Coding Style Guidelines

This section concerns written code format in Tangelo, with the goal of clear, readable, and consistent code. The build process uses jshint and jscs to catch possible code and style errors. This document describes some of the coding practices employed to help make Tangelo more reliable.

Code Style Rules


Indentation is used to provide visual cues about the syntactic scope containing particular line of code. Good indentation practice dramaticaly improves code readability.

Four-space indentation. Each additional indentation level shall be exactly four spaces.

Indentation policy. The following structures shall require incrementing the indentation level:

Statements belonging to any block.

Chained function calls:


Properties in a literal object:

obj = {
    prop1: 10,
    prop2: 3

Curly bracket placement. The left curly bracket that introduces a new indentation level shall appear at the end of the line that uses it; the right curly bracket that delimits the indented statements shall appear on the line following the last indented statement, at the decremented indentation:

[some statement...] {


Use camelCase for visualization, property, method, and local variable names.

Curly brackets

JavaScript uses curly brackets to delimit blocks. Blocks are required by the language when functions are defined. They are also required for executing more than one statement within control flow constructs such as if and while. While the option exists not to use curly brackets for a single statement in such cases, that practice can lead to errors (when, e.g., a new feature requires the single statement to be replaced by several statements).

Always use blocks in control flow statements. Every use of control flow operators (if, while, do) shall use curly brackets for its associated statement block, even if only a single statement appears therein.

Space placement

Parentheses are required in several places in JavaScript. Proper space placement can help make such constructs more readable.

Keyword-condition separation. A single space shall appear in the following situations.

Between a control-flow operator and its parenthesized condition:

if (condition...) {

Between a parenthesized condition and its following curly bracket:

if (condition...) {

Between a function argument list and its following curly bracket:

function foobar(x, y, z) {

Between the function keyword and the argument list, in anonymous functions:

f = function (a, b) {

After every comma.

On either side of a binary operator:

x = 3 + 4;
     ^ ^

Extraneous spaces. The last character in any given line shall not be a space.

Blank lines. Blank lines should be used to set apart sequences of statements that logically belong together.

Chained if/else-if/else statements

A common programming pattern is to test a sequence of conditions, selecting a single action to take when one of them is satisfied. In JavaScript, this is accomplished with an if block followed by a number of else if blocks, followed by an else block. try catch blocks have a similar syntax.

Single line else if, else, and catch. The else if, else, and catch keyword phrases shall appear on a single line, with a right curly bracket on their left and a left curly bracket on their right:

if (condition) {
} else if {
} else {

new Array and new Object

The new keyword is problematic in JavaScript. If it is omitted by mistake, the code will run without error, but will not do the right thing. Furthermore, built in constructors like Array and Object can be reimplemented by other code.

Use [] and {}. All construction of arrays and objects shall use the literal [] and {} syntax. The sequence of statements x = [];, then x.length = N; shall replace new Array(N).

Code structure

This section concerns the structure of functions and modules, how constructs at a larger scale than individual statements and expressions should be handled.

JSLint directives

JSLint reads two special comments appearing at the top of files it is working on. The first appears in the following form:

/*jslint browser: true */

and specifies options to JSLint. Because Tangelo is a web project, every JavaScript file should have the comment that appears above as the first line. The other recognized directive in the global name list:

/*globals d3, $, FileReader */

This directive prevents JSLint from complaining that the listed names are global variables, or undefined. It is meant for valid names, such as standard library objects or linked libraries used in the file.

Lexical scopes

JavaScript has only two scope levels: global and function. In particular, blocks following, e.g., for and if statements do not introduce an inner scope. Despite this fact, JavaScript allows for variables to be declared within such blocks, causing seasoned C and C++ programmers to assume something false about the lifetime of such variables.

Single var declaration. Every function shall contain a single var declaration as its first statement, which shall list every local variable used by that function, listed one per line.

function foobar(){
    var width,

This declaration statement shall not include any initializers (this promotes clearer coding, as the “initializers” can be moved below the declaration, and each one can retain its own comment to explain the initialization).

Global variables. Global variables shall not be used, unless as a namespace-like container for variables and names that would otherwise have to be global. When such namespace-like containers are used in a JavaScript file, they shall appear in the JSLint global name specifier.

Strict Mode

JavaScript has a “strict mode” that disallows certain actions technically allowed by the language. These are such things as using variables before they are defined, etc. It can be enabled by including "use strict"; as the first statement in any function:

function foobaz() {
    "use strict";


Strict mode functions. All functions shall be written to use strict mode.

A note on try...catch blocks

JSLint complains if the exception name bound to a catch block is the same as the exception name bound to a previous catch block. This is due to an ambiguity in the ECMAScript standard regarding the semantics of try...catch blocks. Because using a unique exception name in each catch block just to avoid errors from JSLint seems to introduce just as much confusion as it avoids, the current practice is not to use unique exception names for each catch block.

Use e for exception name. catch blocks may all use the name e for the bound exception, to aid in scanning over similar messages in the JSLint output. This rule is subject to change in the future.

A note on “eval is evil”

JSLint claims that eval is evil. However, it is actually dangerous, and not evil. Accordingly, eval should be kept away from most JavaScript code. However, to take one example, one of Tangelo’s main dependencies, Vega, makes use of compiler technology that generates JavaScript code. evaling this code is reasonable and necessary in this instance.

eval is misunderstood. If a JavaScript file needs to make use of eval, it shall insert an evil: true directive into the JSLint options list. All other JavaScript files shall not make use of eval.