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Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
16
all upper case, other fiunctions thatare notintendedto be called
asuser-definedfunctionsarewrittenincamelcase.Thischapteris
quitelongandcoversalotofmaterial.Itisalsothechapterwhere
IputmosteffortintoexplainingbasicJavaScriptconceptssuchas
functions,arrays,objectsandsoon.Therefore,ifyouareunfamiliar
withGAS/JavaScript,thenpaycloseattentiontothecodeexamples
andexplanatorytext. Ifmyexplanationsareinadequate, thenyou
can take advantage of the extensive on-line JavaScript resources
available for all levels of user in addition to the many excellent
JavaScripttextbooks(seeAppendixBforinformationonresources
thatIhavefounduseful).
3.2 Built-in Versus User-Defined
Functions
Modernspreadsheetapplications,includingGoogleSheets,supply
alarge number ofbuilt-infunctionsandthey owe much oftheir
utilityandwidespreadusageindiversedomainsoffinance,science,
engineering and so on to these functions. There is also a high
degreeofstandardisationbetweenspreadsheetapplicationsregard-
ing function names, arguments, andusage so thatthey generally
work uniformly in Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice
Calc and Gnumeric. Built-in Google Sheets functions are spread
over multiple categories, seeGoogleSpreadsheetfunction list⁹.
Mostof the standardspreadsheet text, date, statistical, logic and
lookup functionsare present and their usage is, in all casesthat
Ihave encountered, identical to equivalentsin other spreadsheet
applications.
GoogleSheetsalsoimplementsanumberofnovelfunctions.Some
of these are very convenient and it is worth being familiar with
thembeforeyouembarkonwritingyourownfunctionssothatyou
donotendupimplementingsomethingthatisalreadypresent.One
https://support.google.com/drive/bin/static.py?hl=en&topic=25273&page=table.cs
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Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
17
ofmyfavouritesistheQUERY functionandagooddescriptionof
itssyntax andusecanbe foundhere¹⁰. Thisfunctioncomesfrom
the Google Visualization API and it uses an SQL-like syntax to
extractsub-setsofvaluesfrominputspreadsheetdatacells. Ifyou
are already familiar with SQL, then you will feel right at home
with this function. Another group of functions worth exploring
are those thatuse regularexpressions. The functionsconcerned
areREGEXMATCH,REGEXEXTRACT andREGEXREPLACEandI
havedescribedtheminablogentry¹¹.Regularexpressionsarevery
useful and GAS implements the full standard JavaScript regular
expressionspecification.
New Functionality
GoogleSheetscontinuestoaddnewfunctions
3.3 Why Write User-Defined Functions
The two main reasons for writing user-definedfunctionsare for
clarityandtoextendfunctionality.User-definedfunctionscanadd
toclaritybywrappingcomplexcomputationsinanamedanddoc-
umentedfunction. Spreadsheetpower-userscanofteningeniously
combinethebuilt–infunctionstoeffectivelycreate newones.The
disadvantageofthisapproachisthattheresultingformulascanbe
verydifficulttoread,understandanddebug.Whensuchfunction-
alityiscapturedinafunction,itcanbegivenaname,documented
and, tested. Secondly, user-defined functions allow developers to
customisespreadsheetapplicationsbyaddingfunctionalityfortheir
particulardomain.
¹⁰
https://anandexcels.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/query-function-in-google-sheets/
¹¹
http://www.javascript-spreadsheet-programming.com/2013/09/regular-
expressions.html
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Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
18
3.4 WhatUser-Defined Functions
CannotDo
Animportantpointaboutuser-definedfunctionsisthattheycannot
beusedtoalteranyproperties,suchasformats,ofthespreadsheet
oranyofitscells.Theycannotbeusedtosende-mailsandcannot
be used to insert new worksheets. Functions can be used to do
these things but they cannot be called as user-definedfunctions.
Thisisacommonareaofmisunderstandingwhereusersattemptto
call functionsfromthe spreadsheetusingthe equals operator (=).
Thisresultsinanerrorbecause thefunctionistryingto setsome
spreadsheetproperty.
User-definedfunctionsshouldbedesignedtoworkjustlikebuilt-in
functionsinthatyoupassinzeroormorevaluesasargumentsand
theyreturnavalueorvaluesintheformofanarray.Theirpurpose
is their return values, not their side effects. Excel VBA makes a
distinctionbetweensubroutinesandfunctions.Subroutinesdonot
return aresultandcannotbe called asuser-definedfunctions. In
GAS we only have functions that either return values or do not
(voidfunctions).
To illustrate howauser-definedfunctioncannotalter spreadsheet
properties, consider the following functionthattakesarange ad-
dressargument(astring,notaRangeobject)andsetsthe fontfor
therangetobold:
CodeExample3.1
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Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
19
1
/**
2
* Simple function that cannot be called from
3
* the spreadsheet as a user-defined function
4
* because it sets a spreadsheet property.
5
*
6
* @param {String} rangeAddress
7
* @return {undefined}
8
*/
9
function setRangeFontBold (rangeAddress) ) {
10
var sheet =
11
SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
12
sheet.getRange(rangeAddress)
13
.setFontWeight('bold');
14
}
Thecodeusesobjectsthathavenotyetbeendiscussedbuttheidea
issimple;Takearangeaddressasinputandsetthefonttoboldfor
thatrange.However,whenthefunctioniscalledfromaspreadsheet,
itdoesnotwork.
Figure3-1:Errordisplayedwhencallingafunctionwithsideeffectsfroma
spreadsheet.
Theerrorshownabovereferstopermissionsbuttheproblemisthat
thecalledfunctionisattemptingtomodifysheetproperties.
To prove that the functionsetRangeFontBold() is valid, here isa
functionthatpromptsfor arangeaddressusinganpromptdialog.
It calls the setRangeFontBold() function passing the given range
addressasanargument.
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Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
20
ToSee The Prompt
CallthefunctionintheScriptEditorThenswitchto
thespreadsheet
CodeExample3.2
1
/**
2
* A function that demonstrates that function
3
*
"setRangeFontBold() is valid although it
4
*
cannot be called as a user-defined function.
5
*
6
* @return {undefined}
7
*/
8
function call_setCellFontBold () ) {
9
var ui SpreadsheetApp.getUi(),
10
response = ui.prompt(
11
'Set Range Font Bold',
12
'Provide a range address',
13
ui.ButtonSet.OK_CANCEL),
14
rangeAddress = response.getResponseText();
15
setRangeFontBold(rangeAddress);
16
}
Whenthisfunctioniscalled, thefollowingpromptisdisplayedin
thespreadsheetview:
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Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
21
Figure3-2:*Promptdialogdisplayforarangeaddress.
Thepromptmechanismforrequestinguserinputwillbediscussed
inalaterchapter.Theimportantpointhereisthatafunctionmay
bevalidbut,ifithassideeffectssuchasalteringrangeproperties,
thenitcannotbecalledasauser-definedfunction.
New SheetsFeature
Browser.inputBoxinsteadofprompt()isusedinolder
versionsandstillworks.
3.5 Introducing JavaScriptFunctions
User-definedfunctionscanbecalledexactlylikebuilt-inonesusing
the equals (=) operator in aspreadsheetcell. They can take zero
or more argumentsofdifferenttypesandthese argumentscanbe
eithercellreferencesorliteralvalues,justaswithbuilt-infunctions.
The user-defined functions themselves are written in GAS and,
asI have repeated multiple times already, GAS is JavaScript. To
understand and write user-defined functions in Google Sheets
requiresanunderstanding ofJavaScriptfunctions. Thebetteryou
understandJavaScriptfunctions,the better youwillbe atcrafting
yourownuser-definedGASfunctionsforGoogleSheets!
Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
22
JavaScript functions are immensely powerful and flexible. They
playacentralroleinmanyJavaScriptidiomsandpatternsandmas-
teryofthemisaprerequisitetobecominganadvancedJavaScript
programmer. Onlythe basicsofJavaScriptfunctionsare required
forthepurposesofthischapter.Therearedifferentwaysofdefining
JavaScriptfunctionsbut in thischapter mostof the functionsare
definedasfunctiondeclarationsinform:
1
function functionName(comma-separated
2
parameters) {
3
statements
4
}
Other types of function definition will be described as they are
introducedlaterinthebook.
JavaScriptFunctions
ReadthisMozillaresource¹²
The Mozilla resource above discusses various means of defining
JavaScript functions. For user-defined functions the decision on
the syntax to use to define our functions is made for usbecause
only function declarationswork in thissetting, named function
expressionsandobjectmethodswillnotwork.
For the purposesof this chapter, hereare the principal additional
pointsofnoteregardingJavaScriptfunctions:
• When the function is called, the arguments passed in are
assignedtotheparametersinthefunctiondefinition.
• Theseargumentscanthenbeusedwithinthefunctionbody.
¹²
https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/JavaScript/Guide/Functions
Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
23
• Parameters are always passed by value in JavaScript but
whenreferencetypes,suchasarrays,areused,thebehaviour
canappearpass-by-reference.
• Ifthenumberofargumentspassedinislessthanthenumber
of parameters in the function definition, the unassigned
parametersaregiventhevalueundefined.
• Variablesdeclaredwithinthe function using the var state-
ment are local. That means that they are scoped to that
functionandarenotvisibleoutsidethefunction.
• FunctionsinJavaScriptareobjectsandtheydefineanumber
ofpre-definedproperties.
• Twofunctionpropertiesareimportantforthischapter.These
aretheargumentsobjectandthelengthproperty.
• The argumentsobjectisanarray-like listthatstoresallthe
argumentspassedtothefunctionwhenitiscalled.
• The arguments object is not an array but, like the Array
type, itdoeshave alengthpropertythatstoresthe number
of arguments that were actually given when the function
wascalledanditselementscanbeaccessedusingarray-like
indexing
• The length property of the function stores the number of
arguments the function expects based on the number of
parametersinthefunctiondefinition.
• Since JavaScript functions can accept any number of ar-
guments of any type regardless of the parameter list, the
arguments.length value can be compared to the function
lengthpropertytocheckiftheargumentcountisasexpected.
• Functionscanhaveanexplicitreturnstatement.Ifnoreturn
statement is specified, the function will return the value
undefined.
• User-definedfunctionswithoutareturnstatementarepoint-
less.
• Areturnstatementonitsowncanbeusedtoexitthefunction
Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
24
and will return undefined, again, not much use in user-
definedfunctions.
• User-defined functions should always return some value
otherthanundefined.
• The returned value can be a primitive such as a string,
Boolean, or anumber. Itcan also be areference type such
asaJavaScriptobjectoranarray.
To see some of these points in action, paste the following code
example 3.3 into the Script Scripteditor andchoose and run the
secondfunctionnamedcall_testFunc.Thepointofthisexampleis
toshowhowthenumberoffunctionargumentsandtheargument
datatypescanbedeterminedinJavaScript.
CodeExample3.3
1
/**
2
* Function to demonstrate how to check
3
* the number and types of passed arguments.
4
*
5
*
6
* @return {undefined}
7
*/
8
function testFunc(arg1, arg2) {
9
var i;
10
Logger.log('Number of arguments given: ' +
11
arguments.length);
12
Logger.log('Number of arguments expected: ' +
13
testFunc.length);
14
for (i = 0; iarguments.length; i += 1) {
15
Logger.log('The type of argument number ' +
16
(i + 1+ ' is ' +
17
typeof arguments[i]);
18
}
19
}
Chapter3:User-DefinedFunctions
25
The function output demonstrates how JavaScript functions can
check the number of arguments passed in and the type of each
argumentby:
1. Checking the argument count given when the function is
called (arguments.length) against the argument count ex-
pectedbasedontheparameterlistinthefunctiondefinition
(thefunctionlengthproperty).
2. Usingthetypeof operatortodeterminethetypeofeachgiven
argument. Thetypeof operatorcanalsobe usedto identify
missingargumentvalueswherethemissingvaluewillbeof
type undefined. This check can be used to assign defaults
usingthe statementif(typeofarg===‘undefined’ ){arg=
default;}.
3.6 User-Defined FunctionsVersus
JavaScript Functions
When user-defined functions are called from within spreadsheet
cells,theirstringargumentsmustbeprovidedin doublequotes.
InJavaScript,eithersingleordoublequotescanbeusedtoenclosea
stringliteralbutonlydoublequotesareacceptableforstringliterals
inuser-definedfunctions. Singlequoteusage canleadtopuzzling
errorssobeware!
JavaScriptfunction namesand variable namesare case-sensitive,
functionafunc(){…}andfunctionaFunc(){…}aretwodifferent
functions(unlikeVBA).However,whencalledfromaspreadsheet,
the function namesare case-insensitive. The implication of this
isto be verycareful whennaming functions to be calledfrom a
spreadsheet. Camel casing isthe JavaScriptstandard andis used
throughouthereexceptwhendefining testingfunctionsthatmay
be given the prefix “testing”/”run” or when writing user-defined
functionswherethefunctionnamesareallinuppercase.
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