Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

JavaScript: write it yourself or use a library?

3rd July 2008

I must admit that I have never been a great fan of JavaScript. For one thing, its need to interact with browser objects places you at the mercy of the purveyors of such pieces of software. Debugging is another fine art that can seem opaque to the the uninitiated since the amount and quality of the logging is determined an interpreter that isn’t provided by the language’s overseers. All in all, it seems to present a steep and obstacle-strewn learning curve to newcomers. As it happens, I have always found server side scripting languages like PHP and Perl to be more to my taste and I have no aversion at all to writing SQL.

In the late 1990’s when I was still using free web hosting, JavaScript probably was the best option for my then new online photo gallery. Whatever was the truth, it certainly was the way that I went. Learning Java or Flash might have been useful but I never managed to devote sufficient time to the task so JavaScript turned out to be the way forward until I got a taste of server side scripting. Moving to paid hosting allowed for that to develop and the JavaScript option took a back seat.

Based on my experience of the browser wars and working with JavaScript throughout their existence, I was more than a little surprised at the buzz surrounding AJAX. Ploughing part of the way through WROX’s Beginning AJAX did nothing to sell the technology to me; it came across as a very dry jargon-blighted read. Nevertheless, I do see the advantages of web applications being as responsive as their desktop equivalents but AJAX doesn’t always guarantee this; as someone that has seen such applications crawling on IE6, I can certainly vouch for this. In fact, I suspect that may be behind the appearance of technologies such as AIR and Silverlight so JavaScript may get usurped yet again, just like my move to a photo gallery powered on the server side.

Even with these concerns, using JavaScript to add a spot more interactivity is never a bad thing even if it can be overdone, hence the speed problems that I have witnessed. In fact, I have been known to use DOM scripting but I need to have the use in mind before I can experiment with a technology; I cannot do it the other way around. Nevertheless, I am keen to see what JavaScript libraries such as jQuery and Prototype might have to offer (both have been used in WordPress). I have happened on their respective websites so they might make good places to start and who knows where my curiosity might take me?

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