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Behind Google’s “JavaScript killer” Dart

ElliotBentley
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“It’s much harder to do a language than a virtual machine,” Dart co-founder Lars Bak has admitted.

Having been announced to equal fanfare and derision, client-side web language Google Dart has been bubbling away quietly since October 2011.

With a 1.0 release on the horizon, one of the architects of the “JavaScript killer” has spoken about the ambitious attempt to displace one of the world’s most popular languages.

In a long interview with The Register, Dart co-founder Lars Bak outlined some of the challenges of developing – and encouraging use of – the new language, which was originally known as Dash. Previously, Bak was best known for producing Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine, generally considered to have spurred an arms race among browsers competing for the title of fastest JS engine.

“I have learned it’s much harder to do a language than a virtual machine,” Bak told The Register. “People are extremely opinionated when doing a language [...] I have learned that you have to do it properly.”

Cynicism is the first hurdle for a new language: “The initial reaction to doing another programming language is people say: ‘We have one that’s sufficient’. Change can be hard for some people.”

Then there’s the problem of trying to satisfy all users of the language. Though admitting that some might “expect more complex constructs” from Dart, Bak said his priority is to “make it easy for ordinary programmers” – “to make it simple so people can use it in an hour”.

Although Dart can compile directly to JavaScript, the project’s ultimate aim is to run within the browser – which means convincing other browser manufacturers to support it. Despite Dart’s performance gains over JavaScript, Google’s control over the language might unsettle Chrome’s rivals.

“This is not taking anything away from JavaScript,” insisted Bak, who said that innovation was needed “with the mobile ecosystem”.

Not yet on the cards is the possibility of Dart making a Node.js-style leap onto the server side, especially as it would be in direct competition with Go, another recent Google language. Go has fared better so far in the real world, deployed in several internal Google projects.

Last month, days before Christmas, the developers released the language’s second milestone, the headline feature of which was far smaller JavaScript output of dart2js. Bak says they hope to release a 1.0 version by the summer.

For Dart to become more than another Google pet project, it will need to truly prove its worth over JavaScript: something even the mighty search giant may struggle with.

Photo by Bogdan Suditu.

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