in vs hasOwnProperty(): Differences in Inherited Properties

When working with objects in JavaScript, you’ll often need to check if an object contains a specific property. There are two main ways to test for the existence of a property:

  • The in operator
  • The hasOwnProperty() method

At first glance, these two seem interchangeable. But there are important differences in how inherited properties are handled.

How in Operator Works

The in operator checks if the specified property exists in the object, or anywhere in its prototype chain.

For example:

const person = {
  name: 'John'

'name' in person; // true
'toString' in person; // true

The ‘name’ property exists directly on the person object. But ‘toString’ is inherited from person’s prototype chain.

in returns true for both existing and inherited properties.

How hasOwnProperty() method Works

The hasOwnProperty() method checks if the property exists on the object instance itself, not including properties from the prototype chain.

Learn more about it here : JavaScript hasOwnProperty() method of an Object

For example:

const person = {
  name: 'John' 

person.hasOwnProperty('name'); // true
person.hasOwnProperty('toString'); // false

‘string'(name) exists only on person, so hasOwnProperty() returns true. But ‘toString’ is inherited, so it returns false.

The Difference With Inherited Properties

The main difference between using in and hasOwnProperty() when dealing with inheritance in JavaScript is:

  • The in operator will return true for properties that are inherited from an object’s prototype chain.
  • The hasOwnProperty() method will only return true for properties that are defined directly on the object instance itself, not inherited properties.

In JavaScript, objects can inherit properties and methods from their prototype chain. Properties like toString and constructor exist on the Object prototype and are inherited by all objects:

const obj = {}; 

'constructor' in obj; // true
obj.hasOwnProperty('constructor'); // false

The in operator returns true for these inherited properties. But they don’t actually exist directly on the obj object.

With in, this can accidentally overwrite the constructor property. hasOwnProperty() avoids this issue by not checking the prototype chain.

The Dangers of in with Inherited Properties

To demonstrate the issue, all objects inherit a constructor property from Object.prototype:

const obj = {}; 

'constructor' in obj; // true

This seems to imply that obj has its own constructor. But hasOwnProperty() reveals the truth:

obj.hasOwnProperty('constructor'); // false

The constructor was inherited, not defined on obj itself.

Accidentally overriding inherited properties like this can cause bugs:

function Person(name) { = name;

const me = new Person('John');

// Override inherited constructor
'constructor' in me; // true - uh oh
me.constructor = function() {};

// me's constructor is now broken

Avoiding Issues with hasOwnProperty()

The hasOwnProperty() method avoids such bugs by distinguishing own vs inherited properties:

const me = new Person('John');

me.hasOwnProperty('constructor'); // false - good

if (!me.hasOwnProperty('constructor')) {
  me.constructor = function() {}; 

When to Use in vs hasOwnProperty()

  • Use in to check if a property exists before accessing it. But be careful with inherited properties.
  • Use hasOwnProperty() to check if a property belongs to the object instance itself. This is better in most cases.
  • Use in to check if an object has a method you want to call. Like checking for ‘toString’ before calling it.

Difference between in operator and hasOwnProperty()

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between the in operator and hasOwnProperty() method in JavaScript:

Checks prototype chainYesNo
Returns true for inherited propertiesYesNo
Returns true for own propertiesYesYes
Handles inherited methodsYesNo
Safer for checking property existenceNoYes
Can cause issues with inherited properties like constructorYesNo
Use case – check before calling a methodGoodAvoid
Use case – check if property exists on objectAvoidGood


The in operator checks for properties in the entire prototype chain. hasOwnProperty() only checks the object instance itself.

In most cases, hasOwnProperty() is the safer choice to avoid issues with inherited properties. But in is useful when you need to check for a method before calling it.

Understanding these differences will help you write better JavaScript code and avoid bugs!

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