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JavaScript: How Did It Get So Popular?

Note: This article appears in our newest Pro Intensive, "Intro to Programming in JavaScript."

JavaScript is a flexible and powerful programming language that is implemented consistently by various web browsers. Along with HTML and CSS, it's a core component of web technology. While HTML is responsible for structure and CSS is responsible for style, JavaScript provides interactivity to web pages in the browser.

But JavaScript was never meant to become the cornerstone of modern web development. In fact, the language was created in less than two weeks, with a very different purpose in mind.

History of JavaScript

When the Internet boomed with public usage in the 1990s, technology companies battled to build the most powerful and efficient web browser on the market. This sparked the first “browser war,” between Microsoft (Internet Explorer) and NetScape (NetScape Navigator) to gain dominance in the usage share of web browsers.

netscape-navigator

The first non-beta version of Netscape Navigator (Source: ARN)

Netscape needed a lightweight scripting language for easier programming. This ultimately made web development more accessible, unlike other languages that required deeper training. In 1995, a NetScape employee, Brendan Eich, was given ten days to help build the company a lightweight scripting language. As a result, Eich built Mocha, which was later renamed JavaScript.

The moral of the story—JavaScript was never intended to become the standard language for the web! However, after NetScape was acquired by AOL and eventually turned over their browser's code to the Mozilla Foundation, the popularity of JavaScript grew.

JavaScript is now an essential web technology that’s supported by the most popular web browsers. Familiarity with the language is crucial for anyone who wants to become a web developer—that's why it's been the most commonly used programming language in Stack Overflow's Developer Survey for six years in a row.

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The most popular programming languages in Stack Overflow's 2018 Developer Survey.

JavaScript's Popularity

At this point, you may be wondering: how is it that a language written in 10 days by one person became mass-adopted by the world wide web? In short, JavaScript became a hit because it turned web browsers into application platforms. Here’s how:

  1. JavaScript can be used in both the front-end and back-end of web development.
  2. JavaScript is standardized, so it’s frequently updated with new versions.
  3. JavaScript works with the document object model, or the DOM, to respond to user interactions. The DOM is the structure in the browser that displays a web pages.
  4. JavaScript allows websites to have interactivity like scroll transitions and object movement. Modern browsers still compete to process JavaScript the fastest for the best user experiences. Chrome, the most used Internet browser in 2017, has been so successful in part because of its ability to process JavaScript quickly.
  5. JavaScript offers a wide range of frameworks and libraries that help developers create complex applications with low overhead. Programmers can import libraries and frameworks in their code to augment their application’s functionality.

StatCounter-browser-ww-monthly-201707-201707-map

The most popular web browsers in 2017. (Source: StatCounter)

JS for Servers

In the early 2000s, big platforms like Facebook and Google began using JavaScript to program the back-end. JavaScript helped businesses scale since engineers who knew JavaScript could apply those skills in server-side contexts.

Server-side JavaScript gained popularity because it allowed for the scalability needed in cloud computing and the back-end. In the server, JavaScript can be integrated with other languages to communicate with databases. Browsers have engines that can process JavaScript quickly, and this has encouraged more server-side usage.

Node.JS, or Node, is one of the most popular versions of server-side JavaScript. Node has been used to write large platforms for NASA, eBay and many others. Since Javascript can execute programs out of order, Node can use it to create scalable web applications, messaging platforms, and multiplayer games. This is why Google Cloud and Amazon Web Service depend on Node for some of their services.

What Else Can JavaScript Do?

Beyond the web, JavaScript has a large presence amongst cross-platform applications. Popular standalone desktop apps like Slack, GitHub, Skype, and Tidal are developed with the JavaScript framework called Electron.js. Electron is excellent for make desktop applications that need to work across different devices regardless of operating system.

In addition, JavaScript has the potential of expanding into other innovative technologies such as virtual reality and gaming. JavaScript is excellent for animating, rendering and scaling. JavaScript even has contributed to the internet of things, the technology that makes simple objects, like your fridge, smarter. Everyday devices can become interactive and collect data using JavaScript libraries.

Conclusion

When diving into either programming or web development, JavaScript is an excellent language to learn. The capabilities of JavaScript allow you to use it in many different fields, from programming to web development.

Mastering what is known as “vanilla” or plain JavaScript will help you to tackle more complicated frameworks and libraries to make you a competitive developer. So take some of our Codecademy JavaScript courses and become the JavaScript rockstar companies are looking for!

Get more practice, more projects, and more guidance.