The History of JavaScript

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Intended AudienceA Simple JavaScript Example

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To fully understand the history of JavaScript it is first necessary to go back to a time before Internet Explorer and Firefox dominated the web browser market, and before most of us even knew what a web browser was.

Jim and Marc Meet in Palo Alto

In January 1994 Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, and Marc Andreeson, a graduate of the University of Illinois, met at Cafe Verona in Palo Alto, California to talk about starting a company. Whilst at the University of Illinois Andreeson had worked on Mosaic - one of the earliest web browsers - and the two soon decided to bring the internet and web browsing to the masses. Many sleepless nights and millions of lines of code later the Netscape browser took the internet by storm, and the company's subsequent stratospheric Initial Public Offering (IPO) triggered what would later be referred to as the dot-com boom.

Sadly neither Netscape nor Cafe Verona ultimately stood the test of time. Under attack from Microsoft, Netscape was purchased by AOL where it failed to flourish. Eventually the underlying Netscape browser technology was spun off into the open source Mozilla organization which later spawned the hugely successful Firefox browser. Cafe Verona also fell victim to the dot com implosion and went out of business a few years ago along with many Silicon Valley restaurants that had relied on hungry and wealthy technology workers for their business.

Moving on from Static Web Pages

Firefox is not the only legacy of Netscape Corporation however. It was at Netscape that the need for an alternative to the static nature of web pages was first identified.

It is important to keep in mind that before JavaScript most web page functionality was provided through the process of a web browser sending a request to a web server, and the web server returning a page of HTML in response to that request. Any change to the information in the web browser window typically required the transmission of another entire page from the web server. In essence the web browser, though typically running on a desktop or laptop computer capable of performing highly complex tasks, was relegated to the task of simply displaying pages of information sent from a server.

Recognizing the need for browser or client side intelligence Netscape began work on a scripting language that would enable web designers to embed code into the HTML of web pages to provide features such as client side validation of user input, dynamic display of data and event driven functionality (for example performing local processing when a push button is pressed or data entered into a text field).

LiveScript, JavaScript, JScript, ECMAScript - What's in a Name?

The scripting language developed at Netscape was originally called LiveScript. Perhaps in an effort to bask in the reflected glory of Sun Microsystem's Java programming language, LiveScript was later renamed JavaScript, though in reality it bears no resemblance to Sun's Java.

A disagreement between Netscape and Microsoft over licensing ultimately led Microsoft to reverse engineer JavaScript and create their own version called JScript. Inevitably differences between the two variants of the language quickly appeared and linger to this day.

In order to bring some predictability to JavaScript, it was eventually standardized by the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA). This standardized version of the language is, officially at least, referred to ECMAScript. In practice most people will always call it JavaScript, regardless of which implementation of the language they developing with, or browser they are targeting.

Purchase and download the full PDF version of this JavaScript eBook for only $8.99

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Intended AudienceA Simple JavaScript Example