Global and local variable scope

In this article, you'll learn about scope and how it works in JavaScript.

Scope is a fundamental concept in JavaScript and other programming languages that defines the context in which variables are accessed and used. It becomes more useful and applicable to your code as you continue to learn JavaScript and work more with variables.

Scope can help you:

  • Use memory more efficiently: Scope provides the ability to load variables only when needed. If a variable is out of scope, you don't need to make it available to the code that's currently executing.
  • Find and fix bugs more easily: Isolating variables with local scope makes it easier to troubleshoot bugs in your code because, unlike global variables, you can trust that code from an outside scope can't manipulate locally scoped variables.
  • Create small blocks of reusable code: For example, you can write a pure function that doesn't rely on outside scope. You can easily move such a function elsewhere with minimal changes.

What is scope?

A variable's scope determines from where within the code you can use a variable.

JavaScript defines variables of global or local scope:

  • Variables with global scope are available from all other scopes within the JavaScript code.
  • Variables with local scope are available only within a specific local context and are created by keywords, such as var, let, and const. If you use the var, let or const keywords to create a variable within a function, that variable has local scope.

Later sections in this article discuss block and lexical scope:

  • Block scope variables are available locally to a block as determined by the location of the curly brackets where the block statement is defined. Only variables declared with the let or const keywords have block scope.
  • Lexical scope uses the location where a variable is declared in the source code to determine where that variable is available. You use closures to give an enclosed function access to variables referenced in the outer scope known as the lexical environment.

When a variable is accessed within its scope, JavaScript returns its assigned value or otherwise produces an error.

To declare a variable:

  • Use the var, const, or let keywords to declare local or global-scope variables.
  • Use the const or let keywords to declare block-scope variables.

When you declare a var variable in a function, the declaration makes the variable available to the nearest enclosing function. You can't use the var keyword to declare variables with block scope.

Scope examples

This example demonstrates global scope because the greeting variable is declared outside of any function or block, which makes its value available to all code in the current document:

const greeting = 'hello';
console.log(greeting); // 'hello'

In the global-scope example, the greeting variable is assigned a hello value.

This example demonstrates local scope because it declares the greeting variable with the let keyword within a function. The greeting variable is a locally scoped variable and isn't available outside the function.

function greet() {
  let greeting = 'Hello World!';

This example demonstrates block scope because it declares the greeting variable within a block so that the variable is accessible only inside the curly brackets:

if (true) {
   const greeting = 'hello';

console.log(greeting); // ReferenceError: greeting is not defined

Notice that when the console.log function tries to output the value of the greeting variable, JavaScript returns a ReferenceError error message instead of the expected hello message. Why?

An error is returned because the greeting variable has block scope and the nearest block is part of the if conditional statement. You can't access the let and const variables that you declare inside a block from outside the block. Thus, you can only access the greeting variable within the curly brackets, which specifies the block scope.

This example fixes the error because it moves the console.log(message) method inside the curly brackets. The updated code relocates the console.log(message) method inside the block.

if (true) {
   const greeting = 'hello';

Types of scope

Global scope

You can access variables with global scope from anywhere in the program.

Consider an HTML file that imports two JavaScript files: file-1.js and file-2.js:

<script src="file-1.js"></script>
<script src="file-2.js"></script>

In this example, the globalMessage variable has a global scope and it's written outside of a function. During run and execution, you can access the value of the globalMessage variable from anywhere in the JavaScript program.

You can see the contents of the file-1.js and file-2.js files in this code snippet. Notice the availability of the globalMessage variable in both files.

// file-1.js
function hello() {
    var localMessage = 'Hello!';

var globalMessage = 'Hey there!';

// file-2.js
console.log(localMessage); // localMessage is not defined
console.log(globalMessage); // Hey there!

There's another type of scope that's not heavily discussed in this article. If you create a variable within a JavaScript module but outside of a function or block, it doesn't have global scope, but rather module scope. Variables with module scope are available anywhere within the current module, but aren't available from other files or modules. To make a module-scoped variable available to other files, you must export it from the module where it's created and then import it from the module that needs to access the variable.

Local scope and function scope

When you create variables in a JavaScript function with the var, let or const keywords, the variables are local to the function, so you can only access them from within the function. Local variables are created when a function starts and are effectively deleted when the function execution finishes.

This example declares the total variable in the addNumbers() function. You can only access the a, b, and total variables within the addNumbers() function.

function addNumbers(a, b) {
    const total = a + b;

addNumbers(3, 4);

You can use the let and const keywords to name variables. When you use the let keyword, JavaScript can update the variable. However, with the const keyword, the variable remains constant.

var variable1 = 'Declared with var';
var variable1 = 'Redeclared with var';
variable1; // Redeclared with var

let variable2 = 'Declared with let. Cannot be redeclared.';
variable2 = 'let cannot be redeclared, but can be updated';
variable2; // let cannot be redeclared, but can be updated

const variable3 = 'Declared with const. Cannot be redeclared or updated';
variable3; // Declared with const. Cannot be redeclared or updated

Block scope

Blocks are used to group a single statement or a set of statements together. You can use the const or let keywords to declare a block-scope local variable. Note that you can't use the var keyword to declare variables with block scope.

For example, in this block, the scope for the name variable and its "Elizabeth" value is contained within the curly braces. Variables within a block scope aren't available outside of the block.

    const name = "Elizabeth";

You can use block-scoped variables within if, for, or while statements.

Take note of the two for loops within this code snippet. One for loop uses the var keyword to declare the initializer variable, which increments through the numbers 0, 1, and 2. The other for loop uses the let keyword to declare the initializer variable.

for (var i = 0; i < 2; i++) {
    // ...

console.log(i); // 2

for (let j = 0; j < 2; j++) {
    // ...

console.log(j); // The j variable isn't defined.

In the previous code example, you may notice that the i variable in the first for loop leaked outside the for loop and still retains a 2 value because the var keyword doesn't use block scope. The issue is fixed in the second for loop in which the j variable declared with the let keyword is scoped to the block of the for loop and doesn't exist after the for loop finishes.

Reuse of a variable name in a different scope

Scope can isolate a variable within a function, even when you reuse the same variable name elsewhere in a different scope.

This example shows you how the use of scope lets you reuse the same variable name in different functions:

function listOne() {
    let listItems = 10;
    console.log(listItems); // 10

function listTwo() {
   let listItems = 20;
   console.log(listItems); // 20


The listItems variables in the listOne() and listTwo() functions are assigned the expected values and so don't clash with each other.

Closures and lexical scope

Closures refer to an enclosed function in which an inner function can access the outer function scope, which is also known as the lexical environment. Thus, in JavaScript, you use closures to let functions reference the outer lexical environment, which lets code inside a function reference variables declared outside the function. In fact, you can code a chain of references to outer lexical environments so that a function is called by a function, which in turn is called by another function.

In this example, the code forms a closure with the lexical environment that's created when the outer() function is invoked, which closes over the hello variable. Thus, the hello variable is used within the setTimeout callback function.

function outer() {
    const hello = 'world';

    setTimeout(function () {
        console.log('Within the closure!', hello)
    }, 100);


With lexical scope, the scope is determined during compilation of the source code, not at runtime. To learn more about the lexical environment, see Lexical scoping and Closure.


JavaScript modules help to organize JavaScript code. Used properly, they provide an effective structure to your codebase and help with code reuse. Rather than use global variables to share variables across different files, JavaScript modules provide a technique to export and import variables.

// hello.js file
function hello() {
  return 'Hello world!';

export { hello };

// app.js file
import { hello } from './hello.js';

console.log(hello()); // Hello world!

Scope visualizer demo

Scope is a fundamental concept that every JavaScript developer should understand. To better understand the scope system, you can try to write your own code with the JS Scope Visualizer. The demo uses coloration in the code to help you visualize JavaScript scopes.


This article introduces different types of scope. JavaScript scope is one of the more advanced concepts within web development, so it's great that you have read through this content and taken time to understand this topic.

Scope is not a user-facing feature. It only affects the web developer who writes code, but knowledge of how scope works can help you to fix bugs when they arise.