JavaScript is a high-level, dynamic, untyped, and interpreted programming language. It has been standardized in the ECMAScript language specification. Alongside HTML and CSS, it is one of the three core technologies of World Wide Web content production; the majority of websites employ it and it is supported by all modern Web browsers without plug-ins. JavaScript is prototype-based with first-class functions, making it a multi-paradigm language, supporting object-oriented, imperative, and functional programming styles. It has an API for working with text, arrays, dates and regular expressions, but does not include any I/O, such as networking, storage, or graphics facilities, relying for these upon the host environment in which it is embedded.

Although there are strong outward similarities between JavaScript and Java, including language name, syntax, and respective standard libraries, the two are distinct languages and differ greatly in their design. JavaScript was influenced by programming languages such as Self and Scheme.

JavaScript is also used in environments that are not Web-based, such as PDF documents, site-specific browsers, and desktop widgets. Newer and faster JavaScript virtual machines (VMs) and platforms built upon them have also increased the popularity of JavaScript for server-side Web applications. On the client side, JavaScript has been traditionally implemented as an interpreted language, but more recent browsers perform just-in-time compilation. It is also used in game development, the creation of desktop and mobile applications, and server-side network programming with run-time environments such as Node.js.

History

Beginnings at Netscape

In 1993, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), a unit of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, released NCSA Mosaic, the first popular graphical Web browser, which played an important part in expanding the growth of the nascent World Wide Web. In 1994, a company called Mosaic Communications was founded in Mountain View, California and employed many of the original NCSA Mosaic authors to create Mosaic Netscape. However, it intentionally shared no code with NCSA Mosaic. The internal codename for the company’s browser was Mozilla, which stood for “Mosaic killer”, as the company’s goal was to displace NCSA Mosaic as the world’s number one web browser. The first version of the Web browser, Mosaic Netscape 0.9, was released in late 1994. Within four months it had already taken three-quarters of the browser market and became the main browser for Internet in the 1990s. To avoid trademark ownership problems with the NCSA, the browser was subsequently renamed Netscape Navigator in the same year, and the company took the name Netscape Communications.

Netscape Communications realized that the Web needed to become more dynamic. Marc Andreessen, the founder of the company believed that HTML needed a “glue language” that was easy to use by Web designers and part-time programmers to assemble components such as images and plugins, where the code could be written directly in the Web page markup. In 1995, the company recruited Brendan Eich with the goal of embedding the Scheme programming language into its Netscape Navigator. Before he could get started, Netscape Communications collaborated with Sun Microsystems to include in Netscape Navigator Sun’s more static programming language Java, in order to compete with Microsoft for user adoption of Web technologies and platforms. Netscape Communications then decided that the scripting language they wanted to create would complement Java and should have a similar syntax, which excluded adopting other languages such as Perl, Python, TCL, or Scheme. To defend the idea of JavaScript against competing proposals, the company needed a prototype. Eich wrote one in 10 days, in May 1995.

Although it was developed under the name Mocha, the language was officially called LiveScript when it first shipped in beta releases of Netscape Navigator 2.0 in September 1995, but it was renamed JavaScript when it was deployed in the Netscape Navigator 2.0 beta 3 in December. The final choice of name caused confusion, giving the impression that the language was a spin-off of the Java programming language, and the choice has been characterized as a marketing ploy by Netscape to give JavaScript the cachet of what was then the hot new Web programming language.

There is a common misconception that JavaScript was influenced by an earlier Web page scripting language developed by Nombas named C– (not to be confused with the later C– created in 1997). Brendan Eich, however, had never heard of C– before he created LiveScript. Nombas did pitch their embedded Web page scripting to Netscape, though Web page scripting was not a new concept, as shown by the ViolaWWW Web browser. Nombas later switched to offering JavaScript instead of C– in their ScriptEase product and was part of the TC39 group that standardized ECMAScript.

Server-side JavaScript

Netscape introduced an implementation of the language for server-side scripting with Netscape Enterprise Server in December 1995, soon after releasing JavaScript for browsers. Since the mid-2000s, there has been a resurgence of server-side JavaScript implementations, such as Node.js.[19] and MarkLogic.[20]

Adoption by Microsoft

Microsoft script technologies including VBScript and JScript were released in 1996. JScript, a reverse-engineered implementation of Netscape’s JavaScript, was part of Internet Explorer 3 as well as being available server-side in Internet Information Server. Internet Explorer 3 also included Microsoft’s first support for CSS and various extensions to HTML, but in each case the implementation was noticeably different to that found in Netscape Navigator at the time. These differences made it difficult for designers and programmers to make a single website work well in both browsers, leading to the use of “best viewed in Netscape” and “best viewed in Internet Explorer” logos that characterized these early years of the browser wars. JavaScript began to acquire a reputation for being one of the roadblocks to a cross-platform and standards-driven Web. Some developers took on the difficult task of trying to make their sites work in both major browsers, but many could not afford the time. With the release of Internet Explorer 4, Microsoft introduced the concept of Dynamic HTML, but the differences in language implementations and the different and proprietary Document Object Models remained and were obstacles to widespread take-up of JavaScript on the Web.

Standardization

In November 1996, Netscape submitted JavaScript to Ecma International to carve out a standard specification, which other browser vendors could then implement based on the work done at Netscape. This led to the official release of the language specification ECMAScript published in the first edition of the ECMA-262 standard in June 1997, with JavaScript being the most well known of the implementations. ActionScript and JScript are other well-known implementations of ECMAScript, with extensions.

The standards process continued in cycles, with the release of ECMAScript 2 in June 1998, which brings some modifications to conform to the ISO/IEC 16262 international standard. The release of ECMAScript 3 followed in December 1999, which is the baseline for modern day JavaScript. The original ECMAScript 4 work led by Waldemar Horwat (then at Netscape, now at Google) started in 2000 and at first, Microsoft seemed to participate and even implemented some of the proposals in their JScript .NET language.

Over time it was clear though that Microsoft had no intention of cooperating or implementing proper JavaScript in Internet Explorer, even though they had no competing proposal and they had a partial (and diverged at this point) implementation on the .NET server side. So by 2003, the original ECMAScript 4 work was mothballed.

The next major event was in 2005, with two major happenings in JavaScript’s history. First, Brendan Eich and Mozilla rejoined Ecma International as a not-for-profit member and work started on ECMAScript for XML (E4X), the ECMA-357 standard, which came from ex-Microsoft employees at BEA Systems (originally acquired as Crossgain). This led to working jointly with Macromedia (later acquired by Adobe Systems), who were implementing E4X in ActionScript 3 (ActionScript 3 was a fork of original ECMAScript 4).

So, along with Macromedia, work restarted on ECMAScript 4 with the goal of standardizing what was in ActionScript 3. To this end, Adobe Systems released the ActionScript Virtual Machine 2, code named Tamarin, as an open source project. But Tamarin and ActionScript 3 were too different from web JavaScript to converge, as was realized by the parties in 2007 and 2008.

Alas, there was still turmoil between the various players; Douglas Crockford—then at Yahoo!—joined forces with Microsoft in 2007 to oppose ECMAScript 4, which led to the ECMAScript 3.1 effort. The development of ECMAScript 4 was never completed, but that work influenced subsequent versions.

While all of this was happening, the open source and developer communities set to work to revolutionize what could be done with JavaScript. This community effort was sparked in 2005 when Jesse James Garrett released a white paper in which he coined the term Ajax, and described a set of technologies, of which JavaScript was the backbone, used to create web applications where data can be loaded in the background, avoiding the need for full page reloads and leading to more dynamic applications. This resulted in a renaissance period of JavaScript usage spearheaded by open source libraries and the communities that formed around them, with libraries such as Prototype, jQuery, Dojo Toolkit, MooTools and others being released.

In July 2008, the disparate parties on either side came together in Oslo. This led to the eventual agreement in early 2009 to rename ECMAScript 3.1 to ECMAScript 5 and drive the language forward using an agenda that is known as Harmony. ECMAScript 5 was finally released in December 2009.

In June 2011, ECMAScript 5.1 was released to fully align with the third edition of the ISO/IEC 16262 international standard. ECMAScript 2015 was released in June 2015. The current version is ECMAScript 2016, released in June 2016.

Later developments

JavaScript has become one of the most popular programming languages on the Web. Initially, however, many professional programmers denigrated the language because, among other reasons, its target audience consisted of Web authors and other such “amateurs”. The advent of Ajax returned JavaScript to the spotlight and brought more professional programming attention. The result was a proliferation of comprehensive frameworks and libraries, improved JavaScript programming practices, and increased usage of JavaScript outside Web browsers, as seen by the proliferation of server-side JavaScript platforms.

In January 2009, the CommonJS project was founded with the goal of specifying a common standard library mainly for JavaScript development outside the browser.

With the rise of single-page applications and JavaScript-heavy sites, it is increasingly being used as a compile target for source-to-source compilers from both dynamic languages and static languages.