where the JavaScript equivalent would look like

var range = [1,2,3,4];

Instead, writing

range = [1...4] //3 dots

results in

var range = [1,2,3];

This works also with variables

start = 1
end = 10

range = [start..end]

Given an array range = [1..10], here are some common operations


pulls out all the elements starting from index 4 up to index 6: [5,6,7].
The JavaScript equivalent:

var range = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10];
range.slice(4, 7);



works: [5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

List comprehensions


locations = ["Bolzano", "Merano", "Bressanone"]

which are cities in the province of Bolzano (BZ) of Italy. Now if we’d like to append a ”, (BZ)” to each of these entries, in CoffeeScript this could be done as follows:

locations = ("#{location}, (BZ)" for location in locations)

Interestingly, parenthesis are important here!

This can even be combined with filters,

locations = ("#{location}, (BZ)" for location in locations when location isnt "Merano")

which would output: ["Bolzano, (BZ)", "Bressanone, (BZ)"]
Here, the power of CoffeeScript’s functional-like syntax becomes visible.


These are a convenient way for passing a variable number of arguments into a function.


searchLocation = (brand, cities...) ->
  "Looking for #{brand} in #{cities.join(,)}"

which can then be called like searchLocation "Starbucks", "Orlando", "New York".

Alternatively also an entire array can be sent to the function

params = ["Starbucks", "Orlando", "New York", "Washington"]

The ... are needed as otherwise the assumption would be to send in one array parameter instead of a list of arguments. In fact, CoffeeScript translates this



searchLocation.apply(null, params);

whereas it translates





Objects can be defined in the following ways

coffee = { name: "Meindl", strength: 2}

and since curly braces are optional, this is equivalent

coffee = name: "Meindl", strength: 2

and commas could be replaced by newline chars

coffee = 
  name: "Meindl"
  strength: 2

As you already imagined, adding anonymous functions works quite similar

coffee =
  name: "Meindl"
  strength: 2
  brew: -> alert "Brewing #{@name}"

Indentation is particularly important here! Normally 2 spaces are used. Wrong indentation leads to wrong translation into JavaScript!

Object declarations can also be nested arbitrarily like

coffee =
    strength: 1
    inStock: 20
    strength: 2
    inStock: 12
    strength: 0

The according JavaScript translation is quite obvious:

var coffee = {
  french: {
    strength: 1,
    inStock: 20
  italian: {
    strength: 2,
    inStock: 12
  decaf: {
    strength: 0,
    inStock: 8

Object iteration

In CoffeeScript of can be used for object iteration.

"#{coffee} has #{attrs.inStock}" for coffee, attrs of coffee

The equivalent JavaScript looks like

var attrs, coffee;

for (coffee in coffee) {
    attrs = coffee[coffee];
    "" + coffee + " has " + attrs.inStock;

All of this can obviously be combined with filters (as already seen in some of the previous sections) and printed out nicely. For instance

toPrint = for coffee, attrs of coffees when attrs.inStock > 0
  "#{coffee} has #{attrs.inStock}"
toPrint.join ", "


Some examples and their translation into CoffeeScript

showFlights function

Take the following JavaScript function…

function showFlights(activeDiv){
  $("#tabs div").hide();


  fetchingFlights = $.ajax("/flights", {
    data: { date: activeDiv },
    cache: false,
    error: function(result){
      if(result.statusText != "abort"){
        $("#tabs #error").show();

…and translate it line by line.

These lines

function showFlights(activeDiv) {
  $("#tabs div").hide();

can be translated as

showFlights = (activeDiv) ->
  $("#tabs div").hide()

The if condition


can be translated as

if fetchingFlights

or alternatively fetchingFlights.abort() if fetchingFlights

The next step is to translate the ajax call.

fetchingFlights = $.ajax("/flights", {

will translate into CoffeeScript as

fetchingFlights = $.ajax "/flights" 
    date: activeDiv
  cache: false
  error: (result) ->
    $("#tabs #error").show() if result.statusText isnt "abort"


  • No comma is needed after "/flights" as the newline substitutes it
  • The 2nd param of the $.ajax call is an object, so indentation can be used
  • data is an object inside an object, so indentation applies here as well. Alternatively one could have written this as data: date: activeDiv

List Comprehensions

Again, the JavaScript code

var filteredFlights = [];

$.each(currentFlights, function(index, flight){
  if(stops === "2+" || flights.routing == 0) {

So, the array declaration can be defined as follows

filteredFlights = []

then we need to loop over all currentFlights which can be done using the jQuery each function exactly like in the example

$.each currentFlights, (index, flight) ->

and then adding the conditions

if stops is "2+" or flight.routing is 0

s.t. all put together we would end up with

filteredFlights = []

$.each currentFlights, (index, flight) ->
  if stops is "2+" or flight.routing is 0
    filteredFlights.push flight

This is the most simple direct translation from JavaScript. However, this doesn’t leverage the full power of CoffeeScript.

To do so, the above CoffeeScript can be further refactored. The jQuery each can be substituted with a plain CoffeeScript loop

for flight in currentFlights

to this we can directly append a filter

stops is "2+" or flights.routing is 0

and then return a flight:

flight for flight in flights when stops is "2+" or flight.routing is 0

Finally, put together

filteredFlights = (flight for flight in flights when stops is "2+" or flight.routing is 0)

That’s it. Really nice and readable.

Object Orientation

Take the following CS object

coffee = 
  name: "French"
  strength: 2
  brew: -> alert "brewing #{name}"
  pour: (amount) ->
    if amount is 1
      "Poured a single cup"
      "Poured #{amount} cups"

This can be turned into a class as follows.

First the class definition which is written

class Coffee

then we can add a constructor

constructor: (name, strength=1) ->
  @name = name
  @strength = strength

Remember, the @ is like an alias for this, so @name = name does nothing else than setting the passed constructor parameter onto the class instance member. There is a nice shortcut for this, namely to write the constructor like

constructor: (@name, @strength = 1) ->

The instance functions can be taken over just normally s.t. the full class definition then is the following:

class Coffee

  constructor: (@name, @strength = 1) ->

  brew: -> alert "brewing #{name}"
  pour: (amaount) ->
    if amount is 1
      "Poured a single cup"
      "Poured #{amount} cups"

This class definition can now be used just as expected

french = new Coffee("French", 2)

You might wonder how CoffeeScript translates this to JavaScript? Here’s the result:

var Coffee;

Coffee = (function() {

  function Coffee(name, strength) {
    this.name = name;
    this.strength = strength != null ? strength : 1;

  Coffee.prototype.brew = function() {
    return alert("brewing " + name);

  Coffee.prototype.pour = function(amaount) {
    if (amount === 1) {
      return "Poured a single cup";
    } else {
      return "Poured " + amount + " cups";

  return Coffee;


It creates a nice clean object using the module pattern.


Inheritance is done by using the extends keyword:

class MaxgoodHouse extends Coffee

What could be done is to change the constructor s.t.

constructor: (@name, @strength=1) ->
  @brand = "Maxgood House"


maxgood = new MaxgoodHouse("maxgood")

would work, as it would call the inherited function from Coffee. Obviously one could also overwrite an existing function

brew: -> alert "brewing #{@brand} #{@name}"

Similarly, it is possible to call the original function from the inherited class like

pour: (amount) ->
  "#{super(amount)}, but it sucks"

super(amount) basically calls the parent’s class pour(..) function

The “Fat Arrow”

When having the following class

class Coffee

  constructor: (@name, @strength = 1, @inventory) ->

  pourClick ->
    $("pour-#{name}").click (event) ->
      if @inventory isnt 0
        @inventory = -1
        alert "Poured a cup of #{@name}"

This would give an error!! Why? Think of how the according JavaScript might look like

  if(this.inventory !== 0){
    this.inventory = -1;

You see the problem. this inside the click wrapped function doesn’t point anymore to the object instance but to the clicked DOM element. In JavaScript this can be either solved using something like var self = this

var self = this;
  if(self.inventory !== 0){

or by using the jQuery.proxy function

  if(this.inventory !== 0){ ... }
}), this);

Depends on your preference.

With CoffeeScript this behavior can be fixed using the so-called fat arrow

$("pour-#{@name}").click (event) =>
 if @inventory isnt 0
        @inventory = -1
        alert "Poured a cup of #{@name}"

Wondering how CoffeeScript translates it? Here it is:

var _this = this;

$("pour-" + this.name).click(function(event) {
  if (_this.inventory !== 0) {
    _this.inventory = -1;
    return alert("Poured a cup of " + _this.name);

It uses the self mechanism.

Using a Class for Encapsulation

Consider this sample

var selectFlights = {

  var fetchingFlights: null,

  init: function(){
    var self = this;

    $("#tabs ul li a").bind({
      click: this.changeTab

    $("#tabs #error a").click(function(ev){
      self.showFlights($("#tabs li a.active").attr("href"));

  showFlights: function(activeDiv) { ... }
  changeTab: function(event) { ... }


Refactoring this to CoffeeScript could be done as follows.

class SelectFlights

  constructor: (@fetchingFlights=null) ->
    $("#tabs ul li a").bind
      click: @changeTab

    $("#tabs #error a").click (ev) =>
      @showFlights $("#tabs li a.active").attr("href")

    showFlights: (activeDiv) ->

    changeTab: (event) =>

Note, changeTab needs the fat arrow as it runs under the context of the click event handler registered in the constructor.


Here are some further resources I found on the web: