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JavaScript


Alongside HTML and CSS, JavaScript is one of the core technologies of the World Wide Web. JavaScript enables interactive web pages and is an essential part of web applications. The vast majority of websites use it, and major web browsers have a dedicated JavaScript engine to execute it.

Initially only implemented client-side in web browsers, JavaScript engines are now embedded in many other types of host software, including server-side in web servers and databases, and in non-web programs such as word processors and PDF software, and in runtime environments that make JavaScript available for writing mobile and desktop applications, including desktop widgets.

In 1995, Netscape Communications recruited Brendan Eich with the goal of embedding the Scheme programming language into its Netscape Navigator. Before he could get started, Netscape Communications collaborated with Sun Microsystems to include in Netscape Navigator Sun's more static programming language Java, in order to compete with Microsoft for user adoption of Web technologies and platforms. Netscape Communications then decided that the scripting language they wanted to create would complement Java and should have a similar syntax, which excluded adopting other languages such as Perl, Python, TCL, or Scheme. To defend the idea of JavaScript against competing proposals, the company needed a prototype. Eich wrote one in 10 days, in May 1995.

In November 1996, Netscape submitted JavaScript to ECMA International to carve out a standard specification, which other browser vendors could then implement based on the work done at Netscape. This led to the official release of the language specification ECMAScript published in the first edition of the ECMA-262 standard in June 1997, with JavaScript being the most well known of the implementations. ActionScript and JScript were other well-known implementations of ECMAScript.

While all of this was happening, the open source and developer communities set to work to revolutionize what could be done with JavaScript. This community effort was sparked in 2005 when Jesse James Garrett released a white paper in which he coined the term Ajax, and described a set of technologies, of which JavaScript was the backbone, used to create web applications where data can be loaded in the background, avoiding the need for full page reloads and leading to more dynamic applications. This resulted in a renaissance period of JavaScript usage spearheaded by open source libraries and the communities that formed around them, with libraries such as Prototype, jQuery, Dojo Toolkit, MooTools, and others being released.

Whereas explicit function-based delegation does cover composition in JavaScript, implicit delegation already happens every time the prototype chain is walked in order to, e.g., find a method that might be related to but is not directly owned by an object. Once the method is found it gets called within this object's context. Thus inheritance in JavaScript is covered by a delegation automatism that is bound to the prototype property of constructor functions.

JavaScript code can run locally in a user's browser (rather than on a remote server), increasing the application's overall responsiveness to user actions. JavaScript code can also detect user actions that HTML alone cannot, such as individual keystrokes. Applications such as Gmail take advantage of this: much of the user-interface logic is written in JavaScript, and JavaScript dispatches requests for information (such as the content of an e-mail message) to the server. The wider trend of Ajax programming similarly exploits this strength.

JavaScript authors can deal with these differences by writing standards-compliant code that can be executed correctly by most browsers. Failing that, they can write code that behaves differently in the absence of certain browser features. Authors may also find it practical to detect what browser is running, as two browsers may implement the same feature with differing behavior. Libraries and toolkits that take browser differences into account are also useful to programmers.

A common JavaScript-related security problem is cross-site scripting (XSS), a violation of the same-origin policy. XSS vulnerabilities occur when an attacker is able to cause a target Web site, such as an online banking website, to include a malicious script in the webpage presented to a victim. The script in this example can then access the banking application with the privileges of the victim, potentially disclosing secret information or transferring money without the victim's authorization. A solution to XSS vulnerabilities is to use HTML escaping whenever displaying untrusted data.