A History of JavaScript

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  • JavaScript is a key building block of modern web architecture.
  • It's one of the world's most popular programming languages.
  • JavaScript is powerful enough for professionals but relatively easy to learn.

Have you ever seen an interactive banner ad on a website or in an app? Well then, you've probably experienced JavaScript.

JavaScript is a digital programming language that enhances how we build and interact with web pages and apps. Along with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript is one of the building blocks of modern web pages and apps. JavaScript can transform a basic web page into a multifunctional web-based application.

The history of JavaScript dates back to the mid-1990s. It was originally created to enhance web page displays in browsers. It's since evolved into one of the most popular programming languages.

Not convinced? Ninety-five percent of the world's 2 billion websites use JavaScript.

What Is JavaScript?

If you're interested in web or mobile app development, you'll want to understand how JavaScript works. It's used on both the client side and the server side. This popular, industry-standard programming language can enhance web pages in the following ways:

  • Playing audio or video within a web page
  • Showing or hiding information in response to a mouse click or screen tap
  • On-screen timers and animated displays
  • Building mobile apps
  • Creating simple games
  • Building web servers and back-end web infrastructure

Since it's one of the easiest-to-learn programming languages, lots of pre-made JavaScript programming frameworks exist. Developers may use JavaScript-based frameworks like Angular, React, and Node.js to create engaging and functional user interfaces more quickly and easily. Using frameworks can speed up and simplify development.

If you've ever wondered what JavaScript is used for, its applications include integrating and communicating with other programming languages.

Although they share a similar name, JavaScript and the popular Java programming language aren't the same things. Here's a side-by-side look at some of the technical similarities and differences:

JavaScript Java
Technical description Object-based scripting language Object-oriented programming language
Uses include Creating interactive websites and apps; front-end and back-end development Creating desktop, mobile apps, games, and servers; can also run machines
Features include Widely adopted and runs live in all major web browsers Secure, with good isolation from the device it's running on
Advantages Works on nearly any modern digital device that has a web browser Platform independence; can move between systems
Disadvantages May behave differently depending on the browser, requiring workarounds Slow performance; requires a lot of memory, which in turn, requires more powerful hardware

Origin of JavaScript

The origins of JavaScript are quite impressive: Brendan Eich created JavaScript in 1995 in a mere ten days. He was 34 and working at Netscape at the time.

Of course, technology was at a different point of evolution nearly 30 years ago. Back then, Netscape was one of the leading web browsers. Developers worked to keep up with interest in web-based applications and technologies.

Initially called Mocha, then LiveScript, JavaScript was developed as a language that would complement Java and appeal to beginner programmers. Netscape was also competing with Microsoft's Visual Basic programming language. JavaScript became an ECMA standard in 1997. The name 'JavaScript' was adopted for marketing purposes.

Reflecting on the history of JavaScript, Eich acknowledged that its development "was also an incredible rush job, so there were mistakes in it. Something that I think is important about it is that I knew there would be mistakes, and there would be gaps, so I made it very malleable as a language."

Eich stayed with Netscape after creating his new language. That company evolved into Mozilla, which is best known for its Firefox web browser. He later became Mozilla's chief technology officer and briefly served as CEO. He voluntarily left his position in 2014.

In a 2022 interview, Eich lamented that "online advertising evolved into a surveillance system that loots users of the value from their attention … and enables malware distribution through ad exchanges."

Eich said those unanticipated negatives were "not an intended outcome of our work in the '90s at Netscape with cookies and JavaScript."

Eich's more recent projects include creating the privacy-focused Brave browser and Basic Attention Token.

History of JavaScript Versions

JavaScript, like all languages, digital or otherwise, continues to evolve. Here's a brief overview of JavaScript's version history and how this programming language has changed.

ECMAScript 1 — ECMAScript 3

The first edition was released in 1997. Versions 2 and 3, in 1998 and 1999, added editorial changes and a handful of functions, including do-while. That function runs a code block at least once and repeats it if the conditions for the code remain true.

ECMAScript 4

This version was developed but never actually released. Initially developed in 1999, it was planned for release in 2008. It included new features that addressed shortcomings in previous versions.

However, this version of the programming language generated controversy. One possible reason is that the updates made this version backward-incompatible. Lacking browser vendor support, this update was abandoned.

ECMAScript 5

Released in 2009, this version was the first major revision in JavaScript history.

ECMAScript 2015

In 2015, JavaScript versions began to be named by year. Released in 2015, this was JavaScript's second major revision.

ECMAScript 2016

The rollout of updates continued in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

ECMAScript 2022

In June 2022, the ECMA approved the specifications for ECMAScript 2022. It's the 13th edition to JavaScript standards.

The Future of JavaScript

Despite the fact that it's almost 30 years old, JavaScript is likely to stay relevant for years to come. Industry observers point to several factors that will keep this programming language at the forefront of tech development. Here's why:

  • Check Circle
    JavaScript powers the internet. Unsure? We suggest a little test: disable JavaScript in your browser and take note of how much different your online experience is without this technology.
  • Check Circle
    Although it's an old language by tech standards, JavaScript uses continue evolving to meet modern needs. It's simple enough for beginners but powerful enough for advanced professionals.
  • Check Circle
    JavaScript has good third-party support, like libraries and frameworks. It works well in a variety of applications.

On the other hand, JavaScript does have some limitations. As a result, some people predict that another programming language may eventually become the leading programming language:

  • X Circle
    JavaScript can only perform one task at a time — it's not designed for complex tasks.
  • X Circle
    JavaScript's constant evolution can make it difficult to maintain apps and cause more bugs.
  • X Circle
    Users can view JavaScript code, which is a potential security and privacy concern.

Frequently Asked Questions About JavaScript

What type of language is JavaScript?

JavaScript, or JS for short, is a type of programming language. More specifically, it's a type of scripting language. Scripting languages enable complex web page functions. The functions include the ability to control web page multimedia, animations, and dropdown menus.

JavaScript also is used to build front and back-end web apps, mobile apps, and simple in-browser games. Along with HTML and CSS, JavaScript is industry-standard web technology.

Is JavaScript easy to learn?

Most people can become proficient in JavaScript in 6-9 months. If you're familiar with another programming language, you may find JavaScript easier to learn. On the other hand, you may need more time to become comfortable and familiar with JavaScript if it's the first programming language you're learning.

Also, consider this: JavaScript allows you to work on your own time. You can write complex lines of JavaScript code in fragments, then immediately test what you did in a web browser.

Where can I learn JavaScript online?

Many free and paid online resources exist to help you learn JavaScript. They include:

  • Introduction to JavaScript by FreeCodeCamp (free)
  • Learn JavaScript by Codecademy (free or paid)
  • The JavaScript Guide by Mozilla (free)
  • Modern JavaScript from the Beginning on Udemy (paid)
  • The Complete Guide to Modern JavaScript on Educative (paid)

Feature Image: ispain / E+ / Getty Images