Is JavaScript the Undisputed King?

Sep 28 2012

One year ago I listened to Allen Wirfs-Brock of the Mozilla Foundation deliver the [closing keynote for StrangeLoop 2011]( Wirfs-Brock's central claim was jarring. Keep in mind, this is a conference whose attendee list is dominated by language designers, database architects, PhDs, and people whose credentials make the term "senior" seem like a gaping understatement. Yet in front of this crowd, Wirfs-Brock unabashedly coronated JavaScript the new king of programming languages. I did not buy it. But a year later, I'm changing my mind. I like JavaScript. It was, in all honesty, the first language I felt really comfortable in. I learned with the web. I started programming in 1995, at age 16. My summer internship led me into C, Java, Perl, and JavaScript all at once. JavaScript was my favorite, doubtless because its bindings to the browser made results more gratifying. "Look, ma! I put a message in the status bar!" But as I matured as a programmer, I looked back on those heady experiments as pretend-programming with a toy language. JavaScript had a firm place in my constellation of programming languages: It was for tricking out web pages. A decade and a half later, I found myself at StrangeLoop hearing an otherwise credible source claim that JavaScript is the new C. Really? You can imagine my skepticism. Since hearing Wirfs-Brock a year ago, several things changed for me. First, within weeks of StrangeLoop 2011, I begin writing Node.js code. Second, I read some of the technical papers from Google on the V8 engine ([start here](, and then read some of the ECMA proposals for the [next version of JavaScript]( Finally, I wrote an application framework for Node.js -- always a great opportunity to stretch one's grasp of a language and an environment. I know it's the same language that I used to pop up alert dialogs in my pimply high-school years, but it feels different now. Did it grow up, or did I? ## The Acceptance Speech On September 25, StrangeLoop 2012 concluded. And who should deliver the [closing keynote]( None other than Brendan Eich, the father of JavaScript. Eich is disarming, funny, and intensely intelligent. Quick to point out the work of others, he portrays the JavaScript community as a vibrant group of intelligent individuals who, differences aside, have the best interests of the language users in mind. His presentation began with a humorous history of the mistakes of JavaScript, then moved to upcoming features and standards work, and concluded with a look at some of the more exciting JavaScript projects. It didn't come across as a sales pitch; it came across as an acceptance speech, an oath of office. "I hereby solemnly swear that JavaScript will do right by you." And by far, the most interesting aspect of this presentation was Eich's promotion of JavaScript as the new replacement for the VM. Here is the text of one of Eich's slides:

JavaScript > bytecode

  • Dynamic typing = no verification
  • Type inference = delayed optimization
  • Would byte code compress as well?
  • Bytecode standardization would suck
  • Bytecode versioning would suck more
  • Low-level byte code is future-hostile
  • Many humans like writing JavaScript

Oh yes he did! CoffeeScript, ClojureScript, Dart… Eich enthusiastically champions building languages that compile (or transcode) to JavaScript. (Did you know there's a project to rebuild the JVM in JavaScript? The Doppio project also spoke at StrangeLoop 2012.)

On the server; on the desktop; on mobile devices -- JavaScript already is pervasive. And if you've convinced a theater full of language lawyers, scientists, CTOs, and architects that JavaScript is the new C, you've won. Wirfs-Brock and Eich won.

Hail to the king, baby.