Time for Another “Javascript Sucks” Post

Published at 15:36 on 12 November 2015

For no other reason than it’s been a while since my last one. Oh, I’ve just been bitten by some sucky Javascript today, but that’s hardly new: it happens most days.

That’s because there’s an awful lot of sucky Javascript code out there. Which is the case because Javascript is a difficult language to program well in. Which in turn is the case because both the core language and its object model basically suck.

I mean, how much more sucky a design decision can there be than making all variables by default global unless explicitly made local? This is precisely the opposite of what any sane design would do. Thanks to this misfeature, all the Javascript coder need to is absentmindedly leave off a var or two and presto, there’s a bug waiting to strike. And Javascript’s parallelized and callback-based nature means the bug probably won’t be immediately obvious, so it will make it through testing and into production where it can bite users.

And then there’s the Javascript object model. It’s not necessarily deficient, it’s just bizarre. Well, bizarre to anyone used to the classical inheritance model (which means virtually any other object-oriented language out there); Javascript uses prototypal inheritance. It’s a bit of gratuitous difference that just makes Javascript needlessly strange and thus more difficult to learn and understand for the vast majority of programmers. Why? Just why?

That Javascript makes failure easy and success difficult can be illustrated by how it’s not that hard to run into bad (i.e. flaky and unreliable) Javascript on Google pages. I mean, if one of the largest and wealthiest corporations on the planet, one famous for hiring the best and brightest, one that writes browsers as well as web pages, can’t successfully implement a toolkit to tame Javascript’s bias towards failure outcomes, that’s about as damning an indictment as one can make against Javascript.

Finally, it’s instructive that those who designed the Google Web Toolkit chose to (alas, ineffectively) fight Javascript’s brokenness by writing a tool to enable developers to avoid programming in Javascript entirely.

Javascript code would be bad enough if most of it only had all of the above factors working against it, but wait, there’s more.

First, client-side Javascript has to be cross-browser portable, and there’s lots of gratuitous little differences between the execution environments on different browsers (or even differing versions of the same browser).

Second, many kinds of client-side code, in particular AJAX code, are difficult to write well. Such code must cope well with all sorts of network conditions without adversely impacting human-machine interactivity.

The latter would be difficult to do even with a sanely-designed programming language and execution environment. In Javascript, it’s often close to impossible.

It’s one reason why the answer to the question of how best to do something in client-side Javascript is a simple don’t.

Don’t do it. Not if you can do it in static HTML somehow. It might in some theoretical sense be better to have more interactivity, but in practice a less theoretically-elegant solution that works and works reliability in a wide variety of situations will come out ahead.

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