created by Brian LeRoux & Andrew Lunny. sparodically uncurated by David Trejo.

2013 12 19 The Hungry Variable

Consider this JS:

  x = /[/ + "javascript"[0] + '///'

What do you expect the value of x to be?

Those well-versed in Javascript's concatenation may either reject the statement or perhaps say:


Chromium's console, however says:

  x = /[/ + "javascript"[0] + '///'
  /[/ + "javascript"[0] + '/

The Hungry Variable

Those who don't immediately see through this may notice a few things.

  • Like /(/, /[/ throws an error.
  • "javascript"[0] returns "j" as expected.
  • '///' returns "///" as expected.

What should be noted is that the errors for /(/ and /[/ are subtly different. In Chromium console:

  //SyntaxError: Invalid regular expression: /(/: Unterminated group

  //SyntaxError: Invalid regular expression: missing /

It seems that Javascript cannot see the second / for some reason. This is because choice groups (/[any letter]/) don't require escaping of the forward- slash, so /[/]/ is perfectly acceptable and the same as /\//.

If the pre was syntax highlighted, you perhaps would notice that the highlighter was just as confused as you in that regard, only Github's highlighter seems to highlight this correctly.

Thus, the regex extends across the apparent string addition statement and terminates at the "]" (you can't nest choice blocks).

The regex then extends to the slash after the typewriter single quote, and so the //' is simply a comment.

If you want the pre to do as expected, add a single forward slash before the first "[":

  x = /\[/ + "javascript"[0] + '///'

  //for comparison
  x = /[/ + "javascript"[0] + '///'
  /[/ + "javascript"[0] + '/

It is an interesting example of a statement that can completely change meaning with the insertion of one character without creating any errors.


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