Client vs. Server

It is important to distinguish Earth Engine objects from other JavaScript objects or primitives that might be in your code. You can manipulate objects on the server by manipulating client-side “proxy” objects in your script. You can recognize a proxy object as anything starting with ee. These Earth Engine proxy objects do not contain any actual data and are just handles for objects on the server. To start, consider a client-side JavaScript string object (which is NOT a proxy object):

var clientString = 'I am a String';
print(typeof clientString);  // string
      

Observe from the console output that the web browser (which is called the 'client' in this doc) has interpeted this code and run it, determining that the clientString is type string. Now suppose you want Earth Engine to be able to do something with this string. To do that, you need to wrap up the string in a nice container and send it to Google. That container is the proxy object. Here's an example:

var serverString = ee.String('I am not a String!');
print(typeof serverString);  // object
print('Is this an EE object?',
    serverString instanceof ee.ComputedObject);  // true
    

Observe from the console output that the ee.String is an object, NOT a string. More specifically, it's an ee.computedObject, which means it's a proxy object for something on the server. Think of ee.Thing as the way to put a thing in a container for sending to Google. Your client doesn't know what's in the container, but you can find out what's in it by printing it:

print(serverString);  // I am not a String
    

To see what the container itself looks like, call toString() on the object:

print(serverString.toString());  // ee.String("I am not a String!")
    

If all you need to do is find out what's in the container, then just print() and inspect the result in the console. If, for some reason, you need to use JavaScript running in the client to manipulate whatever is in the container, then use getInfo() to get the contents of the container and assign it to a variable:

var someString = serverString.getInfo();
var strings = someString + '  Am I?';
print(strings);  // I am not a String!  Am I?
    

You shouldn't use getInfo() unless you absolutely need to. If you call getInfo() in your code, Earth Engine will open the container and tell you what's inside, but it will block the rest of your code until that's done. (You can optionally provide a callback function to avoid that, but the better option is to do everything on the server, if possible.)

Looping

Because the client doesn't know what's in server-side ee.Thing objects, JavaScript functionality such as conditionals and for-loops does not work with them. For that reason, and to avoid synchronous calls to getInfo(), use server functions to the extent possible. For example, consider the following two ways of creating a list:

Not recommended — client-side for-loop

var clientList = [];
for(var i = 0; i < 8; i++) {
  clientList.push(i + 1);
}
print(clientList);
    

Recommended — server-side mapping

var serverList = ee.List.sequence(0, 7);
serverList = serverList.map(function(n) {
  return ee.Number(n).add(1);
});
print(serverList);
    

The server-side mapping example is a little silly because you could make the same list simply with ee.List.sequence(1, 8), but it illustrates some important concepts. The first concept is map() which simply applies the same function to everything in the list. Because this function is executed on the server, client-side functions such as print() won't work in a mapped function. For that reason, the i + 1 code has to be replaced with the equivalent server-side code: ee.Number(n).add(1). Importantly, n is an object that only exists on the server. Because the function doesn't know the type of its argument, it needs to be cast to an ee.Number.

(See the section on Client and Server functions for a description of which functions run on the client.)

It's also worth noting that occasionally client-side functionality is convenient. For example, the previous for loop could be used to build a list and wrap it with a server-side object:

var toServerList = ee.List(clientList);
    

Realize that client-side processing is done in your browser, using your machine's CPU, so it can be less efficient than using Earth Engine to do the work on the server. Also, to avoid potentially surprising results, it is good practice to avoid mixing client and server functionality in your scripts. The Conditionals section provides an example of possibly unintended consequences.

Conditionals

Server-side objects don't necessarily work with client side functions and vice versa. For example, consider the case of a server-side Boolean variable:

var myList = ee.List([1, 2, 3]);
var serverBoolean = myList.contains(5);
print(serverBoolean);  // false
    

Note that the server-side Boolean results from executing a method on a server object. It appears to be a client variable when you print() it because print() opens the container and tells you what's inside. However, as shown in the following example, the variable does not behave in a client-side conditional because it is a server-side object. To correctly check a server-side boolean, use a server-side function:

Not recommended — client-side conditional

var clientConditional;
if (serverBoolean) {
  clientConditional = true;
} else {
  clientConditional = false;
}
print('Should be false:', clientConditional);  // True!
    

Recommended — server-side conditional

var serverConditional = ee.Algorithms.If(serverBoolean, 'True!', 'False!');
print('Should be false:', serverConditional);  // False!
    

Client and Server Functions

The previous sections describe several reasons why it is inefficient or illogical to mix client and server objects and functions. Which objects and functions are client-side and which are server-side? In general, any thing initialized as ee.Thing is a server object and any method on that object, ee.Thing.method(), is a server function. In contrast, any class in the Code Editor API reference that doesn't start with ee is client-side as well. Examples include print(), Map, Export and Chart. Objects and functions that appear in the JavaScript reference are client-side. Any JavaScript literal object you create is a client-side object. As noted previously, you can use client-side functionality to create an object, then wrap it by supplying the client-side object to an Earth Engine constructor, for example ee.String().

Send feedback about...

Google Earth Engine API