What is JavaScript used for and how it changed over the years?

In one of my previous articles, I showed how the web development industry and the whole approach to software development changed over the years. Even though it’s been only 2 years ago so many things have changed that I decided to write a separate article focusing on JavaScript instead of refreshing a previous one. Presenting the whole history and a range of this programming language usages can take a few blog posts but I will try to remark only the most crucial issues. 

JavaScript milestones 

But let’s start from the very beginning. Literally. JavaScript was developed by Brendan Eich in 1995 and it took him...10 days to implement it in the Netscape Navigator 2.0 browser. The main goal was to make websites more interactive and enhance user experience. Well, it has more than worked out as JavaScript grew rapidly and disrupted the web development industry. It made a huge buzz with free open source scripts as well as with sparkling stars, clocks and some other annoying, gaudy and useless thingamajigs. It also intrigued with its name which actually has nothing in common with Java even though today’s JavaScript did take its leading attribute - cross-platform development. JavaScript also took over StackOverflow as the greatest amount of questions appearing on this website concerns JS. 

Source: Global App Testing

What else influenced to the JavaScript wide usage? It would probably be AJAX - revolutionary, cutting edge technology developed in 2005 by Microsoft. Since the Redmond giant implemented XMLHttpRequest feature in their Internet Explorer scripts has gained the ability to download data from servers and update HTML document without the need of waiting to fully reload the website. Other IT companies followed Microsoft’s footsteps and immediately implemented the feature to their solutions. The asynchronous communication resulted in the start of the highly interactive apps like Google Maps or Gmail but also revealing weak points of JavaScript’s implementation to the browsers. Google came with their own answer to these problems and created their new browser and interpreter V8. It compiles JavaScript to machine code instead of interpreting it in real-time. The solution boosted the effectiveness of this programming language and made it even more attractive for software developers. 

What is JavaScript used for nowadays? 

Server-based solutions 

The JavaScript development brought to the invention of node.js based on V8 engine in 2009. From that moment it was possible to run JS in almost all platforms and the software development community has made great and extensive usage of it. This way JavaScript has begun to replace in many cases previous server solutions, especially for real-time apps in which data are uploaded two-way and no need of reconnecting to the server.   

Website, web and mobile app development

It’s hard to imagine any website working without JavaScript nowadays and the same started to concern also applications. This programming language gained ground in web app development mostly because of great frameworks like React and Angular and the popularity of Single-Page Applications (SPA). Moreover, JavaScript has moved beyond web browser’s environment a long time ago. Today, most mobile devices are able to run JavaScript applications even in the native way. That’s because of spreading the utilization of cross-platform app development with React Native - JS framework created by Facebook which empowers to create mobile-like solutions. Using React Native makes software development easier, cheaper and faster as JavaScript ensures adjusting the code to different platforms. Isn’t that great? And there are other JS solutions which support building the apps and games based entirely on web technologies like Electron or nw.js. A lot of apps e.g. Slack or Visual Studio Code are nothing else than websites run in Chromium without standard GUI browser. 

Operating systems 

Yes! Jeff Atwood StackOverflow founder has once said that

If something can be written in JavaScript then it will be written in JavaScript.

And it’s hard not to agree with that all the more since the Firefox OS appeared and widely used JS in its environment. Although it didn’t succeed and it’s not developed anymore it showed JavaScript possibilities. This potential may burgeone with the expand of Progressive Web Apps (PWA). They are run not in the browser but directly within the system in which they’ve been installed and are treated like a true system apps. 

3D technologies, VR solutions, Games 

Due to WebGL application software developers gained the ability to create three dimensional objects in the browser window. Even Microsoft has lately released a fully fledged, classic version of Minecraft for web browsers. The efficiency of JavaScript engines will definitely amaze us more and more if you look at the 3D high-quality lifelike visualizations made at present. The same consider Virtual Reality, which seemed like distant and futuristic, today is available for every JavaScript developer with WebVR and every other person can play with virtual reality by using smartphone and Google Cardboard and not splurge on it. 

Where else can you meet JavaScript? 

I will probably not surprise you but almost everywhere. Not only in a smartphone or a computer but also other devices like Smart TVs. I must admit I was pretty astonished when JavaScript error appeared on my TV when I wanted to turn on the YouTube app on it. I discovered that it was nothing more than a fabricated website you can run by entering a particular address. And JS goes so much further today. Your every walk is like a trip through the JavaScript projects as you probably pass outdoor LED/LCD displays and indoor touchscreens (e.g. in the malls) which serve digital signage. You will also meet JS in Merixstudio office and not only on developers’ computers. We implemented it (node.js namely) in our booking IoT system for meeting rooms - Chamberlain

Hard to believe all these happened within the programming language created in a little bit more than a week, huh? 


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