jskatas.org Continuously Learn JavaScript. Your Way.

How to Control Strict Mode

I was surprised to see that the worker threads run in non-strict mode by default. This should rarely happen, because when using ES modules (ESMs), classes or "use strict" then the engine forces strict mode. I didn't know this in the beginning. I have been working on the katas I use for this site in the javascript-katas repo which uses ESMs and type=module, my default. This makes the entire nodejs project, any npm ... command run use strict mode. Escaping from strict mode is not easily possible, but one way to run code in non-strict mode is by using a worker thread.

I always like to understand where things originate, so let's read about strict mode.

Strict Mode – When and Why?

Strict mode was introduced in ES5 (in 2009). In the specification it says strict mode was added

in the interests of security, to avoid what [...] consider to be error-prone features, to get enhanced error checking


The strict variant also specifies additional error conditions that must be reported by throwing error exceptions

So strict mode was introduced for making JS safer.

Strict Mode?

Actually the worker I used was just a mean to solve my actual problem, which was running tests for the arguments kata. In order to do that I needed to run the tests in non-strict mode, so let's have a look at the strict mode.

Where does the strict mode play a role now? I had been diving deep into the "function API", digging in the very first ES1 spec and all versions beyond to find out when was what introduced or deprecated (deprecation happens rarely in JavaScript). So I came across arguments and when I wrote the following test:

const fn = function() {
  const arguments = 'arg';
  return arguments;
assert.equal(fn('the argument'), 'arg');

It failed with "Uncaught SyntaxError: Unexpected eval or arguments in strict mode", which was not due to the test code itself, but the rest of the code I ran in the worker thread. The above test only got injected and makes only a small part of the entire code run in the worker. The code has an import in it, which turned all the code to be run in strict mode. And as the error says arguments is not allowed in strict mode.

So I want to control when to turn on strict mode. But for that let's understand strict mode a bit better first.

What forces Strict Mode?

As mentioned above "use strict" turns on strict mode, but in this case there was none in the worker code yet, so what turned it on? In the ES6 spec chapter "Strict Mode Code" the following lines were newly added which force strict mode to turn on:

Module code is always strict mode code.
All parts of a ClassDeclaration or a ClassExpression are strict mode code.

So the import turned it on.

How to Control Strict Mode?

So I rewrote the code to not use import and it ran in non-strict mode.

Now I can control strict mode, I just have to add "use strict" at the top of the code. Even better, I can put "use strict" at the beginning of a function body, and it makes only this function run in strict mode. It must be the first statement in this function, see the code below for some exploration. Oooh, I see new katas arising.

'use strict'
const fn = function() {
  const arguments = 'arg';

The above fails with the error message we know from above "Unexpected eval or arguments in strict mode".

const fn = function() {
  'use strict'     // "use strict" inside the function, test still fails.
  const arguments = 'arg';

The above fails too, for the same reason. Here only the function is run in strict mode, but that's also where arguments is used, so it fails.

const fn = function() {
  const arguments = 'arg';
'use strict'     // "use strict" NOT at the beginning of a function it gets ignored, test passes!


const fn = function() {
  if (true) {
    'use strict'     // "use strict" at the start of a scope, but NOT at the beginning of a function it gets ignored, test passes!
    const arguments = 'arg';

And this one passes too, because the "use strict" strings are not at the beginning of a function. I was irritated in the beginning, because I expected it to be at the beginning of a scope, so after the {, but I was wrong. The spec also states this explicitly:

if the function code begins with a Directive Prologue that contains a Use Strict Directive.

in human words, this means the function must start with a "use strict" string. The scope is not mentioned there. The spec defines three more cases in very hard to read words. These are 1) the global code, 2) eval code and 3) Function code, when either starts with a "use strict" string, then the entire code is run in strict mode.

With this I did not only learn what strict mode restricts, but also how to control it. And all the magic is gone.

πŸ’‘ To turn on strict mode, you can use "use strict" in the four described ways, classes or modules. That's how strict mode can be (manually) turned or forced to be on.