Tuesday, July 26, 2011

JavaScript is the assembly language of the Web



In my last blog post, I outlined how clever developers are starting to use CoffeeScript as a way of moving forward with Harmony (JavaScript's newest spec that improves the lexicon to be more productive) without breaking current browser implementations of ECMAScript by leveraging transpiling techniques. Concordantly, there are other transpiling tools now for C# (JSIL) and Python (Skulpt). Furthermore, I've come to realize now that based on these initiatives, JavaScript is now the assembly language of the web platform. It is fundamentally and ultimately a compilation target.

ChromeOS is a Linux-based operating system but makes heavy use of their V8 JavaScript engine. Additionally, Mozilla has stepped up and announced that there are plans to create a web operating system to compete with Chrome OS and Windows 8. I've compiled a list of technologies that have indoctrinated the HTML5 family including WebGL, WebSockets, JavaScript, CSS, HTML:

Palm Pre: HTML/CSS/JavaScript with Mojo application framework
Apple iOS through WebView: HTML/CSS/JavaScript
Apple iOS iAd: WebGL/HTML/CSS/JavaScript
Android WebView: HTML/CSS/JavaScript
Chrome OS: HTML/CSS/JavaScript with File API for File I/O
Windows 8: HTML/CSS/JavaScript for application development
Windows 7: Using Chrome/Firefox/IE10 for HTML/JavaScript/CSS -- almost full support, perhaps no WebGL implementation for Internet Explorer.
Mac OS X: Same as above

Four years ago, there was the war of the JavaScript libraries including jQuery, MooTools, YUI, and Dojo. While it does seem like jQuery has triumphed over the other libraries in terms of popularity, will jQuery be used a de-facto Application development library (or perhaps an application framework built on top of jQuery like Backbone.js or Blast Mojo) in the upcoming Operating System war?

Now is the time to start thinking about more abstraction on top of JavaScript. In our current state, we've got SASS for CSS, which again, improves productivity by providing developers capabilities of mixins and mathematical functions, CoffeeScript for JavaScript, which aims to sweep away the bad parts of JavaScript and allow for higher levels of productivity, and then we have Haml/Jade/Razor for HTML to make writing structured content easier.

Winter is coming. There's going to be another exciting paradigm shift in how we write and organize our applications in JavaScript when Windows 8, Chrome OS, and Mozilla OS become more widely used for several reasons: File I/O, Audio, Video, Capture (WebCam, Microphone), Network (XHR or WebSockets), Games with OpenGL (WebGL), and Graphics (SVG/Canvas). My only hope is that in the future, developers will be given the avenues to write code in their favourite language whether its C#, Python, Ruby, Java, and have it safely transpile to JavaScript because sustainable productivity is only achievable if you really enjoy what you're building or designing.

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 andcreating tutorial videos for aspiring front-end developers.

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.