Home Developers: The Future of JavaScript Is in Your Hands

Developers: The Future of JavaScript Is in Your Hands

A few different themes emerged over the course of the JSConf this week: that JavaScript is growing up, the need for a JavaScript core, the value of modules over frameworks and the continued debate over native apps vs. Web apps. But the most potent theme, hiding beneath the surface of many talks was made explicit by CoffeeScript creator Jeremy Ashkenas: “JavaScript is too important to be left to the experts.”

Too important because JavaScript has become essential to the Web, through AJAX, mobile application development, server side scripting and more. The Web, Ashkenas says, is the most important invention of the past two decades, and JavaScript is a fundamental part of it. By experts, he means the companies and organizations that make browsers and the standards committees that develop language specs.

Official decisions about JavaScript are made by the Ecma Technical Committe 39 (TC39) at Ecma International, a non-profit standards organization. JavaScript is actually an implementation of EcmaScript. The next version of JavaScript is referred to as Harmony, or JS.next. How those changes are implemented, however, is left to decisions made by Microsoft, Google, Apple, The Mozilla Foundation and others.

Ashkenas shared the stage with JavaScript creator Brendan Eich. In his blog post summarizing the presentation, Eich wrote “JS developers sometimes seem afraid of the future, specifically of what browser vendors and Ecma TC39 might do to them!”

Eich detailed many aspects of CoffeeScript being considered for Harmony. Why is it that CoffeeScript is exerting so much influence on JavaScript? Because CoffeeScript takes ideas for how JavaScript could be better and puts them out there into the world where developers can play with them and decide what’s best. Ashkenas didn’t just complain about JavaScript’s syntax – he built a whole new syntax and let developers see how they liked it.

“We are advocating that you all help build a better JS on JS, which then becomes standardized as JS.next,” Eich wrote.

The better way is a dialog between JS developers, especially natural leaders among them such as @jashkenas, and TC39 members.

This won’t involve “scientific polling”. There’s no substitute for nice judgment and (ultimately) sound language design theory and practice. But the experts must also learn from the users, who’ve moved mountains on their own over the last ten years. And users, meaning JS developers, should step up to this dialog and away from fear and passivity.

In other words, the best way for developers to have a role in shaping JavaScript is to build the features they’d like to see and release them into the world. One way to do this may be by creating languages that compile into JavaScript, like CoffeeScript. Other ways to do this is include creating libraries and modules.

In a blog post that formed the basis for her JSConf presentation, Rebecca Murphey wrote: “As a community, we need to agree on a core set of functionality that ought to be provided by the language but isn’t, and implement that itself as an interchangeable module.”

CoffeeScript and Google’s “transcompiler” (transpiler) Traceur lead Josh Peek to tweet: “Takeaway of #jsconf: JS compilers/transpilers are the future. Coding in regular JS is going to be like not using a framework.”

That might be going a little far, but one thing is clear: the way to influence JavaScript’s future is to build the features you’d like to see yourself.

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