Edd Mann Developer

Recursive Functions using a Trampoline in JavaScript

An interesting technique for managing perceived tail-call optimised algorithms in an environment that does not provide such capabilities is to use a concept called a ‘trampoline’. The following two examples provide all their work within the recursive function invocation and are in tail-call position. However in environments without such optimisations (before ES2015), a single stack-frame is not reused and instead has the pain of O(n) memory complexity.

Odd and Even

The mutually recursive implementation documented below is a trivial manner in which to calculate if a given value is odd or even. It should be noted that modulo arithmetic would be a more performant approach, but would not highlight the issue at hand.

const odd = (n) => n === 0 ? false : even(n - 1);
const even = (n) => n === 0 ? true : odd(n - 1);

// RangeError: Maximum call stack size exceeded

As you can see we sadly hit the call stack size with a sufficiently sized value. However, with a technique called ‘trampolining’ we are able to return to the desired single call stack frame, with the larger heap taking the load.

const trampoline = (fn) => {
    while (typeof fn === 'function') {
        fn = fn();
    return fn;

The above implementation does not handle the use-case that the desired returned value is a function itself. This can be easily addressed however with a more advanced implementation, of which I will write about in a future article.

const odd = (n) => () => n === 0 ? false : even(n - 1);
const even = (n) => () => n === 0 ? true : odd(n - 1);


Simply by wrapping the two recursive calls in functions we are able to supply the initial call to the trampoline function and enjoy the fruits of our labor.


Another example of which could be deemed tail-call optimised is the factorial implementation documented below.

const factorial = (n, acc = 1) => (n < 2) ? acc : factorial(n - 1, n * acc);

// factorial(100000);
// RangeError: Maximum call stack size exceeded

However, this is similarly not the case - but with a little function wrapper addition and invocation via the ‘trampoline’ method we are able to maintain the succinct manner of the algorithm whilst gaining the single stack-frame. The only point to note is a computational result such as this will require the concept of a BigInt to achieve.

const factorial = (n, acc = 1) => () => (n < 2) ? acc : factorial(n - 1, n * acc);

trampoline(factorial(100000)) // BigInt required