FOLASAYO SAMUEL OLAYEMI
SV_D_CURIOUS_SOFTWARE_ENGINEER'S BLOG

SV_D_CURIOUS_SOFTWARE_ENGINEER'S BLOG

What is recursion, and when is it useful?

FOLASAYO SAMUEL OLAYEMI's photo
FOLASAYO SAMUEL OLAYEMI
·Jun 20, 2022·

2 min read

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Table of contents

  • Usefulness

Recursion is the repeated application of a process. In JavaScript, recursion involves functions that call themselves repeatedly until they reach a base condition. The base condition breaks out of the recursion loop because otherwise the function would call itself indefinitely. Recursion is very useful when working with data structures that contain nesting where the number of levels deep is unknown.

For example, you may have a thread of comments returned from a database that exist in a flat array but need to be nested for display in the UI. Each comment is either a top-level comment (no parent) or is a reply to a parent comment. Comments can be a reply of a reply of a reply... we have no knowledge beforehand the number of levels deep a comment may be. This is where recursion can help.

Note: Recursion must have a base condition to be met that breaks out of the loop, or it will call itself indefinitely.

Usefulness

  • Recursion is useful when working with data structures containing an unknown number of nested structures.

Code Sample:

const nest = (items, id = null, link = "parent_id") =>
  items
    .filter(item => item[link] === id)
    .map(item => ({ ...item, children: nest(items, item.id) }))

const comments = [
  { id: 1, parent_id: null, text: "First reply to post." },
  { id: 2, parent_id: 1, text: "First reply to comment #1." },
  { id: 3, parent_id: 1, text: "Second reply to comment #1." },
  { id: 4, parent_id: 3, text: "First reply to comment #3." },
  { id: 5, parent_id: 4, text: "First reply to comment #4." },
  { id: 6, parent_id: null, text: "Second reply to post." }
]

nest(comments)
/*
[
  { id: 1, parent_id: null, text: "First reply to post.", children: [...] },
  { id: 6, parent_id: null, text: "Second reply to post.", children: [] }
]
*/

In the above example, the base condition is met if filter() returns an empty array. The chained map() won't invoke the callback function which contains the recursive call, thereby breaking the loop.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Coding!

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