JavaScript for impatient programmers (ES2022 edition)
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21 Using template literals and tagged templates

Before we dig into the two features template literal and tagged template, let’s first examine the multiple meanings of the term template.

21.1 Disambiguation: “template”

The following three things are significantly different despite all having template in their names and despite all of them looking similar:

21.2 Template literals

A template literal has two new features compared to a normal string literal.

First, it supports string interpolation: if we put a dynamically computed value inside a ${}, it is converted to a string and inserted into the string returned by the literal.

const MAX = 100;
function doSomeWork(x) {
  if (x > MAX) {
    throw new Error(`At most ${MAX} allowed: ${x}!`);
  // ···
  () => doSomeWork(101),
  {message: 'At most 100 allowed: 101!'});

Second, template literals can span multiple lines:

const str = `this is
a text with
multiple lines`;

Template literals always produce strings.

21.3 Tagged templates

The expression in line A is a tagged template. It is equivalent to invoking tagFunc() with the arguments listed in the Array in line B.

function tagFunc(...args) {
  return args;

const setting = 'dark mode';
const value = true;

  tagFunc`Setting ${setting} is ${value}!`, // (A)
  [['Setting ', ' is ', '!'], 'dark mode', true] // (B)

The function tagFunc before the first backtick is called a tag function. Its arguments are:

The static (fixed) parts of the literal (the template strings) are kept separate from the dynamic parts (the substitutions).

A tag function can return arbitrary values.

21.3.1 Cooked vs. raw template strings (advanced)

So far, we have only seen the cooked interpretation of template strings. But tag functions actually get two interpretations:

The raw interpretation enables raw string literals via String.raw (described later) and similar applications.

The following tag function cookedRaw uses both interpretations:

function cookedRaw(templateStrings, ...substitutions) {
  return {
    cooked: Array.from(templateStrings), // copy only Array elements
    raw: templateStrings.raw,
    cooked: ['\tab', '\newline\\'],
    raw:    ['\\tab', '\\newline\\\\'],
    substitutions: ['subst'],

We can also use Unicode code point escapes (\u{1F642}), Unicode code unit escapes (\u03A9), and ASCII escapes (\x52) in tagged templates:

    cooked: ['Text'],
    raw:    ['\\u{54}\\u0065\\x78t'],
    substitutions: [],

If the syntax of one of these escapes isn’t correct, the corresponding cooked template string is undefined, while the raw version is still verbatim:

  cookedRaw`\uu\xx ${1} after`,
    cooked: [undefined, ' after'],
    raw:    ['\\uu\\xx ', ' after'],
    substitutions: [1],

Incorrect escapes produce syntax errors in template literals and string literals. Before ES2018, they even produced errors in tagged templates. Why was that changed? We can now use tagged templates for text that was previously illegal – for example:


21.4 Examples of tagged templates (as provided via libraries)

Tagged templates are great for supporting small embedded languages (so-called domain-specific languages). We’ll continue with a few examples.

21.4.1 Tag function library: lit-html

lit-html is a templating library that is based on tagged templates and used by the frontend framework Polymer:

import {html, render} from 'lit-html';

const template = (items) => html`
        (item) =>,
        (item, index) => html`<li>${index}. ${}</li>`

repeat() is a custom function for looping. Its 2nd parameter produces unique keys for the values returned by the 3rd parameter. Note the nested tagged template used by that parameter.

21.4.2 Tag function library: re-template-tag

re-template-tag is a simple library for composing regular expressions. Templates tagged with re produce regular expressions. The main benefit is that we can interpolate regular expressions and plain text via ${} (line A):

const RE_YEAR = re`(?<year>[0-9]{4})`;
const RE_MONTH = re`(?<month>[0-9]{2})`;
const RE_DAY = re`(?<day>[0-9]{2})`;
const RE_DATE = re`/${RE_YEAR}-${RE_MONTH}-${RE_DAY}/u`; // (A)

const match = RE_DATE.exec('2017-01-27');
assert.equal(match.groups.year, '2017');

21.4.3 Tag function library: graphql-tag

The library graphql-tag lets us create GraphQL queries via tagged templates:

import gql from 'graphql-tag';

const query = gql`
    user(id: 5) {

Additionally, there are plugins for pre-compiling such queries in Babel, TypeScript, etc.

21.5 Raw string literals

Raw string literals are implemented via the tag function String.raw. They are string literals where backslashes don’t do anything special (such as escaping characters, etc.):

assert.equal(String.raw`\back`, '\\back');

This helps whenever data contains backslashes – for example, strings with regular expressions:

const regex1 = /^\./;
const regex2 = new RegExp('^\\.');
const regex3 = new RegExp(String.raw`^\.`);

All three regular expressions are equivalent. With a normal string literal, we have to write the backslash twice, to escape it for that literal. With a raw string literal, we don’t have to do that.

Raw string literals are also useful for specifying Windows filename paths:

const WIN_PATH = String.raw`C:\foo\bar`;
assert.equal(WIN_PATH, 'C:\\foo\\bar');

21.6 (Advanced)

All remaining sections are advanced

21.7 Multiline template literals and indentation

If we put multiline text in template literals, two goals are in conflict: On one hand, the template literal should be indented to fit inside the source code. On the other hand, the lines of its content should start in the leftmost column.

For example:

function div(text) {
  return `
  // Replace spaces with mid-dots:
  .replace(/ /g, '·')
  // Replace \n with #\n:
  .replace(/\n/g, '#\n')

Due to the indentation, the template literal fits well into the source code. Alas, the output is also indented. And we don’t want the return at the beginning and the return plus two spaces at the end.


There are two ways to fix this: via a tagged template or by trimming the result of the template literal.

21.7.1 Fix: template tag for dedenting

The first fix is to use a custom template tag that removes the unwanted whitespace. It uses the first line after the initial line break to determine in which column the text starts and shortens the indentation everywhere. It also removes the line break at the very beginning and the indentation at the very end. One such template tag is dedent by Desmond Brand:

import dedent from 'dedent';
function divDedented(text) {
  return dedent`
  `.replace(/\n/g, '#\n');

This time, the output is not indented:


21.7.2 Fix: .trim()

The second fix is quicker, but also dirtier:

function divDedented(text) {
  return `
  `.trim().replace(/\n/g, '#\n');

The string method .trim() removes the superfluous whitespace at the beginning and at the end, but the content itself must start in the leftmost column. The advantage of this solution is that we don’t need a custom tag function. The downside is that it looks ugly.

The output is the same as with dedent:


21.8 Simple templating via template literals

While template literals look like text templates, it is not immediately obvious how to use them for (text) templating: A text template gets its data from an object, while a template literal gets its data from variables. The solution is to use a template literal in the body of a function whose parameter receives the templating data – for example:

const tmpl = (data) => `Hello ${}!`;
assert.equal(tmpl({name: 'Jane'}), 'Hello Jane!');

21.8.1 A more complex example

As a more complex example, we’d like to take an Array of addresses and produce an HTML table. This is the Array:

const addresses = [
  { first: '<Jane>', last: 'Bond' },
  { first: 'Lars', last: '<Croft>' },

The function tmpl() that produces the HTML table looks as follows:

const tmpl = (addrs) => `
    (addr) => `

This code contains two templating functions:

The first templating function produces its result by wrapping a table element around an Array that it joins into a string (line 10). That Array is produced by mapping the second templating function to each element of addrs (line 3). It therefore contains strings with table rows.

The helper function escapeHtml() is used to escape special HTML characters (line 6 and line 7). Its implementation is shown in the next subsection.

Let us call tmpl() with the addresses and log the result:


The output is:


21.8.2 Simple HTML-escaping

The following function escapes plain text so that it is displayed verbatim in HTML:

function escapeHtml(str) {
  return str
    .replace(/&/g, '&amp;') // first!
    .replace(/>/g, '&gt;')
    .replace(/</g, '&lt;')
    .replace(/"/g, '&quot;')
    .replace(/'/g, '&#39;')
    .replace(/`/g, '&#96;')
  escapeHtml('Rock & Roll'), 'Rock &amp; Roll');
  escapeHtml('<blank>'), '&lt;blank&gt;');

  Exercise: HTML templating

Exercise with bonus challenge: exercises/template-literals/templating_test.mjs


See quiz app.