JavaScript 20 Years Old Today
Friday, 15 May 2015

Brendan Eich reports that he thinks it was the week of May 6th to May 15th 1995 when he worked on Mocha the language which was to be renamed JavaScript.

Happy 20th Birthday JavaScript!




Who could have predicted that a strange little scripting language designed to let beginners add some action to web pages would become the language that threatens to dominate the world. 

JavaScript started out as an in browser scripting language - something like Visual Basic for the web. You probably already know the brief history of JavaScript. It was a rush job. Brendan Eich was asked to produce a scripting language for Netscape. Instead of going in the obvious direction and implement something that looked like Basic or Java, he went in another direction altogether. The language was originally called Mocha and it was a language that was functional and object-oriented where functions were first class objects and objects were associative arrays or hashes depending on your terminology.

This made his language different and misunderstood, a status it retains to this very day - after 20 years of use.

When it was first released it was renamed LiveScript, but then it was renamed yet again to JavaScript. The reason for the name change was to cash in on the popularity of the Java language. But, as any programmer knows or should know, the languages have nothing in common and JavaScript is not a scripting version of Java. 

From here we all know how things have progressed. What is perhaps surprising is that JavaScript wasn't a key technology for a long time. It took the development of the Web app to turn it from something used to animate web pages into full programming language capable of being used for large programs. Only comparatively recently has there been a move to use JavaScript on the server side - see Node.js

JavaScript is not only a client and server side language it is also regarded as the assembly language of the web - or a subset called asm.js is. By compiling C/C++ to asm.js programs run at speeds that are acceptable for native code programs. 

Even though JavaScript is so universal it is far from universally loved. Many programmers regard it as a substandard language because it has quirks and most importantly because it is not a strongly typed, class-based language. While it is true that there are some things that JavaScript doesn't get right, its approach to object-oriented function code is refreshing and some programmers think that it is superior to strongly typed code. 

JavaScript is still developing and EcmaScript 6, or rather EcmaScript 2015, is about to be released. Why is JavaScript standardized under a different name? See JavaScript The Language With Two Names for the full story. 

Finally May 15th might not be the correct date. The truth is that Brendan Eich can't quite remember. He thinks the dates might be May 6-15th but this is based on a calendar. He no longer has the original Mocha source code and asks if anyone else has a copy that might have dates in the comment fields. 

I wonder what JavaScript will look like in another 20 years. 




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Last Updated ( Friday, 15 May 2015 )