JavaScript Turns 25

Posted on December 4, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Dev with 18 Comments

Netscape announced the initial release of the JavaScript web scripting language 25 years ago, on this day in 1995.

“Netscape Communications Corporation and Sun Microsystems, Inc. today announced JavaScript, an open, cross-platform object scripting language for the creation and customization of applications on enterprise networks and the Internet,” the original announcement reads. “The JavaScript language complements Java, Sun’s industry-leading object-oriented, cross-platform programming language. The initial version of JavaScript is available now as part of the beta version of Netscape Navigator 2.0, which is currently available for downloading from Netscape’s web site.”

JavaScript was hastily cobbled together by Netscape’s Brendan Eich—he literally spent 10 days on this project—when the firm’s leadership realized that it needed an approachable language for creating interactive content inside of web pages. The original pitch was that it had to be as easy as the Basic programming language used by Microsoft’s Visual Basic. But it also had to resemble Java because of Netscape’s partnership with Sun.

The resulting language is today the single most popular programming language in the world, despite its well-documented shortcomings and weirdnesses. Indeed, as part of its embrace of all things open, Microsoft has created an extension to JavaScript called TypeScript that addresses many of its issues and enables the creation of more sophisticated applications.

But it’s interesting to look back on that original announcement, which promised JavaScript in both web pages and in server-side scripts, and positioned the language as a glue, of sorts between Java components and HTML web pages.

JavaScript was always free, and Netscape revealed in its announcement post that it would propose JavaScript to the W3 Consortium (W3C) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as an open Internet scripting language standard. Today, the standardized version of JavaScript is called ECMAScript, after ECMA International (formerly called the European Computer Manufacturers Association).

I found out about this anniversary from Microsoft’s Raymond Chen, who notes that the phrase “JavaScript was designed” was once considered to be humorous. Probably still is, I guess.

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Comments (24)

24 responses to “JavaScript Turns 25”

  1. mikegalos

    It also, amazingly for 1995, used "19"+2 digit format for dates and was the last major programming language to be designed with an inherent Y2K problem at a time when fixing Y2K problems had been an industry push for nearly a decade.

  2. kenosando

    We can all agree the implementation of JavaScript left some gaps in what a web-centric paradigm should look like, but the idea that anyone with a computer could essentially learn to program a web site to do "magic" at the time was a big accomplishment. Developers have spent the better part of two decades building a way around JavaScript's shortcomings (ActionScript, Coffee script, TypeScript) and yet the entire web still runs JavaScript underneath it all. I applaud Netscape, Mr. Rich, and all the developers who've implemented the standards along the way. Web development is one of the more enjoyable and frustrating aspects of my career, and it all boils down to "why isn't my JavaScript being called here?!"

  3. ragingthunder

    Wish I learned JavaScript instead of putting my eggs into the VB, VB.NET, C#, WinForms, WFP, UWP, God-knows-whats-next basket. At least JS frameworks are fairly consistent.

  4. blue77star

    The worst language ever. Unbelievable that we are stuck with this pile of crap for 25 years.

  5. mattbg

    And, naturally, this means that VBScript is 24 years old because why couldn't Microsoft just adopt someone else's invention back then? :)

  6. lilmoe

    The source of all things evil. Needs to die already.

  7. murray judy

    I wonder how many programmers were not hired because they failed to understand JavaScript scoping ...

  8. bschnatt

    JavaScript is the language that made me comfortable cursing. Ok, not really, but it got me used to saying "Are you effin' kidding me??". What other response would be appropriate to a situation where typing in 9999999999999999 == 10000000000000000 gives you 'true'?  And JavaScript doesn't even have an integer type. What was Eich smoking at the time?

    • Paul Thurrott

      In fairness to Eich, he had no time and this was just supposed to be a simple "glue" scripting language. I'm sure there's a laundry list of things he'd do over if given the chance now.
  9. Patrick3D

    I was in city college at the time taking programming courses, this new scripted language was announced called Java and everyone laughed at it. They had difficulty getting enough students to sign up for classes. It was only 2-3 years later that every company was hiring for it.

  10. rfeeley

    Nice piece. Although some point to how complicated javascript ecosystem has become as a flaw, the fact that javascript became ubiquitous (server-side, client-side and mobile) and in doing so generated an ecosystem of numerous programs necessary to properly code it today, is actually a complement to javascript--proof of its success. That said, I am extremely excited about potential of Web Assembly.

  11. coeus89

    I always laugh at quotes like the one at the end. My current C.S. professor calls javascript "one of the worst languages ever created" but since everyone uses it we have to be familiar with it.

  12. wright_is

    Brendan Eich has a lot to answer for! I don't know if 25 years of penance are enough! :-D

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