A re-introduction to JavaScript (JS tutorial) A re-introduction to JavaScript (JS tutorial)

Why a re-introduction? Because JavaScript is notorious for being the world’s most misunderstood programming language. It is often derided as being a toy, but beneath its layer of deceptive simplicity, powerful language features await. JavaScript is now used by an incredible number of high-profile applications, showing that deeper knowledge of this technology is an important skill for any web or mobile developer.

It’s useful to start with an overview of the language’s history. JavaScript was created in 1995 by Brendan Eich while he was an engineer at Netscape. JavaScript was first released with Netscape 2 early in 1996. It was originally going to be called LiveScript, but it was renamed in an ill-fated marketing decision that attempted to capitalize on the popularity of Sun Microsystem’s Java language — despite the two having very little in common. This has been a source of confusion ever since.

Several months later, Microsoft released JScript with Internet Explorer 3. It was a mostly-compatible JavaScript work-alike. Several months after that, Netscape submitted JavaScript to Ecma International, a European standards organization, which resulted in the first edition of the ECMAScript standard that year. The standard received a significant update as ECMAScript edition 3 in 1999, and it has stayed pretty much stable ever since. The fourth edition was abandoned, due to political differences concerning language complexity. Many parts of the fourth edition formed the basis for ECMAScript edition 5, published in December of 2009, and for the 6th major edition of the standard, published in June of 2015.

Because it is more familiar, we will refer to ECMAScript as “JavaScript” from this point on.
Unlike most programming languages, the JavaScript language has no concept of input or output. It is designed to run as a scripting language in a host environment, and it is up to the host environment to provide mechanisms for communicating with the outside world. The most common host environment is the browser, but JavaScript interpreters can also be found in a huge list of other places, including Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Photoshop, SVG images, Yahoo’s Widget engine, server-side environments such as Node.js, NoSQL databases like the open source Apache CouchDB, embedded computers, complete desktop environments like GNOME (one of the most popular GUIs for GNU/Linux operating systems), and others.

JavaScript is a multi-paradigm, dynamic language with types and operators, standard built-in objects, and methods. Its syntax is based on the Java and C languages — many structures from those languages apply to JavaScript as well. JavaScript supports object-oriented programming with object prototypes, instead of classes (see more about prototypical inheritance and ES2015 Classes). JavaScript also supports functional programming — functions are objects, giving functions the capacity to hold executable code and be passed around like any other object.

Let’s start off by looking at the building blocks of any language: the types. JavaScript programs manipulate values, and those values all belong to a type. JavaScript’s types are:

Symbol (new in ES2015)
… oh, and undefined and null, which are … slightly odd. And Array, which is a special kind of object. And Date and RegExp, which are objects that you get for free. And to be technically accurate, functions are just a special type of object. So the type diagram looks more like this:

Symbol (new in ES2015)
And there are some built-in Error types as well. Things are a lot easier if we stick with the first diagram, however, so we’ll discuss the types listed there for now.


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