Proxies in JavaScript

ES2015 introduced a new feature called Proxy, allowing us to do some cool meta-programming code in our applications 🤓.


JavaScript always had some meta-programming capabilities. The use of get and set are a good example. If you have a basic object:

const pony = { name: 'Rainbow Dash' };

You can use:

// logs 'Rainbow Dash'

But you can also define a getter in your object, and do something every time the property is accessed. Even if, from the outside, it still looks like a simple property access:

const pony = {
  get name() {
    console.log('get name');
    return 'Rainbow Dash';
// logs 'get name'
// logs 'Rainbow Dash'

But what if you want to do so on an existing object that you did not write yourself? Well, JavaScript offers Object.defineProperty since circa 2011:

const pony = { name: 'Rainbow Dash' };
Object.defineProperty(pony, 'name', {
  get() {
    console.log('get name');
    return 'Rainbow Dash';

This is pretty cool, and lots of libraries and frameworks rely on this. Vue.js, for example, relies on this mechanism to trigger a re-rendering of the components displayed on a page, every time the state of one of the components is updated (this is a bit of a simplification but this is roughly the gist of it, see the source code of defineReactive if you want to learn more). To do so, the framework rewrites every property with a setter, that just sets the initial property, but also “warns” the framework that the property changed.

Object.defineProperty(component, 'user', {
  set() {
    this.user = user;
    heyVueAPropertyChanged(); // 🔥

And it does this for every property declared when the component is initialized. This is cool, but doesn’t cover some very simple use cases. For example, adding a property to an existing object after initialization:

component.newProperty = 'hello';
// won't call heyVueAPropertyChanged() 😢

To support that case, Vue 2.x requires the usage of Vue.set(component.newProperty, 'hello'), which is not really intuitive, but does the job.

Object.defineProperty only works with objects, as the name says, and not with other types, like arrays. So again, in Vue 2.x, you can’t use myArray[3] = 'hello', because Vue won’t pick it up 😭 (see the official documentation).

Proxies to the rescue

This is where proxies, a new JavaScript feature adopted in the ES2015 specification, can be handy. 🌈

Proxies are a general computer-science concept that describes an intermediary between a caller and a callee. In ES2015, a proxy can target objects, but also arrays, functions, or… other proxies (but not other built-in types like Date).

const target = {};
const handler = {};
const uselessProxy = new Proxy(target, handler);

A nice thing here is that the type of uselessProxy is not Proxy but object (the type of the target). But there is no strict equality: uselessProxy === target; // false. The handler can do some smarter things, like ‘trapping’ properties:

const handler = {
  get(obj, prop) {
    console.log(`${prop} was accessed`);
    return obj[prop];
const target = { foo: 'bar' };
const proxy = new Proxy(target, handler);;
// logs 'foo was accessed'
// logs 'bar'

There are a lot of different traps available: get and set of course, but also has, apply, construct, defineProperty, deleteProperty, etc…

For Vue.js, this is very interesting, as proxies solve the issue of dynamic property added:

const handler = {
  set(obj, prop, value) {
    obj[prop] = value;
    console.log(`${prop} was updated with ${value}`);
const target = { };
const proxy = new Proxy(target, handler); = 'bar';
// logs 'foo was updated with bar'

That’s why Vue.js 3.0 will use Proxies instead of Object.defineProperty and will not need Vue.set (most probably, as Vue 3.0 is still a closed source prototype at the time of writing). And as mentioned, it also works for arrays, so myArray[3] = 'hello' will also be picked up by a proxy (and Vue 3).

Note that you can build revocable proxies with

const { proxy, revoke } = Proxy.revocable(target, handler);
// TypeError: illegal operation attempted on a revoked proxy

Also note that proxies come with a performance cost. It’s always a bit hard to measure and compare, but it is still several times slower than defineProperty for setting a property for example. Nevertheless it would be possible to imagine proxies getting popular, especially in UI frameworks. Someone can imagine building a library for React that would avoid calling setState (and of course someone has) or not using ZoneJS in Angular, and use a proxy-based reactivity system. This was even considered by the core team, but declined.

We’ll see if Vue 3.0 bets on this, and how it comes of!

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