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Developers rest easier with JavaScript reversal

ECMA standards committee's turn toward a lighter JavaScript 2 meets with programmer approval

The programmers in the trenches of Web development can breathe a bit easier now that a major committee planning the future of the JavaScript standard has decided to focus on small, incremental changes that will improve the performance in Web browsers. Some members of the ECMA International standards committee still have bigger dreams to enhance the language, known more formally as ECMAScript, to tackle more complicated projects, but these plans receded as the group focused on clearer and more present needs.

Kris Zyp, a researcher at SitePen and the Dojo Foundation's representative on the committee, said, "Our interest is empowering the Web developers, not seeing ECMAScript as a pure research language."

Many of the ideas that some committee members wanted to bring to the ECMAScript 4.0 standard are well known by programmers, but they're often associated with other languages and other styles of writing code. Some wanted ECMAScript 4.0 to include stronger ways for the programmer to specify the type of each variable, a more structured approach that's required by languages like Java.

ECMAScript 4.0 – now abandoned in favor of a more modest ECMAScript 3.1 proposal – was also going to have more sophisticated namespaces or packages that would prevent conflicts when two developers inadvertently use the same name for different methods.

Coders on big projects often crave these missing features because the structure helps avoid bugs and other problems. Language features such as dividing code into namespaces and adding types for the data structures are essential for keeping bigger projects functioning. When programming teams grow larger than one person, mind reading is harder than forcing the developers to use some extra structure. Adobe, for instance, incorporated many of these ideas into ActionScript to help developers create bigger, more sophisticated components that could be deployed through the browser. Much of the ECMAScript 4.0 standard was inspired by ActionScript and one of its spiritual forebears, Java.

While the foregone improvements would have helped some developers working with bigger projects staffed by more programmers, many coders considered them to be overly complex. Many developers like the more casual, LISP-like simplicity of JavaScript as it is today, and they see the extra structure as adding features and detail that a good programmer would rarely need. After all, JavaScript’s success is built on flexibly adapting to the code the person writes and not requiring the coder to spell everything out in detail. Why change that?

Thomas Fuchs, the creator of the popular Script.aculo.us framework, said that he won't miss any of these new ideas. "Lean is better, and less language features make for better interpreters." he said. "Think of mobile or embedded devices where performance is limited."

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