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JavaScript is one of those things many take for granted.

Everybody uses it. Everybody. When you use Facebook, you’re using JavaScript. When you post a tweet, you’re using JavaScript. Indeed, when you visit MakeUseOf, you’re using JavaScript. There are very few websites which don’t use it.

But few people know what it really is, and how it works. Many are unaware of the long and fascinating history of JavaScript, and what you can do with it.

As it turns out, JavaScript is amazingly powerful, and endlessly fascinating.

History of JavaScript

In the beginning, the Web wasn’t very interesting.

Back then, there was only HTML. Web pages were nothing more than words, links and pictures. There was no dynamicity. No excitement. Everything was just… Static. The Internet had to evolve. And thus, at the offices of Netscape in 1995, JavaScript was born.

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Back then, the browser race was hotly contested between two players. The first was Netscape, with their dominant Navigator product. The other was the upstart Internet Explorer, by Microsoft. Both companies had seen the massive potential of the Internet, and were trying to create the browser which would thrust it into the mainstream.

Netscape wanted to create a programming language that was both easy to grasp for non-beginners, but would also allow the developer to exercise a greater control of what happens within the browser window.

JavaScript became that language.

Developed in ten days by Brendan Eich, the man who (albeit very briefly April Fools Roundup, Apple Attacks Samsung, Mozilla CEO Controversy [Tech News Digest] April Fools Roundup, Apple Attacks Samsung, Mozilla CEO Controversy [Tech News Digest] April Fools, Apple versus Samsung, Mozilla CEO speaks out, Amazon adds Metacritic scores, Zuckerberg takes pay cut, Coursera on Android, and Kaspersky maps the Cyberwar. Read More ) would go on to lead Mozilla, it allowed developers to write code in a variety of styles (functional, imperative and object-oriented) in a language which closely resembled other popular languages of the day, such as Java, C++ and C.

javascript-js

But despite the name, it’s important to stress that JavaScript has nothing to do with the popular Java programming language originally created by Sun Microsystems. Indeed, it was originally called LiveScript (and internally named Mocha), before being renamed in order to capitalize on the success and popularity of Java.

It’s worth noting that JavaScript wasn’t the first web scripting language. An earlier web browser, called ViolaWWW, contained a rudimentary scripting language, and a precursor to CSS. However, it never really caught on, and its scripting language never really became a standard.

One year after the release of JavaScript, Microsoft ported it to Internet Explorer. In the years since, it has became one of the essential building blocks of the web, and is found on almost every website, and is supported by almost every web browser.

JavaScript also enjoyed further success as a language for website, application and mobile development. We’re going to talk about this later, but first, let’s have a look at the one of the most significant JavaScript web projects, jQuery.

jQuery

JavaScript was built with the aim of being non-threatening to non-professional programmers. But despite that, came with some inherent challenges to journeymen developers.

Perhaps the biggest was the cross-platform nature of the web. There are countless browsers in use – Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, and Safari, to name just a few. Each of these interpret JavaScript in subtly different ways, and have varying levels of support for certain language features.

This meant that developers had to write more and more complicated code, just to ensure their websites worked across all versions of all popular browsers.

Web

The answer to this issue was jQuery.

Launched in 2006 by John Resig, jQuery fundamentally changed how people write JavaScript by standardizing and simplifying certain browser interactions and animations. For the first time, developers could write their code once, and have a measure of certainty it would work across all browsers.

Crucially, jQuery also made it simpler to write JavaScript, by replacing the original, clunky, verbose facets of the language with something that was significantly more sleek and elegant.

If you’re curious to read more about jQuery, check out this detailed explanation jQuery Tutorial - Getting Started: Basics & Selectors jQuery Tutorial - Getting Started: Basics & Selectors Last week, I talked about how important jQuery is to any modern web developer and why it's awesome. This week, I think it's time we got our hands dirty with some code and learnt how... Read More by James Bruce. If you’d like to try it in the real world, we have a free six-part jQuery course Making The Web Interactive: An Introduction To jQuery Making The Web Interactive: An Introduction To jQuery jQuery is a client-side scripting library that nearly every modern website uses - it makes websites interactive. It's not the only Javascript library, but it is the most developed, most supported, and most widely used.... Read More .

Node.js

JavaScript can flourish outside the web browser. If you need any proof of that, just look to Node.js.

Launched in 2009, Node.js is a free, open-source, cross-platform toolkit for the creation of high-performance server-side applications, such as web servers and applications. In the years since it was launched, it has been adopted by thousands of developers and companies, including Groupon, LinkedIn and PayPal.

What makes Node.js so special is its speed, and its expansive community of developers who contribute code and modules.

Beneath the hood of Node.js is the Google V8 engine, which also powers the Google Chrome browser. Google Chrome - A New Chapter in Browser History? Google Chrome - A New Chapter in Browser History? Read More This is one of the driving factors behind the runaway success of Node.js, as it allows for the interpretation of JavaScript code at breakneck speed.

There are also thousands of Node.js modules which are created by its expansive ecosystem of developers expand its basic functionality. These tend to be distributed by NPM, or the Node Package Manager. This is a free, command-line app which integrates perfectly with the Node.js runtime, and allows you to integrate third-party JavaScript libraries into your own code.

Node.js can also be used with Internet of Things projects with Tessel Building The Internet of Things, With Tessel: The Node.js Development Board Building The Internet of Things, With Tessel: The Node.js Development Board Tessel is a new breed of development board that runs entirely on Node.js, and after a successful Kickstarter, they’ve now the reached the point of being available to everyone. Read More ; an Arduino-like board which runs on JavaScript.

For more information on Node.js, check out this more detailed explanation What is Node.JS and Why Should I Care? [Web Development] What is Node.JS and Why Should I Care? [Web Development] JavaScript is a just a client-side programming language that runs in the browser, right? Not any more. Node.js is a way of running JavaScript on the server; but it's so much more as well. If... Read More by James Bruce.

Mobile App Development

Mobile apps are big money.

Don’t take my word for it! Just look at Nick D’Aloisio, whose Summly app was bought by Yahoo for $30 million when he was at the tender age of 17. Or even Rovio, whose Angry Birds game spawned a multi-million dollar franchise The Wrath Of The Angry Birds [INFOGRAPHIC] The Wrath Of The Angry Birds [INFOGRAPHIC] We've made no secret of the fact that some of us here at MUO are big Angry Birds fans. Dave Parrack and I are currently battling it out on the Facebook version of the game... Read More , which boasts toys, films, and even a few theme park attractions.

If you’ve got a burning idea for a mobile app, be assured you can build it with JavaScript.

Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone all support building native applications with JavaScript, which can be distributed on their official app stores in the same way as anything built with Java for Android So, You Want To Develop Android Apps? Here's How To Learn So, You Want To Develop Android Apps? Here's How To Learn After so many years, one would think that the mobile market is now saturated with every app imaginable to man - but that's not the case. There are plenty of niches that still need to... Read More , or Swift for iOS How Does Apple's New Programming Language Affect Me? How Does Apple's New Programming Language Affect Me? From the get-go, developers knew Apple's new Swift was going to be big. But why should you care? Read More .

Mobile apps written in JavaScript are generally easier to develop, and can often beat native apps in performance metrics.

But as often is the case in the JavaScript world, there are third-party alternatives that make writing mobile applications significantly quicker and easier. These include PhoneGap, Titanium, Sencha, and Ionic, all of which allow you to write an app once, and be assured it will work on a variety of mobile platforms. Although, it’s worth adding that depending on how you use them, they can come with pretty hefty price tags.

CoffeeScript

CoffeeScript drastically simplifies the process of writing JavaScript by allowing you to write in a more straightforward ‘dialect’ of the language which is compiled (or, converted) to standard JavaScript.

There are a number of languages which compile down to JavaScript, although the most notable one is CoffeeScript, which we’ve written about in the past CoffeeScript Is JavaScript Without The Headaches CoffeeScript Is JavaScript Without The Headaches I've never really liked writing JavaScript all that much. From the day I wrote my first line using it, I've always resented that whatever I write in it always ends up looking like a Jackson... Read More .

javascript-coffeescript.png

The most compelling feature of CoffeeScript is that it permits you to write JavaScript, whilst avoiding some of the rougher parts of the language. Despite its overall ubiquity, JavaScript has received a fair deal of criticism as a result of its various idiosyncrasies, which are likely a product of being designed in only ten days.

It accomplishes this with a syntax which strongly resembles Python and Ruby (two languages known for their ease of use and readability). The CoffeeScript compiler also enforces good coding standards which make your code simpler to read by other developers.

For these reasons, CoffeeScript has enjoyed a surge of popularity in recent years, with it being used by both Dropbox and social-coding platform Github.

CoffeeScript isn’t the only language which exists to skirt around the roughness of JavaScript. Also worthy of your consideration is Typescript, by Microsoft, and Haxe.

Conclusion

JavaScript is big. Really, really big.

Because really, when we talk about JavaScript, we’re not just talking about the language. We’re talking about one of the members of the Holy Trinity of the Internet. We’re talking about the plethora of projects, libraries and programs which have spawned around it, and have enjoyed their own runaway successes.

Frankly, It’s hard to imagine the Internet without it.

Photo Credit: I Love jQuery (Christian Ditaputratama)

  1. Lucas
    February 18, 2015 at 4:38 am

    Don't run out of mimagination dear Matthew. Besides JS is today's standard it doesnt mean gonna last forever. In fact Google has been working in a... redefined scripting not quite popular but there in the shadows waiting to jump over as a wild animal. Ask M$ they're kinda hunter

  2. turbo
    January 27, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    You think most website's javascript features are "pointless ads"? Are you posting from '97 or '98? hahaha

  3. I hate Javascript!
    January 26, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Javascript is the worst thing about the internet. Most sites load in 10% of the time when Javascript is disabled. Its an albatross around our online necks. A good website works without Javascript, albeit with less features. Most of those features are pointless ads anyway.

    • dragonmouth
      January 26, 2015 at 8:07 pm

      "Most of those features are pointless ads anyway."
      To you they may be pointless but to MUO, and other sites, it is their life blood, or so they claim.

      In an article in this morning's USA Today website publishers are bemoaning the fact that people are clicking on less ads and, when they do click on a link, they spend less time looking. Website publishers are trying to figure out how to extend the "linger time" of clickers.

    • Matthew Hughes
      January 31, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      Exactly. Adverts are how I put food on my table. They're annoying for some people, but the Internet can't exist without them.

  4. dragonmouth
    January 26, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    You did not mention the dark side of Java Script, its vulnerabilities and exploits.

    • makmak
      September 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      I will bet you that no competent developer uses JS for private information. It's mostly used for features, things that will give the site it's spice. There is a reason PHP exist.

  5. Muhammad Adil
    January 26, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Finally I know something about java script. By the way if java script is not related to the company "java" then what exactly does this java company do?

    • Doc
      January 27, 2015 at 12:25 am

      Java is not a company. Java was a programming language (a "virtual machine," which runs programs written in Java) created by James Gosling and owned by Sun Microsystems, which was later bought by Oracle.
      Java is installed on millions of devices; for example, the interactive features on Blu-Ray movie disks can be created in Java, and Java games (like Tetris or Pac-Man) can be played on "feature phones" that do not have the capabilities of smartphones.
      You may have heard about the recent patent trial between Oracle and Google, over Google's use of a few lines of code; in short, many Android apps run in a version of Java, the Dalvik virtual machine, which is compatible with Oracle's Java, but was written by Android, Inc and Google.
      Security flaws in several versions of Java led to, among other things, 600,000 Macintosh computers being infected with a trojan; many Web servers hosting webpages use Apache Tomcat to run Java programs (servlets and JavaServer Pages) on websites. Major corporations use Java on a daily basis on their computer networks. Novell NetWare 6 used Java to run their network server's desktop.

  6. Dan
    January 25, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    It's not hard to imagine the internet without JS. I remember the early to mid 90s with simple html pages, frames, and animated gifs. And there were gopher sites and pages, radically different from how the web works.

    • Matthew Hughes
      January 31, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      Oh man, you're making me reminisce about Alta Vista and Geocites! Good times!

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