Interview with a Developer: What is JavaScript?

Drew Barton: I’m here with Byron Johnson who is one of our developers here at Southern Web. Our topics today that we’re discussing is JavaScript, so what is JavaScript?

Byron Johnson: JavaScript is a scripting language that was created to provide various functionality that you could implement within a browser. But, recently, it goes into broader uses such as service side and desktop side programming. So that’s what it is in its basic form.

Drew: Oftentimes you’ll hear people say “JavaScript” or “Java”. Are they the same things?

Byron: No. JavaScript is based on Java but it’s a more simple scripting language as opposed to Java, but was created for the use within a browser, whereas Java is used strictly for application development. Most of your apps on your phones, particularly Android, those are created in Java. Also, desktop applications, or programs like we used to call them, can be built in Java. You wouldn’t find Java in the browser.

Drew: Okay. When you know JavaScript, what can you do with it?

Byron: You can do tons with JavaScript. JavaScript was originally created to build interactions within the browser, and it’s still used for that purpose today, but it’s taken on a lot broader perspective as well. For instance, whenever you click a button on a site, JavaScript can allow that click to perform all kinds of different tasks or interactions with other elements on the page. If you have ever browsed a site, clicked a button on the page, and had a screen pop up, that’s usually a JavaScript implemented interaction. That’s a standard use of JavaScript and it’s been used for since the 90s.

Today, it’s being used to send and retrieve data from servers so that it’s starting to tie a little bit more into the back end. You can also now use JavaScript to run tasks on your machine. So what a lot of programmers are doing these days is utilizing JavaScript to automate redundant tasks such as compiling SASS. That’s an example of a more current usage of JavaScript that we see it evolve in to.

Drew: When you’re doing development, do you choose to build it in JavaScript or HTML? Do you pick one or the other? Do you use them both together? Can you tell me more?

Byron: Yeah. HTML is your structure, whereas JavaScript is used more for the interaction. You can’t have one without the other per say. You can’t just build a JavaScript website; there’s always going to be HTML involved because that’s going to be your structure and your foundation, much like a house. Your walls would be the equivalent of your HTML, whereas the lights would be turning on and off, the electrical system, would be more like the JavaScript implementation. You’ll never really have just JavaScripts completely. There will always be HTML involved.

Drew: Earlier you mentioned server-side JavaScript and client-side JavaScript. What’s the difference between those two things?

Byron: Client side is referring strictly to browser interaction. These interactions can include showing or hiding data, parallax scrolling, interactive drop down menus, etc. You, as a client, are interacting with that website, and these interactions are controlled by client side JavaScript. The server side, which includes some newer JavaScript technologies, is the stuff that you don’t necessarily see happening on the front end. JavaScript is now being utilized to store data in a databases and can even control the whole entire database. Where you’ll see the server side and the client side working together, for instance, is searching on a website for a person. When you click “go” or “search”, that clicking is a client side event, then the person’s information would be returned from the server. That returned data would be controlled by the JavaScript database. This would be an example of the client side and the server side working together.

Drew: So, if you’re intrigued by JavaScript, and you wanted to learn some more about it, what would you tell them to do, where would you tell them to start to find out more about it?

Byron: The best sources that I’ve used thus far, and I’ve used a few different sources, is Code School’s JavaScript courses. They have a series of three JavaScript lessons, but they’re very good and they’re very detailed. If you’re looking for a free source, the best one I’ve found is Code Academy. Code Academy has a pretty good walk-through on JavaScript, I just don’t think it’s as structured as well as Code School’s is, but that’s another great option. Then, from the books that I’ve read, a really great source was the book JavaScript and jQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development by Jon Duckett. It’s a really great book, especially for someone that learns more from a visual aid. The way it lays everything out and the flow of the book is really great. It also has jQuery in there, but that’s more of an added bonus. I’d highly recommend it as a starting point for JavaScript.

Drew: Great. Where do you see JavaScript going in the future?

Byron: Well, it used to be something that was used for basic interactions, and a lot of people even kind of shunned it in the early 2000s. In web development, it wasn’t something that was too big of a thing, but you needed it sometimes. Now, JavaScript, since it’s taken on this broader perspective of going more into the server side and being used on the desktop side for developers to automate tasks, it’s stretching out everywhere. Due to it’s newly emerged prevalence, I think it’s just going to keep flourishing from here.

If you can learn JavaScript just on the front end side, you now have that understanding of how JavaScript works and can begin to apply that same knowledge towards back end JavaScrip development. No longer do you have to learn multiple languages to interact with the front end and back end. For instance, with PHP you would learn PHP for the front end, but then learn MySQL to handle the server side of things. The same thing with Microsoft. You would need to learn .net for front end development, but then you’d also then have to use SQL to control the database back end side. Now with JavaScript, you can streamline your knowledge. If you know JavaScript, you can now create a whole website or an application just by knowing just one language. You can now bring those two worlds together with one scripting language. That makes it very powerful.

Another thing about JavaScript is it’s very fast, it’s a lot quicker than these older technologies. I think you’re just going to see it become more encompassing over the web development world as a whole. We also have two different frameworks created by two of the biggest web companies out there. Google has created a JavaScript framework called Angular and we also have React.js which is popular right now and was created by Facebook. When you see companies like that set up their own frameworks with JavaScript, you can only imagine how this is going to continue with leaders within the web industry. I think it’s going to keep flourishing from here.

Drew: That’s a lot of great information Byron. Thanks.

Byron: Awesome. No problem.

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