Callback Functions in JavaScript

What is a Callback Function?

The above-linked Wikipedia article defines it nicely:

A reference to executable code, or a piece of executable code, that is passed as an argument to other code.

Here’s a simple example that’s probably quite familiar to everyone, taken from jQuery:

$('#element').fadeIn('slow', function() {
// callback function

This is a call to jQuery’s fadeIn() method. This method accepts two arguments: The speed of the fade-in and an optional callback function. In that function you can put whatever you want.

When the fadeIn() method is completed, then the callback function (if present) will be executed. So, depending on the speed chosen, there could be a noticeable delay before the callback function code is executed.

How to Write a Callback Function

If you’re writing your own functions or methods, then you might come across a need for a callback function. Here’s a very simple example of a custom callback function:

function mySandwich(param1, param2, callback) {
alert('Started eating my sandwich.\n\nIt has: ' + param1 + ', ' + param2);

mySandwich('ham', 'cheese', function() {
alert('Finished eating my sandwich.');

Here we have a function called mySandwich and it accepts three parameters. The third parameter is the callback function. When the function executes, it spits out an alert message with the passed values displayed. Then it executes the callback function.

Notice that the actual parameter is just “callback” (without parentheses), but then when the callback is executed, it’s done using parentheses. You can call this parameter whatever you want, I just used “callback” so it’s obvious what’s going on.

The callback function itself is defined in the third argument passed to the function call. That code has another alert message to tell you that the callback code has now executed. You can see in this simple example that an argument passed into a function can be a function itself, and this is what makes callbacks possible in JavaScript.

Reference link:

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