JavaScript History: Why Does It So Popular For Web Development?

Feb 13, 2023

When it comes to programming languages whose main specialization is the usability and interactivity of web pages, JavaScript comes to mind first.

JavaScript (JS) is a programming language used to write the frontend and backend of websites and mobile applications. It is a high-level programming language with clear and well-readable code. At the time of JS creation, the key objective was to simplify the interaction process with content on web pages. In contrast, now it can be used to create applications, program microcontrollers, and implement widget functions intelligently. In this article, we want to discuss the development of JavaScript applications.

JavaScript (JS) appearance

In 1995, the JavaScript language was created in a wild rush and on a brief with mutually exclusive paragraphs. Over the next quarter century, JS reflected in its history the entire path of frontend development.

It first became a weapon in (and hostage to) the browser war. It then caused a major division among standardizes - people who assumed that all the rules and mechanisms of the Web would be formed behind closed doors. At the same time, it became a breeding ground for a community of developers who created tools and changed them to suit their needs without waiting for instructions from above.

As a result, JavaScript has become a "living standard" that shapes, expands, and builds community within organizations, marking a corporate U-turn toward developers, openness, and cooperation.

ECMAScript appearance

The first big change for JavaScript after its release was the standardization of the ECMA. The ECMA was founded in 1961 to standardize information and communication systems.

Work on standardizing JavaScript started in November 1996. The standard that the TC-39 group was working on was given the identification number ECMA-262. By then, JavaScript was in active use on many Web pages.

Standardization was not only a major step for the young language but also a major challenge. It opened up JavaScript to a larger audience and gave third-party developers a chance to participate in the development of the language. It also helped keep other developers within the standards. There was a fear that Microsoft might deviate too much from the original language implementation, which could lead to fragmentation.

Because of trademark problems, ECMA could not use JavaScript as a name. After a brief debate, it was decided that the programming language described by the standard would be called ECMAScript. Today JavaScript is just a commercial name for ECMAScript.

JavaScript development during browser war

At its peak, the browser war raged violently, except that no one was killed. For example, the Netscape Navigator website had a "Setting the Record Straight" page about Microsoft's lies about their browser. Microsoft had its page about Netscape's lies. Marc Andreessen insulted Microsoft products in interviews, and the product manager of the IE team hung his portraits in the hallways to energize developers with rage for overtime.

This war also had an official announcement. On December 7, 1995, six months after sending out his "The Internet Tidal Wave" circular, Gates held a press conference on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He even inserted the words "the sleeping giant is awake" into his speech.

Actually, it was cool at first. While Netscape was sitting lonely on Mount Olympus, Marc Andreessen simply told people: "We invented a cool thing; now it's the standard". So Netscape unilaterally introduced <table> and <frame> tags, cookies, SSL certificates, URL Query requests, and JavaScript.

There were a lot of strange solutions at that time. For example, ActiveX technology. Here a call in the <object> tag automatically downloaded and ran the code on the user's PC with all the rights. At first, the only protection against malicious scripts was simply an honest word: each subscriber with an ActiveX authorization key (cost: $20 a year) promised not to write malicious programs.

AJAX grew out of a typical feature: the XMLHttpRequest function. Microsoft unilaterally shoved it into IE5 in 1999 as part of the infamous ActiveX technology. ActiveX has since died, but this function has become very popular and included in all browsers. Now it even has a separate standard!

The most popular competitor's innovations had to be copied, but the copies needed to be more accurate. This is how JScript (an analog of JavaScript) appeared with small but insidious differences from the SpiderMonkey engine in the Netscape browser (differences in DOM handling, conditional compiling, etc.).

One of the most unpleasant situations of the browser war era occurred when the DOM split in two. This model grew out of the first built-in JavaScript library but has become another weapon in the fight.

In 1997 Microsoft and Netscape attempted to implement Dynamic HTML simultaneously by extending the DOM model (the so-called intermediate DOM: with document.layers for Netscape and document.all for Microsoft). At the time, Dynamic HTML was all anyone could talk about, and Microsoft was already clearly nipping at Netscape's heels. Apparently, it was a desperate attempt to secure a promising technology and snatch victory from the enemy.

Website developers suffered from all this. They had to constantly tweak their websites to fit two different, constantly updated browsers with different tags, rendering, JavaScript engines, and even two different DOM implementations.

NodeJS appearance in JS life

Since Javascript came along, there have been attempts to use Javascript for the backend. For example, Netscape tried to do something similar with Netscape Livewire. However, those attempts were unsuccessful.

Around 2004, when the first waves of Web 2.0 rolled in, Javascript began to gain more popularity due to the trends of the modern web experience. Since Javascript was (and still is) the most common client-side programming language, browsers competed to create the most optimized Javascript engines for better performance. One such engine was Chrome V8, which was later used to create Node.js. As a result of this momentum, Javascript blossomed along with the V8 engine.

In 2009, in the right place at the right time, Node.js was born. It was created by engineer Ryan Dahl and sponsored by Joyent. He used Chrome`s V8 engine to create a platform with a low-level non-blocking I/O model built on an event-driven model.

Since 2009, the development of Node.js has been rapidly on the rise. Despite competition from pioneers like PHP and Advance Java, Node.js has become the preferred server-side choice for many applications today, thanks to its asynchronous I/O, event-driven architecture, lightweight, speed, scalability, and using the most popular programming language (Javascript).

Today Node.js servers are used in production for applications and companies that serve hundreds of millions of users worldwide - Netflix, Linkedin, Microsoft, GoDaddy, Paypal, and many others. Node's package manager (NPM) logs billions of downloads every week.

Why TypeScript appeared?

In 2010, developers felt that applications were becoming very complex and the capabilities of the latest ECMAScript were lacking: code constantly crashes with errors, most often related to data types. JavaScript uses dynamic typing, meaning that the type of variables can change during code execution. JavaScript became a source of errors with a large codebase and multiple developers. The new JS specification would appear only in five years, but at that time, it was too difficult to write supported and reliable code.

That is why the Microsoft team began the development of a new tool - TypeScript. The project was led by the legendary Anders Hejlsberg, the man who created Turbo Pascal, Delphi, and C#.

Developers use TypeScript to write, refactor, and maintain the code base more easily. It is an add-on to JavaScript that adds strict typing. It is strict because it immediately warns the developer of an error at the compilation stage. With dynamic typing of JS, the instruction will execute, and the programmer is likely to miss the error.

Simply put, if developers are working with strings, TypeScript won't let them suddenly jump to numbers or objects. Adding strict typing is like a contract where everyone agrees to use only the specified type. When a project is large, overwriting data types and mishandling them is the cause of 20% of code bugs.

All TypeScript features only affect development and do not increase the final product's functionality in any way. JS developers will feel incredibly relieved to have TypeScript plugged in: finally, they can protect themselves from the uncertainty of JavaScript. TypeScript actively supports functional programming as well.

TypeScript works wherever JavaScript works and is available for all of its libraries and frameworks. It is very easy to use. It supports many libraries. Angular is one of the largest JS frameworks that use TypeScript.

Today, not all major IT companies use TypeScript in their work. For example, GitLab, GitHub, and Netflix work without TypeScript. And some experiments even show that introducing TypeScript into a project where there are already good engineering practices slows things down without any visible benefits.

We also recommend you read our article about 5 fintech trends in 2023.

Why JavaScript websites required server-side-render (SSR)?

In the early days of the Web, there were only static pages, nothing dynamically generated. Ordinary, pre-created, static HTML documents were sent to the client. When a user went to a website, a simple HTTP request went to the server, and then it responded with a markup that was displayed in the browser.

Later it became possible to use dynamic rendering and build templates for the markup. These templates allowed developers to fill the information sent to the client with HTML. Each HTTP request went through the server side of the website and collected the necessary data. For example, this made it possible to add user names, current dates, data from a database, and more.

This was the original Server Side Rendering. The client (browser) asked the server to display the necessary HTML, which was generated on the server and then displayed in the browser.

With AJAX, we got an opportunity to request data asynchronously without reloading the whole page. From a UX point of view, it was a huge improvement - no more annoying page flickers, but it made us move towards Client Side Rendering (CSR). Various libraries and frameworks began to simplify frontend work. One of the most popular libraries was JQuery, but it was not a full-fledged tool for CSR.

Then came React, Angular, and Vue, thanks to which developers finally got to know full-fledged Client Side Rendering (CSR). These three technologies use a component approach and allow developers to break down the markup into smaller and reusable parts. As a result, all the generation of HTML occurs precisely on the frontend. The backend is used only for complex calculations, working with databases, etc.

Because of their ability to easily generate client-side markup, SPAs have gained enormous popularity. Unfortunately, this approach has also led to several potential problems.

First, there was the problem of search engine optimization. Since Google's search engine crawlers read and index websites, it was necessary to give content and markup information from the server. This approach generated everything on the client side. Back then, search engines weren't yet able to process information generated this way. All the robot could see was an empty HTML root tag.

The situation is somewhat better now because many search engine crawlers have learned to perform the necessary JavaScript code for Client Side Rendering. Nevertheless, the result of such indexing still leaves much to be desired.

Second, performance is a potential problem. As the page rendering in the browser requires a lot of JavaScript to be executed, the application can freeze up. This is especially noticeable on older mobile devices.

To solve these problems, developers have revisited the idea of server-side-rendering. However, unlike the old approach where markup was generated on the server using server-side programming languages such as PHP, the current SSR uses modern JavaScript libraries such as React.

The only difference is that the application will generate markup with React on the server side. This solution was aimed at fixing existing performance and SEO problems.

JavaScript development (JS) today

The most popular use of JS is web development and filling complex websites with interactive content, but its use is more comprehensive than this. JavaScript is also suitable for developing the backend. The advantages of JS:

  • High speed
  • Reduced load on the server
  • Ease of use
  • Rich interface
  • Remarkable versatility
  • Extended functionality
  • Interoperability
  • High popularity
  • Platform independence
  • Powerful frameworks
  • Procedural programming features
  • Quick response to user activity
  • Constant updates
  • Solid history & vast growth potential

The key insight from GitHub’s Octoverse 2022 report - JavaScript became a leader by default in the category of the most used programming languages, topping the list in 2022 as well. 3 hottest news from the JavaScript world:

  • Rome v10. It is expected to become a suitable, all-in-one replacement for popular front-end tools such as a compiler, bundler, testing framework, etc. It comes with built-in support for JavaScript and TypeScript.
  • TypeScript 5.0 Beta. This version of TS comes with many upgrades for coding and control flow analysis. Upgrades include the ability to run other code before super(), index interference enhancements, recursion depth check improvements, and more. Apart from that, we expect notable performance improvements.
  • Deno 1.29.1. Ryan Dahl team continues working hard on their project designed to become a suitable alternative to Node.js. The recent update aims to help this promising runtime to become much better in npm compatibility.

JS and TS are actively continuing to evolve. This led to the fact that the browser can be almost the only program on the computer.

MaybeWorks expertise in JavaScript web development

Developing and filling websites is necessary to simplify the visitor's perception. The introduction of animations, graphics, pop-up prompts, and page recommendations seriously simplify website navigation. JS features on your online store can increase the likelihood of buying a service or product.

Developing websites with JavaScript increases the likelihood of success because no other suitable toolkit for this task does not exist except for Dart by Google. It is called JavaScript killer but has low popularity now. The last project where we assisted in JavaScript development was a marketplace for local restaurants. It allows them to present themselves and use its delivery services.

Our client hired several BE developers for solid logic development and setting up the DB structure. They worked with NodeJS, PostgreSQL, Swagger, and Jest. MaybeWorks backend developers:

  • Developed a monolithic API for the main web application, admin panel, and mobile application using the fastify library for NodeJS and the PostgreSQL + PostGIS database for working with geographical objects
  • Created documentation for API using Swagger
  • Designed and created new tables and relationships in the database using migrations
  • Wrote unit tests using the Jest framework
  • Integrated with Doordash and Relay (delivery as a service (DaaS) providers)
  • Integrated third-party API of Google Maps and Auth0

Thanks to the team`s augmentation with MaybeWorks backend developers, an exciting platform for ordering plant-based meals from the best restaurants in the neighborhood was delivered on time.

We are constantly following JavaScript (JS) development trends and have been accompanying this programming language since the first versions of JQuery. We are aware of JS events and updates and create our own solutions on Nest/React/Angular technologies.

Feel free to contact us to discuss our JavaScript web app development assistance.

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