JavaScript: It's not Just for Browsers Any More

Learning one of the fastest-growing languages for server-side development

Learning one of the fastest-growing languages for server-side development

Most people who know a little about Internet tech or are learning to code know that JavaScript is the scripting language for Web pages. It adds interaction, verifies form inputs, and makes pages livelier and more useful. Not as many people know that JavaScript is one of the fastest-growing languages for server-side development, and more and more people are attending the coding bootcamps necessary to learn it. Today a website can use the same language behind the scenes that it uses on its pages, allowing tighter connections between client and server.

Node.js

The main thing making it possible is Node.js, called Node for short. It's an “asynchronous event-driven JavaScript runtime.” Let's unpack that.

A runtime is short for a “runtime library” or “runtime environment.” It's a body of code that provides low-level functions while a program is running, usually ones that can't be implemented in the language itself. Node's runtime lets JavaScript code operate in a server environment.

It's event-driven and asynchronous because it lets the code set up actions that will happen when something occurs, rather than when you call it from another function. For instance, an HTTP request is an event that could start a function running. Multiple functions, or multiple invocations of the same function, can be running at the same time.

Node isn't a Web server in itself, but it provides everything necessary to write one in JavaScript. Usually it isn't done that way, for performance reasons. Instead, Node code runs under a standard Web server, such as Apache or Nginx.

Full stack JavaScript

Using JavaScript throughout a Web application, including both client and server, is called full stack JavaScript. This doesn't necessarily mean the same developers write code for both sides. Node.js and its associated libraries are enough of a specialty that developers devote all their time to getting better at it, while others specialize in the equally complex client side.

But when both sides literally “speak the same language,” it makes many things easier. For example, it allows passing of information in JSON, which is JavaScript syntax used to describe structured data. It also allows writing code that can run either in the browser, the server, or a standalone application.

Node is often used with Express.js, a Web framework. Node understands the HTTP protocol, but not specific request types like GET and POST. Express saves programmers from the tedium of coding common operations on request types, URL parameters, and cookies. It's described as “minimalist” and “unopinionated,” and often it's used with templates for specific approaches to Web design.

You can even use JavaScript to work with databases. The popular MongoDB database uses a JSON-like syntax for its data and comes with an interactive JavaScript shell as well as a Node.js driver. This means a Web application can use JavaScript for virtually everything! Put all of these together — plus Angular.js on the browser side if you like — and you get what's known as the MEAN stack: MongoDB, Express, Angular, and Node.

The evolution of JavaScript

JavaScript has changed tremendously since its beginnings. At first it was a Web scripting language loosely inspired by Java, hence its name. It was designed for quick rather than clean code, to add some interaction to pages. Brendan Eich created the first version in ten days in 1995. For a long time it didn't work exactly the same way in different browsers. This gave the language a bad reputation, which it still carries among some people. The name added to the confusion. Libraries often intermingle books on Java and JavaScript, though they're two very different languages.

Today's JavaScript is a very sophisticated language. It implements modern programming concepts, including object-oriented and functional programming. You can start by learning the language in a browser environment, then later move into other specialties as career opportunities open up. Even though the language is over two decades old, its uses are still growing. Contact us to start learning JavaScript at one of our coding bootcamps, and open up career opportunities.

Jan Wagner
contact@davinciinstitute.com

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