Javascript – How to check for an undefined or null variable in JavaScript


We are frequently using the following code pattern in our JavaScript code

if (typeof(some_variable) != 'undefined' && some_variable != null)
    // Do something with some_variable

Is there a less verbose way of checking that has the same effect?

According to some forums and literature saying simply the following should have the same effect.

if (some_variable)
    // Do something with some_variable

Unfortunately, Firebug evaluates such a statement as error on runtime when some_variable is undefined, whereas the first one is just fine for it. Is this only an (unwanted) behavior of Firebug or is there really some difference between those two ways?

Best Solution

I think the most efficient way to test for "value is null or undefined" is

if ( some_variable == null ){
  // some_variable is either null or undefined

So these two lines are equivalent:

if ( typeof(some_variable) !== "undefined" && some_variable !== null ) {}
if ( some_variable != null ) {}

Note 1

As mentioned in the question, the short variant requires that some_variable has been declared, otherwise a ReferenceError will be thrown. However in many use cases you can assume that this is safe:

check for optional arguments:

    if( foo == null ) {...}

check for properties on an existing object

if( == null) {...}

On the other hand typeof can deal with undeclared global variables (simply returns undefined). Yet these cases should be reduced to a minimum for good reasons, as Alsciende explained.

Note 2

This - even shorter - variant is not equivalent:

if ( !some_variable ) {
  // some_variable is either null, undefined, 0, NaN, false, or an empty string


if ( some_variable ) {
  // we don't get here if some_variable is null, undefined, 0, NaN, false, or ""

Note 3

In general it is recommended to use === instead of ==. The proposed solution is an exception to this rule. The JSHint syntax checker even provides the eqnull option for this reason.

From the jQuery style guide:

Strict equality checks (===) should be used in favor of ==. The only exception is when checking for undefined and null by way of null.

// Check for both undefined and null values, for some important reason. 
undefOrNull == null;

EDIT 2021-03:

Nowadays most browsers support the Nullish coalescing operator (??) and the Logical nullish assignment (??=), which allows a more concise way to assign a default value if a variable is null or undefined, for example:

if (a.speed == null) {
  // Set default if null or undefined
  a.speed = 42;

can be written as any of these forms

a.speed ??= 42;
a.speed ?? a.speed = 42;
a.speed = a.speed ?? 42;