May 3, 2017 9:44:12 AM | JavaScript Errors - SyntaxError: missing ] after element list

A close look at the missing ] after element list SyntaxError error in JavaScript, including the subtle differences between browser error reports.

Next up in our adventure through the JavaScript Error Handling series we'll be going over the Missing Bracket After Element List JavaScript error. As directly implied by the name itself, the Missing Bracket After Element List error is thrown when an array is initialized with incorrect syntax, such as a missing closing bracket (]) or comma (,).

In this article we'll explore the Missing Bracket After Element List error in more detail, including where it sits within the JavaScript Exception hierarchy, along with a few examples of what might cause Missing Bracket After Element List errors in your own code. Let's get crackin'!

The Technical Rundown

  • All JavaScript error objects are descendants of the Error object, or an inherited object therein.
  • The SyntaxError object is inherited from the Error object.
  • The Missing Bracket After Element List error is a specific type of SyntaxError object.

When Should You Use It?

To understand what could cause a Missing Bracket After Element List error, we first need to understand how Array objects in JavaScript work. Specifically, we need to know how Arrays are properly formatted, syntactically, so we can then see how improper syntax would lead to a Missing Bracket After Element List error.

JavaScript Arrays are simple lists of data, and can be initialized in a few different ways. Here we use three slightly different methods to create the same five-value Array:

// Inline, with values.
var namesA = ['Alice', 'Bob', 'Chris', 'Danielle', 'Elizabeth'];

// New Array object, with arguments.
var namesB = new Array('Alice', 'Bob', 'Chris', 'Danielle', 'Elizabeth');

// New Array object.
var namesC = new Array();
// Add values via .push() method.

As expected, the output is three different, yet identical, Arrays with the same values:

["Alice", "Bob", "Chris", "Danielle", "Elizabeth"]
["Alice", "Bob", "Chris", "Danielle", "Elizabeth"]
["Alice", "Bob", "Chris", "Danielle", "Elizabeth"]

By far, the inline method of creating a new Array using surrounding brackets ([ ... ]) is the most popular, and thus, that is where the name of our Missing Bracket After Element List error comes from.

Let's take that same initial example above, and see what happens if we neglect the final closing bracket (]):

// Missing closing bracket.
var names = ['Alice', 'Bob', 'Chris', 'Danielle', 'Elizabeth';

As it happens, the resulting error is slightly different depending on the browser engine:

Uncaught SyntaxError: Unexpected token ;
SyntaxError: missing ] after element list

This difference in how the browser's JavaScript engines parse, and thus report, the Missing Bracket After Element List error is rather interesting.

Chrome notices that the names Array is being initialized and defined, and it reaches the end of 'Elizabeth' and expects one of a handful of possible characters:

  • A comma (,) to indicate another item in the Array.
  • A closing bracket (]) to indicate the Array initialization is complete.
  • Or, an operator of some kind to indicate that additional values (beyond our first 'Elizabeth' string) should be considered as part of this particular Array item value, such as a plus sign (+) to concatenate it with another value ('Elizabeth' + ' Frost').

In this particular case, Chrome sees that the next character is a semicolon (;), which is not a valid way to complete the initialization of this Array, and thus it throws an error indicating as such.

Meanwhile, Firefox's JavaScript engine is less subtle. Even though the underlying parser recognizes that any of the above types of characters are completely valid to follow our 'Elizabeth' value, Firefox explicitly tells us that a closing bracket (]) is what is missing. While the specific Missing Bracket After Element List error that Firefox reports does inform us that there's a syntax issue when defining our Array, it isn't technically accurate, since another character, besides a closing bracket (]), could go there and be perfectly valid. In the long run it doesn't much matter, but these differences are somewhat interesting.

Another potential cause for a Missing Bracket After Element List error when creating a new Array is when we're missing a comma delimiter between multiple values:

// Missing comma between first two values.
var names = ['Alice' 'Bob', 'Chris', 'Danielle', 'Elizabeth'];

Just as before, there's a distinct difference between the various browsers when reporting the Missing Bracket After Element List error:

Uncaught SyntaxError: Unexpected string
SyntaxError: missing ] after element list

Again, Chrome recognizes the subtlety of the syntax a bit more, noticing that there are two strings within the "element" that should represent a single value of our Array, but there is no operator to indicate what action to take on both string values (such as concatenating them). Thus, Chrome reports that the second string of 'Bob' is unexpected.

Meanwhile, Firefox once again just throws the Missing Bracket After Element List error, even though there is a closing bracket (]) at the end of our Array definition.

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Written By: Frances Banks