Alive and well

Is JavaScript still relevant?

Shusetsu Toda
© Shutterstock / FlashMovie

The question of JavaScript’s continued relevance, having first appeared in 1995, finds an answer in its continued popularity, its ease of access, and of course adaptability as a programming language. In this article, Shusetsu Toda explains why JavaScript is alive and well and what role it has in blockchain’s journey into the mainstream.

JavaScript (JS) is alive and well. Those who would suggest otherwise have clearly overlooked the programming language’s continued popularity among developers and the inherent characteristics which have led to its widespread use.

Not only is JavaScript one of the most well-known programming languages globally – it is the most regularly used multi-platform language by developers. The popularity it enjoys shows no sign of decreasing, with 29% of developers either beginning or continuing to learn the language in 2018. The reasons for JavaScript’s popularity are clear – once a developer can code in basic JavaScript, the potential for them to create across a variety of platforms increases substantially. The potential to use the programming language as a basis for creating new applications will only further compound its usefulness as important new technologies, including blockchain, enter more and more into the mainstream.

Furthermore, a working knowledge of JavaScript is a virtual necessity to design anything for the web as a result of its large community support and pre-existing frameworks and libraries. The question of JavaScript’s continued relevance, having first appeared in 1995, finds an answer in its continued popularity, its ease of access, and of course adaptability as a programming language.

JavaScript, Java – As similar as “ham” and “hamsters”

Despite JavaScript’s ubiquity with web design and its popularity with developers of every level, it is often confused with an unrelated programming language, Java. These two languages were designed to serve entirely different purposes and differ significantly from one another as a result. For example, while Java is considered a compiled programming language and uses static type checking, JavaScript is an interpreted scripting language and uses dynamic type checking. There is a common joke which claims that these differences make Java and JavaScript about as similar as “ham” and “hamsters” – their similarity is largely confined to their name!

JavaScript’s primary strength, which has ensured its consistent popularity with developers and promises continued relevance well into the future, is its universality as a programming language. This pervasiveness is a product of JavaScript’s highly flexible nature, which allows for the creation of websites and servers, as well as mobile and desktop applications. Using React, AngularJS, Node.js, React Native, Electron, and others, these applications can be built for multiple platforms with one language. JavaScript serves as the de facto language of the internet, with virtually all browsers supporting it. Unlike C++ or Java, JavaScript has no build setup required, making it far easier for developers to jump in and create interesting applications – this has led to continued uptake of the language over time, with many developers attracted by its widespread usability within most applications and platforms.

The sustained growth in JavaScript’s popularity since its inception has had a cyclical effect, with new developers attracted to the language as a result of its pre-existing popularity and resultant large ecosystem. JavaScript enjoys one of the largest ecosystems of any programming language, with a lot of open source projects and enterprises making use of it. This is visible in the 2.3 million pull requests open on GitHub for JavaScript and the fact that npm, the package manager for JavaScript, is the world’s largest software registry. The existence of a large community and ecosystem using and improving JavaScript means that many of the pitfalls of the programming language have been effectively addressed over time. For example, the JavaScript developer community works towards achieving and making practicable certain industry standards – this has led to the creation of useful development tools such as code syntax checkers, including JavaScriptLint, which was released in 2002, and ESLint, launched in 2013.

The result of the active engagement of JavaScript’ large user base in improving and adapting the language to new functionalities, new expectations, and new industry standards has resulted in the constant improvement of the language over time. Efforts by members of the development community to continuously improve JavaScript as a programming language are supported by industry leaders and associations. The Ecma International (European Computer Manufacturers Association) adopted the first edition of ECMA-262 in June 1997, less than two years after JavaScript was first launched as a scripting language. ECMA-262 was created to standardize JavaScript in an effort to foster multiple independent implementations. It has been repeatedly updated to provide the best guidelines for scripting languages, with its 8th Edition finalised in June 2017. This continuous improvement over time has led to JavaScript maintaining a versatility and applicability over time while creating and maintaining industry standards which benefit software development everywhere.

JavaScript’s role in blockchain’s journey into the mainstream

JavaScript’s universality and flexibility, combined with its continuous improvement over time, leaves it well-positioned to serve as a basis upon which to build new applications and platforms. This becomes increasingly important as new technologies, including blockchain, mature and enter increasingly into the mainstream. The use of JavaScript to build new technological applications will lead to the easier integration of these technologies into the existing tech sector while making them accessible to the existing developer community.

SEE ALSO: Mastering blockchain: Meet Lisk, a blockchain platform for JavaScript developers

Rather than reinventing the wheel, it would seem far wiser for future developers to leverage the current position of JavaScript as a universal programming language to make new technologies accessible and adaptable to the existing technological ecosystem; this could be done through the development of committed tools and development kits which can assist those who can code in JavaScript already in developing new applications, such as decentralized blockchain-based apps or IoT applications. Such development tools would go a long way in making nascent technologies, such as blockchain, accessible for the developer community.

As a result of the popularity of Javascript among developers, its ubiquity with web development, its large ecosystem and resultant improvements to the language over time, its continued relevance in 2018 as a leading programming language is beyond doubt. The fact that JavaScript is perfectly positioned to serve as a bridge between old and new technologies, including increasingly popular blockchain applications, will ensure that it maintains its relevance well into the future. Rather than ask the question as to whether JavaScript is still relevant, we should be asking how to improve and adapt the language moving forward; we should be thinking of it as the future.

JavaScript is alive and well, and this shows no sign of changing.


Shusetsu Toda

Shusetsu grew up between Japan, the US and Canada. He’s held a number of roles in the past, including Software Engineer and CEO. He has experience in JavaScript, TypeScript, Go, JAVA, C++, C# and PHP. Creating and providing products with great user experience has always been at the core of his career; he has released mobile games as well as services and business tools. Shusetsu sees Lisk as a world-changing product as well as a platform to help developers change the world. As a developer himself, he is looking forward to building services on Lisk. He is fluent in three languages and the proud owner of two cats, Ray and Rex. Shusetsu holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of British Columbia.

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1 Comment on "Is JavaScript still relevant?"

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JS has come a long way since the 90’s and to my amazement people are using it for other purposes, like blockchain. I personally don’t see why this would not work, after all other languages such as Java made the jump to artificial intelligence, something no one would have guess five years ago. It’s more common to see that jump from languages such as Python and R.