String.prototype.replaceAll

Published Β· tagged with ECMAScript

If you’ve ever dealt with strings in JavaScript, chances are you came across the String#replace method. String.prototype.replace(searchValue, replacement) returns a string with some matches replaced, based on the parameters you specify:

'abc'.replace('b', '_');
// β†’ 'a_c'

'πŸπŸ‹πŸŠπŸ“'.replace('🍏', 'πŸ₯­');
// β†’ 'πŸ₯­πŸ‹πŸŠπŸ“'

A common use case is replacing all instances of a given substring. However, String#replace doesn’t directly address this use case. When searchValue is a string, only the first occurrence of the substring gets replaced:

'aabbcc'.replace('b', '_');
// β†’ 'aa_bcc'

'πŸπŸπŸ‹πŸ‹πŸŠπŸŠπŸ“πŸ“'.replace('🍏', 'πŸ₯­');
// β†’ 'πŸ₯­πŸπŸ‹πŸ‹πŸŠπŸŠπŸ“πŸ“'

To work around this, developers often turn the search string into a regular expression with the global (g) flag. This way, String#replace does replace all matches:

'aabbcc'.replace(/b/g, '_');
// β†’ 'aa__cc'

'πŸπŸπŸ‹πŸ‹πŸŠπŸŠπŸ“πŸ“'.replace(/🍏/g, 'πŸ₯­');
// β†’ 'πŸ₯­πŸ₯­πŸ‹πŸ‹πŸŠπŸŠπŸ“πŸ“'

As a developer, it’s annoying to have to do this string-to-regexp conversion if all you really want is a global substring replacement. More importantly, this conversion is error-prone, and a common source of bugs! Consider the following example:

const queryString = 'q=query+string+parameters';

queryString.replace('+', ' ');
// β†’ 'q=query string+parameters' ❌
// Only the first occurrence gets replaced.

queryString.replace(/+/, ' ');
// β†’ SyntaxError: invalid regular expression ❌
// As it turns out, `+` is a special character within regexp patterns.

queryString.replace(/\+/, ' ');
// β†’ 'q=query string+parameters' ❌
// Escaping special regexp characters makes the regexp valid, but
// this still only replaces the first occurrence of `+` in the string.

queryString.replace(/\+/g, ' ');
// β†’ 'q=query string parameters' βœ…
// Escaping special regexp characters AND using the `g` flag makes it work.

Turning a string literal like '+' into a global regular expression is not just a matter of removing the ' quotes, wrapping it into / slashes, and appending the g flag β€” we must escape any characters that have a special meaning in regular expressions. This is easy to forget, and hard to get right, since JavaScript doesn’t offer a built-in mechanism to escape regular expression patterns.

An alternate workaround is to combine String#split with Array#join:

const queryString = 'q=query+string+parameters';
queryString.split('+').join(' ');
// β†’ 'q=query string parameters'

This approach avoids any escaping but comes with the overhead of splitting the string into an array of parts only to glue it back together.

Clearly, none of these workarounds are ideal. Wouldn’t it be nice if a basic operation such as global substring replacement would be straightforward in JavaScript?

String.prototype.replaceAll

The new String#replaceAll method solves these problems and provides a straightforward mechanism to perform global substring replacement:

'aabbcc'.replaceAll('b', '_');
// β†’ 'aa__cc'

'πŸπŸπŸ‹πŸ‹πŸŠπŸŠπŸ“πŸ“'.replaceAll('🍏', 'πŸ₯­');
// β†’ 'πŸ₯­πŸ₯­πŸ‹πŸ‹πŸŠπŸŠπŸ“πŸ“'

const queryString = 'q=query+string+parameters';
queryString.replaceAll('+', ' ');
// β†’ 'q=query string parameters'

For consistency with the pre-existing APIs in the language, String.prototype.replaceAll(searchValue, replacement) behaves exactly like String.prototype.replace(searchValue, replacement), with the following two exceptions:

  1. If searchValue is a string, then String#replace only replaces the first occurrence of the substring, while String#replaceAll replaces all occurrences.
  2. If searchValue is a non-global RegExp, then String#replace replaces only a single match, similar to how it behaves for strings. String#replaceAll on the other hand throws an exception in this case, since this is probably a mistake: if you really want to β€œreplace all” matches, you’d use a global regular expression; if you only want to replace a single match, you can use String#replace.

The important piece of new functionality lies in that first item. String.prototype.replaceAll enriches JavaScript with first-class support for global substring replacement, without the need for regular expressions or other workarounds.

String.prototype.replaceAll support

An experimental implementation of String.prototype.replaceAll is available in V8 v8.0 behind the --harmony-string-replaceall flag.