Function Invocation and the Execution Stack in JavaScript

Function invocation is just another term for calling a function using the open and close parentheses notation.

To see it in action, create a JavaScript file and inside it, add a function that adds two numbers.

function add() {
  return 1 + 2;

Run it in the browser and open up the developer console. On the developer console, enter the function name add, hit enter and you’ll get the following result (which is the function definition itself):

f add() {
  return 1 + 2;

Enter the function name again in the developer console, but this time append the open and close parentheses at the end like this: add(), hit enter and you’ll get the expected result of the function which is 3.

When a function is invoked, an execution context is created and is added on top of the so-called “Execution Stack” and the one that’s currently on top of the stack is the one that’s currently running.

Execution Stack

When a JavaScript file is executed on the browser, the global execution context will be the first item that will be placed on the stack and if that JavaScript file contains some functions, those will be added on top of the stack in the order they are invoked.

When the function that’s currently running finishes its execution, it will be removed from the stack. This process will go on until it gets back to the global execution context.

Consider the following JavaScript code:

function fn1() {
  console.log("invoked fn1()");

function fn2() {
  console.log("invoked fn2()");

function fn3() {
  console.log("invoked fn3()");


which would output the following result in the developer console:

invoked fn2()
invoked fn1()
invoked fn3()

…and here’s what happened behind the scenes:

Initially, the global execution context is added to the stack and goes through the creation phase.

During this phase, the fn1(), fn2() and fn3() functions are hoisted.

Afterwards, it goes through the execution phase and in this phase, fn2() is invoked and it creates an execution context that is added on top of the global execution context and after it’s done with its execution, it will be removed from the stack. The same is true with fn1() and fn3().

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This is part 3 of the JavaScript Concepts series.

Written on September 11, 2017