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What Is JavaScript? A Basic Guide to JS For Beginners

WRITTEN BY
Jao Gavino
UPDATED
April 23, 2024

 

If you’ve ever browsed any website, there’s a very high chance that JavaScript was used in one or more of its components—it’s practically everywhere!

 

JavaScript stands as one of the core pillars of the Internet, with a whopping 98.6% of all websites using JavaScript as a client-side programming language, according to W3Techs.

 

But what is it? And how does it stack up against other languages, such as Python, C, or Java? In this article, we’ll explore the answers to these questions and more!

 

 

What Is JavaScript?

 
javascript history

JavaScript first came out in 1995 and has been going strong since. (Source: Wikitechy)

 

JavaScript (JS) is a programming language that was primarily developed by Brendan Eich in 1995. Back in the days of the early ‘90s, web pages were exclusively static—they were incapable of any dynamic behaviors once they were loaded onto a browser.

 

Most companies and web developers saw a need to overcome this limitation, and so in 1995, Netscape, the company that created the most popular browser at the time, decided to add a scripting language to its browser, Netscape Navigator.

 

These pursuits eventually resulted in the creation of LiveScript for a Navigator beta release in September 1995, which was then renamed to JavaScript for the official release that December.

 

Although JS was originally conceived as an add-on for web browsers to make them more interactive, it has since become one of the most popular programming languages in use today.

 

 

What Is JavaScript Used For?

 

javascript

JavaScript allows for a higher degree of interactivity on a webpage.

 

JavaScript is primarily utilized for scripting web pages and apps as well as adding interactivity and dynamic behaviors to an HTML document.

 

Web applications that can dynamically modify the HTML and CSS to update a user interface without reloading the entire page are a common application for JS code.

 

Some of the uses of JavaScript include the following:

 

  • Web development (e.g., creating web pages, adding dynamic behaviors and special effects to a page)
  • Creating highly flexible web applications
  • Creating mobile applications (via the widely used React Native framework)
  • Creating video games (e.g., browser games)
  • Creating web servers using Node.js
  • Server applications (generating content and handling HTTP requests)

 

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Using JavaScript?

 
browsers

One of JavaScript’s downsides is that it requires you to test it out across a variety of browsers. (Source: Dcode Group)

 

Now that you have a basic idea of what JavaScript is and how it’s used, let’s talk about its pros and cons. First up, let’s list JavaScript’s main advantages:

 

  • Easy to learn
    It has a simple structure, which doesn’t require much time or effort to get started with.
  • Extremely popular
    As we’ve stated above, more than 98% of all websites use JavaScript in some way.
  • Fast
    It is an interpreted programming language, which reduces the time required by other languages (e.g., Java) for compilation. It is also client-side, which means that it loads and executes faster because it doesn’t require you to connect to a server.
  • Less overhead
    JavaScript improves website and web app performance by cutting down code length by using different built-in functions for loops, DOM access, and so on.
  • Allows for greater user interactivity
    This was JavaScript’s core foundational principle, after all, allowing for dynamic web pages without reloading. For example, you can change layouts or swap out images on the fly via JavaScript.
  • Works perfectly with other languages
    This interoperability allows developers to embed it into HTML web pages or even inside the script of another language!
  • Capable of both front- and back-end development
    JavaScript is highly versatile, with back-end development using Node.js and front-end development utilizing various libraries, such as AngularJS.

 

Next, let’s take a look at the disadvantages of JavaScript:

 

  • Not that secure
    Because users can easily see JS code, some may utilize it for malicious purposes, such as using the source code without authentication or injecting some code into a website that compromises the security of its data.
  • Requires you to check for browser support
    Different browsers interpret JavaScript differently, which requires you to run JS code on different platforms before publishing. In addition, some older browsers do not support some of JavaScript’s newer functionalities, which requires even more checking.
  • Quite tricky to debug
    As you build and run JS on a browser, your tools for debugging problematic code are quite limited, especially when you compare them to languages such as C++ or Java, which have dedicated debugging and development suites.
  • Only supports single inheritance
    Some programs may require multiple inheritance, rendering JS unusable for such applications.

 

Note

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How Does JavaScript Compare To Other Programming Languages?

 
web development

JavaScript has plenty of uses, but how good is it when compared to other languages?

 

As you can see, JavaScript has a lot of advantages (as well as some downsides). But how does it fare against other languages? If you’re curious about how JavaScript compares to C, Java, Python, and PHP, then read on!

 

JavaScript vs. C

 
c programming

C is a very old programming language that has been continuously updated throughout the decades. (Source: Prutor.ai)

 

C is one of the oldest programming languages, being created in the 1970s as a general-purpose programming language. It has enjoyed continued support and updates since then, with the next major language standard revision, C23, receiving its most recent draft in April 2023.

 

How does JavaScript hold up against this venerable old language? See for yourself:

 

  • Unlike JS, which is compiled with a just-in-time (JIT) compiler, C is compiled in advance.
  • JavaScript is typed dynamically, whereas C is typed statically.
  • JavaScript does not work directly with your computer’s memory, unlike C.
  • In JavaScript, you can juggle multiple jobs. In C, explicit control of threads is allowed.
  • In JS, code doesn’t need to be recompiled when moving it to a different processor, but in C, code must be recompiled beforehand.
  • In JS, memory blocks can be handled automatically; in C, they cannot.

 

JavaScript vs. Java

 
java

Although they have similar names, JavaScript and Java are completely unrelated.

 

Java, on the other hand, is a programming language and computing platform first released by Sun Microsystems in 1995. Although they are similarly named, JavaScript and Java are not directly related to each other.

 

If you’re wondering about the differences between these two languages, here they are:

 

  • JavaScript is an object-oriented programming (OOP) scripting language. On the other hand, Java is an OOP programming language.
  • JavaScript code runs only on a browser, while Java creates applications that can be run on a browser or virtual machine.
  • JavaScript code is all in text, whereas Java code needs to be compiled.
  • Both require different plugins.

 

JavaScript vs. Python

 
python

Python is a high-level OOP language that’s easy to pick up and use. (Source: Python.org)

 

Next up is Python, which is a high-level, interpreted, object-oriented programming language that uses a simple, easy-to-learn syntax. This simplicity and reduced cost of program maintenance have helped boost Python’s popularity, making it the fourth most commonly used programming language in Stack Overflow’s 2022 survey.

 

Here’s how JavaScript fares against this highly popular language:

 

  • JavaScript is a scripting language, whereas Python is a high-level OOP language.
  • JavaScript can be run on most browsers, while Python code almost always needs an interpreter to run.
  • JavaScript utilizes curly brackets ({ and }) to designate blocks of code. On the other hand, Python uses indentation and whitespace.
  • JS code responds to clicks and keystrokes; Python responds to function calls.
  • Both are dynamically typed languages.

 

JavaScript vs. PHP

 
JavaScript-vs.-PHP

PHP originally stood for “Personal Home Page,” but now stands for “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor.” Its adorable mascot is known as the “ElePHPant.”

 

Finally, PHP describes itself as a “popular general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited to web development.” PHP is a language for back-end development only.

 

On the other hand, JavaScript, although initially designed as a front-end development language, has become full-stack (i.e., for both front- and back-end development) since the introduction of Node.js in 2009.

 

Here is an overview of the similarities and differences between JavaScript and PHP:

 

  • JavaScript can be combined with HTML, XML, and Ajax, while PHP can only be combined with HTML.
  • JavaScript can be used for full-stack development. PHP is back-end only.
  • JavaScript is harder to learn than PHP. For example, PHP peculiarities (e.g., inconsistent functions or return values) are easier to comprehend and master compared to JS’s peculiarities.
  • Both allow for dynamically typed variables.
  • Both are cross-platform.

 

 

Should You Use JavaScript?

 

As you can see, JavaScript has its own features that make it unique from other languages. Does that make it better than those other languages? That’s up to you!

 

If you want a simple language that’s easy to pick up, JavaScript is a pretty nice and versatile choice—it’ll let you make highly dynamic web pages and doesn’t require a compiler, allowing you to directly add it to HTML documents without issues.

 

It’s also an extremely popular and widely used language, so you can’t exactly go wrong with learning it—with more than 98% of all websites using it, it’s pretty hard not to find a use for it once you learn it!

 

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and are looking to start up your own website (with a mix of HTML and JavaScript, perhaps?), then feel free to read our article on this year’s best web hosts—they’ll help you get your site up and running quickly and easily!