History of JavaScript: Part 5

Alex R. Young





language history hoj

History of JavaScript: Part 5

Posted by Alex R. Young on .

language history hoj

History of JavaScript: Part 5

Posted by Alex R. Young on .

This article is part 5 of our History of JavaScript series. Last week we
looked at the development of Ajax, XMLHttpRequest, and the rise of Web

Prototype and Objects

I haven't been able to track down a concrete answer to the question "why
is JavaScript prototype-based?". If you recall part 1 of this series,
you might remember this quote from Brendan Eich:

And we were pushing it as a little brother to Java, as a complementary language like Visual Basic was to C++ in Microsoft's language families at the time.

It's clear that JavaScript's creator wished to make something simpler
than Java, and as most of us know Java's object model is extensive.
Conversely, JavaScript's object model is very simple. Advanced OO-like
features can be built using JavaScript's core features: prototype
objects and closures.

Class-Oriented Programming

I remember hearing about a talk by Dave
where he bemoaned the overuse of
classes in object oriented programming. Is object oriented programming
about objects or classes? The way most people are taught is class

This is something worth keeping in mind when we talk about
prototype-based programming. It's not always easy for those trained in
classical object oriented programming to see the distinction between the

The History of Prototype Programming

Prototypes came from a desire to further develop object-oriented
languages, with the language Self. The
language was first publicly released in 1990. In 1991 the developers
moved to Sun Microsystems which may explain the JavaScript connection.

Self challenges the notion that classes and objects are distinct. In
Self, much like JavaScript, copies of objects are made rather than
instantiating objects from a template. Objects used to create copies are
known as prototypes.

You can learn about Self in the Language

Between Self and widespread adoption of JavaScript, other interesting
prototype-based languages were developed. Lua was created in 1993, and
is now widely used in the games industry for scripting tasks. REBOL
appeared in 1997, using the make function to construct and
return objects.

One prototype-based language I've played with quite a bit is
io, which was created in 2002. It's succinct and easy to learn, and I think it should appeal to Lisp or
JavaScript enthusiasts.

Trends in Prototype-based Languages

If you look through the popular prototype languages you'll notice a few
common themes:

  • Simple syntax
  • Dynamic
  • Inspired by languages like Scheme
  • Small, efficient VM


Prototype-based languages like JavaScript and Lua have found their
respective niches, and more developers than ever are versed in this
style. Given the amount of innovation in VM design and implementation,
these languages will continue to grow in popularity.