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SD Times: The golden age of JavaScript

Here’s my latest for SD Times.

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April 26, 2013 —  (Page 1 of 4)
Who knew that when Brendan Eich knuckled down in 1995 for 10 days to create the programming language that would be eventually known as JavaScript, it would be going strong nearly 20 years later? ECMAScript, the official standard behind the open-source JavaScript, is now inching toward version 6. To be drafted in 2013 and possibly completed in 2014, the update will provide the language with some much-needed structure supporting its current usage in increasingly large-scale projects.But even as Mozilla leads the ECMAScript charge, Microsoft, Google and many others are scrambling to leap-frog the effort with tooling of their own. Finally, in another twist, the Apple/Google mobile battles have made HTML5 and JavaScript running on Firefox (or eventually on Mozilla’s proposed Firefox OS) a viable alternative to iOS and Android.“JavaScript and HTML are the top platforms available for mobile Web today,” said Luke Hoban, principal program manager for the TypeScript programming language that brings structure to JavaScript development but compiles down to pure JavaScript. An ECMAScript committee member, Hoban is bullish on the mobile  Web: “JavaScript and HTML5 are first-class development languages in Windows 8.”JavaScript: What’s missing?
It seems that since the early days, there has been debate over the utility and power of JavaScript. “JavaScript: The Good Parts” is Douglas Crockford’s tome pointing the way toward performant code. Some pointed fingers at the Web development community, noting that client-side or Web UI JavaScript programmers were often less educated in computer science arcana than their server-based brethren. And everyone noted that JavaScript would have never lasted this long if it weren’t for its ubiquity, with its virtual machine included in all major browsers thanks to its Netscape birthright.

“JavaScript has become probably the most important programming language in the world,” said Crockford at a 2009 Google Tech Talk. “There’s more JavaScript processors on more computers than anything else by a very large factor. But despite that, JavaScript is not held in very high esteem, even in its own developer community.” He also called it “the world’s most misunderstood programming language” and the “virtual machine for the world.”

Crockford may have been right, however, when he described it as a language that people didn’t feel the need to learn before beginning to program with it.

Even if JavaScript was dashed out too quickly by Eich, as Crockford contended, it contains elegant concepts that reveal its four main influences: Self (prototypal inheritance, dynamic objects), Scheme (lambda, loose typing), Java (syntax, conventions) and Perl (regular expressions). And ultimately it succeeded at client-side code, where Java had failed abjectly with applets.

But cross-site scripting attacks are made possible by a JavaScript design choice: global variables. The language also lacks the organizational concepts that make large codebases with many contributors manageable: static types, classes and modules.

Related Search Term(s): ECMAScript, Google, JavaScript, Microsoft, Mozilla

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