Thursday, October 6, 2016

This Infographic Explains Why JS Dev Seems So Complicated

There's a web site called Hacker Noon which seems to specialize in complaining about JavaScript. One Hacker Noon piece resonated with a lot of people recently. It's all about how huge and overcomplicated the JS ecosystem is, and how hard it is to just sit down and get stuff done.

First of all, if what you want is a beautiful, omakase system for building modern front-end applications, just learn Elm. It's omakase as fuck. It's lovely to work with. And it's the type of project where you can do everything in one language, without ever needing to deal with other stuff.

But there's another option, too: just take a moment to understand why the JavaScript ecosystem is complicated.

It's not just because JavaScript is used by everybody who does anything on the web. It's not just because code on demand becomes a more powerful strategy each day, as the computers which run web browsers become smaller and more powerful.

It's also because JavaScript employs one of the oldest strategies of the Web: paving the cowpaths. Whenever people are already doing something, and it's working well, JavaScript seeks to lift up their practices into the language itself, rather than dictating something new.

Consequently, modern JavaScript is full of things which it got from open source projects.


Puppy picture from Daniel Stockman on Flickr.

bind was pioneered by Prototype, and showed up in Underscore and jQuery (as proxy) before landing in ES5. The Array methods each, map, and filter have a very similar backstory. CoffeeScript and Node are major contributors to ES6. When Angular and Ember first blew up, Object.observe briefly became a thing. People thought it would be a big deal, but this turned out to be premature paving of an unused cowpath, and Object.observe was deprecated, because people didn't use it. This is the output of a process where the people who shape JavaScript look at how open source projects use JavaScript, and the ways in which they seek to fix JavaScript, and use that as guidance to inform decisions about what JavaScript should be.

Modern front-end development is a lot of fun. In the 1990s and the 2000s, it was a nightmare. It was horrible. And paving the cowpaths is one of the reasons it got better. Because in the 1990s and 2000s, JavaScript implementers tried to just make up features and tell people what they wanted. It didn't work.

The chaos and churn of the JavaScript landscape is how we got a better JavaScript. It would never be practical to get such a big user base to agree on a hypothetical feature set. There's just too many people. It would be beyond impractical to expect any giganto-committee to be able to foresee the needs of such a colossal group. So JavaScript is a place where lots of projects get invented, and the language learns from its users.

That's fucking great. A huge landscape full of competing projects means that JavaScript will keep getting better.

If you'll forgive a little blatant self-promotion, this infographic is from my upcoming book, Modern Front-End Development with Ruby on Rails and Puppies. In this book, I build a simple UI in vanilla Rails, using CoffeeScript and jQuery. Then I throw out jQuery and turn the front-end code into ES5, because — as you can tell from the infographic — pretty much everything that made jQuery worthwhile has been integrated into JavaScript itself now. Anyway, then I turn it into ES6. Then I run it through Webpack and integrate Webpack with Rails. I implement the UI again in React with JSX, and then again with ClojureScript and Om. (I've also built it yet again in Elm, but I haven't written that chapter yet.) I even show how to pull in an experimental feature from ES8.

And yes, there's puppies. There's a puppy on every page. So if all this unfamiliar JavaScript scares you, all you have to do is look at the puppies and you'll feel better.

It's a very hand-hold-y book. It makes it easy for you to dive into all the complexity of modern front-end development. So there's no excuse for complaining! But the reason all this works is because this book teaches you things. In order to do front-end development, you have to learn stuff. There's no way around that. You can't expect one of the most lucrative fields on the planet to be a field which does not require you to obtain new information. That's just ridiculous.


Update: Version 0.1 0.2 of the book is now live! Also, when I made this infographic, I left out the most obvious and well-known example of JS adopting user ideas, namely, JSON. My bad!