Steven Hancock

JavaScript is everywhere. You can’t do much on a computer or mobile device without running into it. But what is JavaScript, and should you take the time to learn it?

You may have some initial questions. Most anyone getting started does. So let’s look at some common questions, and more importantly, look at the answers. 

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript is a scripting language introduced in 1995 to help make web pages interactive. When creating a web page, you usually use three different technologies. The HTML page provides the structure and the web content. CSS provides style to that content, such as colors and fonts. JavaScript makes the content interactive and dynamic.

These are client-side markup and programming languages, interpreted by the browser rather than in the back-end on the web servers. They aren’t compiled like other programming languages, but rather, the browser simply knows how to interpret them.

Learn Modern JavaScript: Getting Started

Last Updated February 2021

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JavaScript for Beginners; In Depth Training to truly Learn JavaScript; Gets You Started as a JavaScript Programmer | By Steven Hancock

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If you think about some common things that occur when browsing the internet, JavaScript is probably involved. For example, as you begin typing a Google search, the suggested search terms become available because of JavaScript. If your web-based email is updated to show you the latest emails you have received, JavaScript is involved. Any interaction with your favorite YouTube content most likely involves JavaScript. Basically, if the web page you are viewing is doing something more than just displaying static text and images, JavaScript has something to do with it. 

But don’t confuse JavaScript with Java. JavaScript is a dynamic, portable language used to create web and mobile applications. Java is primarily used for desktop and server applications.

 A book on JavaScript for web designers.

What is JavaScript used for?

Based on the previous answer, it might be tempting to answer this question with “JavaScript helps power the web.” This would be right, but it’s only part of the story. JavaScript has evolved since its early beginnings and works not just on the web page you are viewing but many other places as well.

Many websites rely on back-end processing to display data from and record data to a data source on the server. This backend processing is frequently done by languages other than JavaScript, such as Python and PHP

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But JavaScript does not need to be excluded anymore. In 2009 Node.js was released. This made it possible to use JavaScript on the server, so you aren’t stuck with just client-side JavaScript. It has continued to develop since then and is now responsible for running the backend of numerous sites.

The server is not the only place that JavaScript has made inroads. For example, you could create a mobile app using JavaScript thanks to tools like React Native and Ionic. Thanks to Electron, you could also build a desktop app using JavaScript.

So basically, JavaScript is everywhere and has many different uses. You can use the same JavaScript function across multiple platforms, so it’s highly portable — and many utilities you would work with are based on it. JavaScript is a significant skill for a web developer or full stack developer.

Why learn JavaScript?

According to a recent StackOverflow developer survey, JavaScript is the most commonly used language, and this has been the case for several years in a row. This should give you an idea of the number of opportunities available to someone who knows JavaScript. As long as people use and interact with the web, development opportunities will continue to grow.

Now, you may have heard of different technologies for building web pages like React, Vue, and Angular, and perhaps this has made you wonder if you should focus on these tools instead of JavaScript. These tools are libraries and frameworks built on top of JavaScript. To be successful with any of them, you should first learn JavaScript without any of the added tools. We call this “vanilla JavaScript.” If you want to become a versatile developer that understands what is happening in your code even when different libraries and frameworks are used, you must learn vanilla JavaScript as well. This approach is one I strongly suggest and promote in my courses.

Is JavaScript a real programming language?

As a result of JavaScripts beginnings as a scripting language meant to do small manipulations on web pages, it is sometimes thought of as a “toy” language; something that is not used by real programmers. 

However, JavaScript has matured extensively through the years. JavaScript is now a full-fledged language. It contains many of the best features of other languages. JavaScript supports multiple programming styles such as object-oriented, functional, and imperative. With JavaScript, you can get started writing code in as little as a few minutes. You can also spend years mastering the language. It is a mountain waiting to be climbed.

The name “JavaScript” can perpetuate the idea that the language is just Java’s little sister; Java being the full fledged language and JavaScript its little, weaker brother. However, JavaScript and Java are two very different languages and are not even related. JavaScript was named after Java merely for marketing purposes.

Is JavaScript difficult to learn?

JavaScript is beginner-friendly, and you already have the tools to start learning. Writing some JavaScript code with a simple text editor and a web browser is possible. In the text editor, you write your code, and the browser contains a JavaScript engine to interpret and run it. This simple tutorial can get you started writing your first JavaScript code.

Yet as easy as JavaScript is to begin, JavaScript developers may also find themselves needing a little help when it gets more advanced. Remember, JavaScript is a serious language and contains some serious concepts. But learning each new piece is super exciting and provides a new beautiful view as you ascend this mountain.

There are also JavaScript frameworks that can make it easier to get started, but you should still learn the language from the bottom up.

How do I get started?

This last question is the most important. Only you know how you learn best. And the web that JavaScript powers is full of resources for learning the language. But having taught numerous students, let me provide some suggestions:

If you would like to take this journey with me, I would love to have you along for the ride. Browse my most popular courses focused on vanilla JavaScript, or start from the beginning with my Learn Modern JavaScript: Getting Started course. Happy JavaScripting!

Page Last Updated: April 2022