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The History of JavaScript: Everything You Need to Know

JavaScript was becoming not only the de facto language of the web, but was now being used to construct desktop-style products like Gmail and Google Maps.

In 2008, the creation of Google’s open-source Chrome V8, a high-performance JavaScript engine, provided a crucial turning point for JavaScript.

The subsequent proliferation of fast JavaScript engines made it possible for developers to build sophisticated browser-based applications with performance that competed with desktop and mobile applications.

History of JavaScript - V8 JavaScript engine

V8 JavaScript engine

ES5 (a more modest update than the ill-fated ES4, and originally named ES3.1) was released in 2009, and the Ecma community once again piled on a wishlist of new JavaScript features for ES6.

This resulted in another protracted consensus process, spanning an interminable six years, and practically doubled the size of ECMAScript.

Soon after, Ryan Dahl released an open-source, cross-platform environment called Node.js.

It provided a way to run JavaScript code from outside a browser. It freed JavaScript from the browser’s confines and led directly to JavaScript’s current popularity.

Today, you can use JavaScript to write all kinds of applications, including browser, server, mobile, and desktop applications. .

History of JavaScript - Ryan Dahl

Ryan Dahl

Most major online companies today, including Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Google, all use JavaScript in their products.

2015 and arrival of ES6

By 2015, JavaScript was an integral part of the web, the heart of cutting-edge browser applications.

Development teams were pushing the envelope with a bevy of frameworks and techniques to fill gaps in JavaScript’s capabilities, and the committee in charge of the Ecma standardization process recognized that the community was moving faster than a six-year release cycle could satisfy. A new system was needed.

The new system allows features to be proposed, researched, and ratified in parallel. Every year, Ecma releases whichever features are deemed ready.

ES6 was officially published as ES2015, and since then, ES2016, ES2017, ES2018, ES2019 and ES2020 have delivered only incremental changes, with continuous support from browser vendors.

JavaScript Today

From its slightly rocky start, JavaScript has risen to be the most popular programming language in the world. According to GitHub’s 2020 Octoverse report, there are more JavaScript code repositories than any other language—and that number is steadily on the rise.

History of JavaScript - GitHub Octoverse report

A series of JavaScript frameworks and libraries, such as Ember, Angular, React, and Vue, have been developed to allow powerful and complicated web applications to be written using small teams within short time spans.

Alongside client and server software, it is now even possible to write native mobile apps using JavaScript. Unsurprisingly, this is becoming increasingly popular due to the ability to share code between the worlds of mobile and web.

With all this choice, it’s somewhat understandable that there has also been a movement toward a more grassroots, “vanilla” implementation of JavaScript.

Web components, small reusable custom browser elements, are the latest challenger aiming to be the next breakthrough in the JavaScript world.

Whatever the next big thing is, it’s clear that JavaScript is going to be with us for many years to come.

JavaScript and WebAssembly

The explosion of libraries, frameworks and general development that was sparked since ECMAScript 5 was released has made JavaScript an interesting target for other languages.

For big codebases, interoperability is key. Take games for instance. The lingua-franca for game development is still C++, and it is portable to many architectures.

Porting a Windows or console game to the browser was seen as an insurmountable task. However, the incredible performance of current JIT JavaScript virtual machines made this possible. Thus things like Emscripten, a LLVM-to-JavaScript compiler, were born.

Mozilla saw this and started working on making JavaScript a suitable target for compilers. Asm.js was born.

Asm.js is a strict subset of JavaScript that is ideal as a target for compilers. JavaScript virtual machines can be optimized to recognize this subset and produce even better code than is currently possible in normal JavaScript code.

Sunil Pradhan

Hi there 👋 My name is Sunil and I'm a front-end developer who loves to help others by simplifying web-dev related topics.

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Sunil Pradhan

Hi there 👋 My name is Sunil and I'm a front-end developer who loves to help others by simplifying web-dev related topics.