The Birth and Evolution of JavaScript

4 mins read

What makes JavaScript cool? 


Well, other than making web pages more lively, interactive and dynamic, JavaScript is also used to create mobile (Native and Hybrid), AR and VR applications, to build web servers, to write server-side code and APIs, in Machine Learning and what not. Over the last 25 years, it has exploded from a rushed prototype for a browser to the most widely used multi-platform programming language in the world.


Fun-fact: JavaScript was created in just ten days.




On the Christmas day of 1990 when Berners-Lee wrote what would become known as the WorldWideWeb on a NeXT Computer and showed the world its first internet browser. If that weren't enough, this guy also developed the first web server around the same time. There was just one little problem. Nobody knew what the internet was yet.


In 1991, Al Gore introduced the Gore bill which provided funding for the first mainstream browser, MOSAIC. The Internet was developed and released for UNIX system in January 1933 by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina who transformed the exchange of information on the Internet at the University of Illinois. Later that year, there were ports for the Macintosh and the Windows as well. MOSAIC was the first web browser to start bringing the internet to the mainstream. But there was no JavaScript yet. There was just the DOM (Document object model) which itself wasn't even close to being standardized yet.


After graduating, Andreessen moved to California and co-founded Netscape with Eric Bina. Within a couple of years, Netscape Navigator controlled around 80% of the browser market share.




Soon, Andreessen realized that the web needed to be more dynamic. Animations, interactions and other forms of small automation needed to be the future of the web. To achieve that, the web needed a development-friendly scripting programming language that could run in the browser. Brendan Eich was appointed for this. In next ten days, the first version of JavaScript was born. But, it wasn't called JavaScript yet. It was called Mocha which was a syntactically curly bracket language like Java or C and had things such as first-class functions like Scheme, dynamic typing like LISP and prototypal inheritance like SELF. There was absolutely no way Brendan could've predicted the extremes developers would take Mocha to over the next 20 years.




In September 1995, Mocha was renamed as LiveScript.


Shortly after that, with a bit of Marketing to cash in on the success of then-popular and upcoming language Java, LiveScript was renamed again to the name we know today, JavaScript. This was a straight-forward marketing strategy to gain wider recognition and acceptance. Other than both being a programming language, Java & JavaScript are not related. 




There was a company that was becoming very popular around this time and was launching its own internet browser called internet explorer (IE). 


Microsoft created their version of JavaScript which had slight differences in DOM functions and since JavaScript was already a trademark, they named it JScript. It was first released in August 1996 along with IE. As Microsoft jumped into the browser war with Netscape with Jscript, to fight back IE, Netscape created Mozilla browser. IE 4 changed the tide of browser war by getting integrated with all Microsoft Operating Systems. This made it the most used browser. Nevertheless, this didn’t make the Mozilla team lose their faith, and they kept improving Mozilla.




The differences between JavaScript, JScript and other types made it difficult for developers to make websites that worked in all browsers. Also, JavaScript wasn’t standardized, so there were no guidelines on how to implement it. With the internet growing rapidly, people realized the need to standardize JavaScript.


So, JavaScript was brought to ECMA (a neutral party for setting standards in IT industry) in August 1996 to create an official standard for the language that everyone could follow. Then we had ECMA Script 1 or ES1 in 1997 followed by ES2 in 1998 and ES3 in 1999. That gave browser vendors and server-side applications a consistent set of guidelines for implementing JavaScript. 


The next release was after a decade in 2009. During this period, some innovations on JavaScript outside the ES committee like Ajax, JQuery, Dojo and MooTools came into existence.




The year 2000 was one of the most interesting years in the history of tech. Right before the .com crash and the year 2000 computer problem, we got ES 3. JavaScript was evolving and progressing nicely but things were about to go south.


In March 2000, the tech bubble began to burst. After that, JavaScript experienced numerous setbacks. ES4 failed. Nasdaq lost over a trillion dollars in that month alone and high profile companies started to fold. But the Internet was here to stay.


Meanwhile, Netscape browser's market share was being devoured by Microsoft's IE. In the early 2000s, IE controlled at least 80% of the browser market share and implemented its own extensions for JavaScript. That created fragmentation which we still have to deal with today when supporting these legacy versions of IE but also lead to very revolutionary features like AJAX which allowed JavaScript to be implemented asynchronously in single-page applications.




In 2009, along with ECMA standard, Node.js was released which allowed programmers to write full applications in JavaScript. We got the NPM (Node package manager) for installing reusable bits of code in libraries. The current version of ECMAScript is ES10. JavaScript has gained immense popularity and is one of the most in-demand programming languages. Its developers have some of the highest tech salaries. Libraries and frameworks like ReactJs and Angular have scaled tremendously in past few years. Companies like PayPal, Netflix, Facebook, Google and Uber use JavaScript and its frameworks in their products. 


JavaScript has come a long way and will continue to evolve in coming years.


Where does JavaScript go from here? Will some other technology replace JavaScript? Is there a bubble forming because of COVID-19? Will a new tech bubble burst?


Stay tuned for Part II in the next decade!