The Origin and Evolution of JavaScript

From starting as a language meant to validate forms in browsers, to becoming the most popular programming language in the world, JavaScript has come a long way. However, it had humble beginnings at Netscape, a company whose members would eventually form Mozilla, the makers of Firefox.


The unofficial logo for JavaScript used by the community.

The unofficial logo for JavaScript


The Need for JavaScript

Back in 1995, only static web pages existed. This meant that pages did not have any dynamic behavior, such as changing the contents of a page after it was loaded in the browser. The team behind Netscape Navigator, the most popular browser in the 90s, wanted to add a scripting language to their browser

The team behind Netscape Navigator wanted to add a scripting language to the web

The Creation of JavaScript

Netscape hired Brendan Eich as a developer to try and embed a few languages for their browser. However, they soon decided that the best option would be to come with a completely new language. Eich came up with a new language and an interpreter for it, and called it Mocha, which would later change to LiveScript. They renamed it as JavaScript before it would be officially released with Netscape Navigator v2.0, due to a collaboration with Sun Microsystems, who wanted to promote their programming language Java., JavaScript was supposed to be a companion for Java. Java would do the heavy server side tasks, while JavaScript would help make client side form validations easy. They wanted to portray JavaScript as a natural extension of Java.

Evolution of JavaScript

JavaScript was a huge success after being released with Navigator 2.0. Netscape worked on improving JavaScript and released version 1.1 with Navigator 3.0.


Soon after JavaScript 1.1 was released, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 3, which included its own implementation of JavaScript. To avoid any licensing or copyright issues in the future, they named it JScript. Keep in mind that there was no basic standard to JavaScript like the other programming languages (like C, C++ and Java). This meant that JScript was very different from JavaScript. So the two most popular browsers of that time had different versions and interpreters of the same language in them.


Due to concerns raised by developers that JavaScript had no formal standard, Netscape submitted JavaScript 1.1 to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) for standardization in November 1996. This meant that JavaScript was released officially as ECMAScript in June 1997.


However, in 1998, Internet Explorer became the most popular explorer due to being bundled with the newly released Windows 1998. Its market share was close to 95% at its peak. This meant that JScript was chosen by most developers for scripting in web browsers.


In 2004, Mozilla, the successor to Netscape, released Firefox, which was instantly a hit with the public. It managed to take significant browser market share from Internet Explorer, Mozilla joined ECMA and worked on improving the JavaScript standard.  However, ECMAScript 3.1 and 4 did not manage Ajax was invented by people in the open-source community in 2005, which meant that data could be loaded in browsers without full page reloads. This led to the rebirth of JavaScript. Hundreds of new libraries were created, including the now popular jQuery. Lots of innovation led to JavaScript rising in popularity.


Google released Chrome in 2008, and it supported just-in-time compilation (JIT) for JavaScript. This was very impressive during that time, and other browsers soon added JIT to their JavaScript engines.


Node.js, based on Chrome’s JavaScript engine V8, was released in 2009 to allow developers to use the language server-side. This made it a lot more simpler to share data between clients and servers. All this led to JavaScript further increasing in popularity. A community of millions of developers was born. NPM, the largest software package registry in the world was also born during this period.

Conclusion

JavaScript has matured a lot over the years. It has become the de-facto standard for scripting on the Web due to being open and standardized, as well as being an easy language to learn. Features are being added to it every year, with a new version of ECMAScript being published every year.

The current JavaScript ecosystem has thousands of libraries and frameworks, with most of them being open source. The language is also being used in desktop apps, with the rise of frameworks like Electron.


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