Getting started

NOTE: this is part of a series about (re-)learning JavaScript.

Getting started with JavaScript

Getting started is always hard.

If you’re totally new to JavaScript, it might seem daunting. In reality, everything is pretty simple, if you take it one step at the time.

I’ve been coding in JavaScript for a long time without truly understanding the language, and I started with the basics and I made it—and if I can do it, you can do it, too. I’m not that smart.

Web console

It’s super-easy to get your feet wet and see JavaScript in action. As JavaScript is found in virtually every browser, that’s all you need to get started.

Now, I have no idea how Internet Explorer works, but Chrome, Firefox, and Safari all have a feature called web console where among other things you can enter commands that the JavaScript engine will execute.

I’ll do a screencast as soon as I got 10 minutes and add it here.

Things you should know

History of JavaScript

This applies to many things IMO, but with JavaScript in particular it’s important to know the story behind it. So, you should read about the history of JavaScript. It won’t take more than 5 minutes, and you’ll understand the big picture 100 times better.

What to call JavaScript?

If you read the article above, you might know that JavaScript can practically be called JavaScript, ECMAScript, or JScript pretty much interchangeably. So, what should we call it?

JavaScript is a trademarked name–owned by Oracle now–but it’s the name that people recognize the language by, so you should probably call it JavaScript most of the times.

However, when we’re talking about features and versions, you normally refer to it as ECMAScript, as ECMA is the body that is in charge of the language and people usually say “feature x is available since ECMAScript 5” (or, actually, abbreviated to “feature x is available since ES5”). So, in these cases I would go with ES or ECMAScript.

ECMAScript versions

There are 3 notable ECMAScript versions: ES3, ES5, and ES6.

ES4 was abandoned, and ES7 is in the works but won’t be mainstream for many, many years.

ES3 is obsolete, and if you don’t need to support IE8 and earlier you should ignore it.

ES5 has broad support, and is what I’ll be talking about here.

ES6 is still far away from being usable because of browser support, but of course it can be used on other platforms. I won’t cover ES6 besides mentioning some major new features.

ES5 introduced strict mode, which makes the JavaScript engine use the newest version of the standard. You’ll generally want to use strict mode whenever possible since your scripts will run faster, but it isn’t supported on IE9, which means you’ll have to test and keep an eye on it. For now I wouldn’t worry about it, just wanted to mention it’s there.

The main point is, I’ll be talking about ES5.

Getting started with JavaScript

Development tools

For doing actual useful stuff you won’t need a lot: just a barebone text editor (Nodepad/Win, Text Edit/Mac).

For a full-fledged, modern program for coding I highly recommend Atom, a free and open source Sublime Text clone editor available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. There’s also Light Table, which looks even better but I haven’t tried it yet.

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