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Text from Eloquent JavaScript

JavaScript is the language that is, at the moment, mostly being used to do all kinds of clever and horrible things with pages on the World Wide Web. Some people claim that the next version of JavaScript will become an important language for other tasks too. I am unsure whether that will happen, but if you are interested in programming, JavaScript is definitely a useful language to learn. Even if you do not end up doing much web programming, the mind-bending programs I will show you in this book will always stay with you, haunt you, and influence the programs you write in other languages.

There are those who will say terrible things about JavaScript. Many of these things are true. When I was for the first time required to write something in JavaScript, I quickly came to despise the language. It would accept almost anything I typed, but interpret it in a way that was completely different from what I meant. This had a lot to do with the fact that I did not have a clue what I was doing, but there is also a real issue here: JavaScript is ridiculously liberal in what it allows. The idea behind this design was that it would make programming in JavaScript easier for beginners. In actuality, it mostly makes finding problems in your programs harder, because the system will not point them out to you.

However, the flexibility of the language is also an advantage. It leaves space for a lot of techniques that are impossible in more rigid languages, and it can be used to overcome some of JavaScript's shortcomings. After learning it properly, and working with it for a while, I have really learned to like this language.

Contrary to what the name suggests, JavaScript has very little to do with the programming language named Java. The similar name was inspired by marketing considerations, rather than good judgement. In 1995, when JavaScript was introduced by Netscape, the Java language was being heavily marketed and gaining in popularity. Apparently, someone thought it a good idea to try and ride along on this marketing. Now we are stuck with the name.

Related to JavaScript is a thing called ECMAScript. When browsers other than Netscape started to support JavaScript, or something that looked like it, a document was written to describe precisely how the language should work. The language described in this document is called ECMAScript, after the organisation that standardised it.

ECMAScript describes a general-purpose programming language, and does not say anything about the integration of this language in an Internet browser. JavaScript is ECMAScript plus extra tools for dealing with Internet pages and browser windows.

A few other pieces of software use the language described in the ECMAScript document. Most importantly, the ActionScript language used by Flash is based on ECMAScript (though it does not precisely follow the standard). Flash is a system for adding things that move and make lots of noise to web-pages. Knowing JavaScript won't hurt if you ever find yourself learning to build Flash movies.

JavaScript is still evolving. Since this book came out, ECMAScript 5 has been released, which is compatible with the version described here, but adds some of the functionality we will be writing ourselves as built-in methods. The newest generation of browsers provides this expanded version of JavaScript. As of 2011, 'ECMAScript harmony', a more radical extension of the language, is in the process of being standardised. You should not worry too much about these new versions making the things you learn from this book obsolete. For one thing, they will be an extension of the language we have now, so almost everything written in this book will still hold.

Most chapters in this book contain quite a lot of code1. In my experience, reading and writing code is an important part of learning to program. Try to not just glance over these examples, but read them attentively and understand them. This can be slow and confusing at first, but you will quickly get the hang of it. The same goes for the exercises. Don't assume you understand them until you've actually written a working solution.

Because of the way the web works, it is always possible to look at the JavaScript programs that people put in their web-pages. This can be a good way to learn how some things are done. Because most web programmers are not 'professional' programmers, or consider JavaScript programming so uninteresting that they never properly learned it, a lot of the code you can find like this is of a very bad quality. When learning from ugly or incorrect code, the ugliness and confusion will propagate into your own code, so be careful who you learn from.