Sunday, July 24, 2011

CoffeeScript and the future of JavaScript



We're in an age where there are several ways of "transpiling" languages. If you're not familiar with transpiling, it essentially allows you to write in one programming language and have that converted into another programming language. Ultimately, the primary goals of writing code in higher level programming languages is to achieve productivity. A great example of this is CoffeeScript, Skulpt, and JSIL. CoffeeScript's initiative is to ensure the developer stays within the bounds of JavaScript's "good parts" and pushing forward a Ruby/Python-like syntax where we lose flower brackets({}) and "function" and we get extensive use of "->". Here's an example of writing a class in CoffeeScript:

This is the transpiled JavaScript:

One thing to note is that web browsers of today won't jump on board with upgrading their JavaScript engines to support newer versions of JavaScript (Harmony) due to backwards compatibility. This seems like a path that can't be traversed. In order to evolve and move forward with JavaScript, the only way to do so is to transpile it that way you can still keep backwards compatibility, as well as, leverage new language features that make the language more productive in writing complex client-side web applications.

CoffeeScript is an amazing project that also encompasses a "roll your own language" feature. It essentially allows you to define your own programming language that will transpile to JavaScript by changing the tokenization settings and returning the abstract syntax tree.

As we move forward, I undoubtedly think that developers will finally be able to write applications in their favourite language whether it is C#, Python, Ruby, or Java and then have that code get transpiled to a target platform whether its for web (JavaScript), iOS (Objective-C), or Android (Java/C++). The main thing is that developers shouldn't have to relearn a new programming language in order to be productive -- They should be able to write it into their language of choice, the language they find the most fun. Additionally, one of CoffeeScript's initiatives is to be a compilation target so you could essentially write a language on top of CoffeeScript (so you go to the side from JavaScript to CoffeeScript, then go up from CoffeeScript to a more human readable language).

Jaime Bueza is a software engineer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has developed web applications for Nintendo, Starbucks, Bacardi, Nike, Electronic Arts, Ritchie Brothers, Kiwi Collections, Cox Communications and Microsoft. When he's not developing useful software that constantly evolves with business requirements, he's writing open source software on github and creating tutorial videos for aspiring front-end developers.
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