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JavaScriptSource Staff Jul 24, 2006
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Core JavaScript Guide 1.5

Chapter 1   JavaScript Overview

This chapter introduces JavaScript, discusses some of its fundamental concepts, and describes the new features in the 1.5 release.

This chapter contains the following sections:

What Is JavaScript?

JavaScript is Netscape's cross-platform, object-oriented scripting language. JavaScript is a small, lightweight language; it is not useful as a standalone language, but is designed for easy embedding in other products and applications, such as web browsers. Inside a host environment, JavaScript can be connected to the objects of its environment to provide programmatic control over them.

Core JavaScript contains a core set of objects, such as Array, Date, and Math, and a core set of language elements such as operators, control structures, and statements. Core JavaScript can be extended for a variety of purposes by supplementing it with additional objects; for example:

  • Client-side JavaScript extends the core language by supplying objects to control a browser (Navigator or another web browser) and its Document Object Model (DOM). For example, client-side extensions allow an application to place elements on an HTML form and respond to user events such as mouse clicks, form input, and page navigation.

  • Server-side JavaScript extends the core language by supplying objects relevant to running JavaScript on a server. For example, server-side extensions allow an application to communicate with a relational database, provide continuity of information from one invocation to another of the application, or perform file manipulations on a server.

Through JavaScript's LiveConnect functionality, you can let Java and JavaScript code communicate with each other. From JavaScript, you can instantiate Java objects and access their public methods and fields. From Java, you can access JavaScript objects, properties, and methods.

Netscape invented JavaScript, and JavaScript was first used in Netscape browsers.

JavaScript and Java

JavaScript and Java are similar in some ways but fundamentally different in others. The JavaScript language resembles Java but does not have Java's static typing and strong type checking. JavaScript supports most Java expression syntax and basic control-flow constructs.

In contrast to Java's compile-time system of classes built by declarations, JavaScript supports a runtime system based on a small number of data types representing numeric, Boolean, and string values. JavaScript has a prototype-based object model instead of the more common class-based object model. The prototype-based model provides dynamic inheritance; that is, what is inherited can vary for individual objects. JavaScript also supports functions without any special declarative requirements. Functions can be properties of objects, executing as loosely typed methods.

JavaScript is a very free-form language compared to Java. You do not have to declare all variables, classes, and methods. You do not have to be concerned with whether methods are public, private, or protected, and you do not have to implement interfaces. Variables, parameters, and function return types are not explicitly typed.

Java is a class-based programming language designed for fast execution and type safety. Type safety means, for instance, that you can't cast a Java integer into an object reference or access private memory by corrupting Java bytecodes. Java's class-based model means that programs consist exclusively of classes and their methods. Java's class inheritance and strong typing generally require tightly coupled object hierarchies. These requirements make Java programming more complex than JavaScript authoring.

In contrast, JavaScript descends in spirit from a line of smaller, dynamically typed languages such as HyperTalk and dBASE. These scripting languages offer programming tools to a much wider audience because of their easier syntax, specialized built-in functionality, and minimal requirements for object creation.