Introduction to JavaScript for Earth Engine

This tutorial covers just enough JavaScript to get you started writing Earth Engine scripts. For more thorough JavaScript tutorials, see these Mozilla developer resources. For an introduction to programming, with examples in JavaScript, see Eloquent JavaScript. For suggestions on JavaScript coding style, see the Google JavaScript Style Guide. In this tutorial, you're going to write JavaScript in the Earth Engine Code Editor. Before getting started, use the Code Editor guide to get familiar with the Code Editor environment.

Hello World!

Time to write your first JavaScript for Earth Engine! In your Chrome browser, go to code.earthengine.google.com and copy the following into the Code Editor:

print('Hello World!');

Click Run and observe that 'Hello world!' is printed to the Console tab. The line above is a JavaScript statement. In JavaScript, statements end in a semicolon. Earth Engine programs are made up of a set of statements like this one. You can prevent code from running without deleting it by commenting it. One of the ways to comment out code is by putting two forward slashes // before the code that you don't want to run. For example:

// print('Hello World!');

It's good practice to put lots of comments in your code, to describe what you're trying to do. It's also good to delete commented code that doesn't do anything anymore. Both these practices will improve code readability.

Basic JavaScript data types

Strings

Using variables to store objects and primitives helps code readability. For example, a variable that stores a string object is defined by single ' or double " quotes (but don't mix them), with single quotes preferred. Make a new string and store it in a variable called greetString:

// Use single (or double) quotes to make a string.
var greetString = 'Ahoy there!';
// Use parentheses to pass arguments to functions.
print(greetString);

Numbers

Note that variables are defined with the keyword var. Variables can also store numbers:

// Store a number in a variable.
var number = 42;
print('The answer is:', number);

In this example, observe that when print() is given two arguments separated by commas, each argument is printed on a different line.

Lists

Define lists with square brackets []. A list of numbers, for example:

// Use square brackets [] to make a list.
var listOfNumbers = [0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5];
print('List of numbers:', listOfNumbers);

Lists can also store strings or other objects. For example:

// Make a list of strings.
var listOfStrings = ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd'];
print('List of strings:', listOfStrings);

Objects

Objects in JavaScript are dictionaries of key: value pairs. Make an object (or dictionary) using curly brackets {}, for example:

// Use curly brackets {} to make a dictionary of key:value pairs.
var object = {
  foo: 'bar',
  baz: 13,
  stuff: ['this', 'that', 'the other thing']
};
print('Dictionary:', object);
// Access dictionary items using square brackets.
print('Print foo:', object['foo']);
// Access dictionary items using dot notation.
print('Print stuff:', object.stuff);

Note that you can get a value from a dictionary by supplying the key. This example shows you how to do that for JavaScript objects. Later you'll learn how to do it for dictionaries that are on the Earth Engine server.

Functions

Functions are another way to improve code readability and reusability by grouping sets of operations. Define a function with the function keyword. Function names start with a letter and have a pair of parentheses at the end. Functions often take parameters which tell the function what to do. These parameters go inside the parentheses (). The set of statements making up the function go inside curly brackets. The return keyword indicates what the function output is. There are several ways to declare a function, but here we'll use something like this:

var myFunction = function(parameter1, parameter2, parameter3) {
  statement;
  statement;
  statement;
  return statement;
};

Let's consider the lines one by one. The first line creates a new function and assigns it to the variable myFunction. This variable could have been named anything. It defines how to call the function later. The terms in the parentheses after the function name (i.e. parameter1, parameter2, parameter3) are the parameter names and could have been named anything as well, though it's good practice to give them unique names that are different from the code outside the function. Whatever you name them, these are the names that function will use to refer to the values that are passed into the function when it is called. The value of a parameter once it's been passed into a function is called an argument. Although functions can use variables declared outside the function (global variables), function arguments are not visible outside the function. Functions can take as many parameters as you need, even zero. Here's a simple example of a function that just returns its argument:

// The reflect function takes a single parameter: element.
var reflect = function(element) {
  // Return the argument.
  return element;
};
print('A good day to you!', reflect('Back at you!'));

This is an example of a user-defined function. There are also lots of built-in Earth Engine functions. Explore the Code Editor Docs tab to learn about these built-in functions. Here's a very simple example of an Earth Engine function:

var aString = ee.Algorithms.String(42);

In the next section, learn more about Earth Engine Objects and Methods.

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