May '19


On Life, Legacy, and JavaScript

Prototypal inheritance with closures and late binding: so powerful and versatile that it can support just about any programming paradigm imaginable. Functional folks can memoize their partially applied functions, object-oriented people can inherit from their base class, and the imperatively-minded can use their interactive read, evaluate, print loop. Those few left, still unsatisfied, might use a more refined, stack-based language and transpile the nonsensical glyphs back into prototypal codes and (perhaps with a shim or two) run their fancy new adders on interpreters older than time itself.

Yep, I'm talking about JavaScript. But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Our story starts...

Back in the day

A long while back, some enterprising individual discovered the arcane magic of running JavaScript without Hypertext and on server-grade hardware. Not long afterward, software developers, everywhere, wandered aimlessly through non-blocking purgatory and burned in callback hell. Darkness fell.

And then-- a new power was wrought: babel.

It no longer mattered what kind of code you wanted to write, babel would take it and convert the original writings directly into JavaScript. Code that once ran only on handheld games and in MS-DOS prompts could now run anywhere. Programming languages with Standards and Best Practices could now be used to develop software running in browsers, on desktops, on mobile phones, in cars, on kiosks...

Personal computing had improved, and it kept improving. To the point that an average, technically privileged individual walked around with more flops than a 1.93-meter tall, pale white man pretending he's still in San Diego. Mobile networks, too, improved, with ever increasing numbers of G (whatever that is) and never-high-enough bandwidth caps for those sweet, dank memes.

The internet rejoiced, and humanity soon entered a glorious Fool's Golden Age of Software Engineering. But many could not shake that unease, that tension, the sort that you feel when trying to not stub your toe in a pitch dark room full of kids toys.

"My phone seems like its getting slower," some users wrote on message boards.

"It must be your mobile network," the response, "our app is flawlessly crafted with coffeescript and scss and converted into state of the art, cross-platform, bullet-proof, ironclad. Java. Script."

Paralysed by choice of flavor for the week, many developers abandoned all sense. Long term support version lifespans were cut in half, then half again, then by a magnitude, to allow people to "move fast" and "break things." Soon, things did indeed seem to be nearing a breaking point. Software sucked.

Huge efforts were made to improve the situation, with much time and energy spent, culminating in a wacky new invention: transpilation. No, don't compile the code for machines to consume-- translate it into a different language altogether! For machines to consume! Err.. wait, is that right? Uhh.. best not to think on it.

Code of incredible diversity wound up as dependencies or dev dependencies or peer dependencies or transitive dependencies. Most all JavaScript developers applied the sage wisdom of seeking out other's inventions for their own exploitation, of avoiding any sort of repetition or reimplementation, of semantically versioned source code reuse and automatic integration powered by external and externally controlled third parties.

Everything anyone could think of doing to improve matters was done.

But software still sucked.

And it still does

Admitting there is a problem is the first step. The second is to coin a new name and prepare a steady stream of proper specifications, clarifications, improvements, and carry on as if nothing had ever happened. Some called it ES6, some, but most would agree that the language underpinning all of humanity, JavaScript, was improving.

In 2019, it's called ES2018. And you don't even need babel anymore.

Technically, you still need some magic sauce to actually avoid using `require()`, but the language itself has come so far from it's original ambiguities. Yet-- the original Object Model (no, not the DOM) has changed very little; much of the JavaScript written two decades ago can run anywhere that JavaScript is still supported.

All this, and no big deal to the language that would be haphazardly created and unintentionally willed upon all developers, front or backend, whether they enjoyed it or not.

Perfect Legacy

JavaScript today is diverse as ever. I often say things like, "I enjoy my JavaScript quite a bit, it's everyone else's that sucks." The honest truth is that even my flawless, artisinal, hand-typed-then-automatically-reformatted ES2018 sucks, too. It all sucks, but that isn't the point.

Practical application of a few, simple ideas is sometimes all that's necessary to leave a long lasting legacy and change the world forever. For better... Or worse. ;)




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