How AngularJs will save JavaScript from its $ sign

I usually never rant about other programmers, considering myself only an average programmer. But as a community of developers, I think we are doing an awful job of helping people understand that jQuery != JavaScript. And I think that AngularJS will be a great asset in that regard.

The ever-amazing jQuery
I won’t say it enough: jQuery is an amazing piece of work and I cannot remember or imagine how we ended up building front-end code without it back in the days. It has saved us as developers at a time when every browser was going left and right: in 2006, Internet Explorer 6 was still leading the dance even though it didn’t comply with a bunch of basic w3c standards (boxing hell, transparency hacks, etc.). Firefox was on the rise and Chrome wasn’t to be released until 2 years later. jQuery provided us with the most powerful tools to master the DOM without ever worrying about the browser. It was simply revolutionary. We were also very lucky that its creator, John Resig, only 22 at the time, made it clear from the start that his library would stay completely open sourced, distributed with no strings attached. I want to emphasize that because it deserves to be praised. This was 8 years ago. There was no GitHub. Open source projects weren’t the latest fashion that it has become today. But unlike other people who were more interested about money than about improving the web, John stayed true to his word and conviction by being an advocate of open source software. Like a few others, he is one of the great hackers of our generation who have revolutionized our industry.

JavaScript sucks, jQuery is so cool
jQuery’s success was not only caused by its licence model or its cross-browser dom manipulation power, it was also caused by the fact that JavaScript was (and still is) an unpopular and misunderstood language.

If you ever get a chance to look at client source code from the websites that were built at the time, you will quickly see why people despised JavaScript. Everyone (including me) was doing it wrong, with files scattered everywhere using hundreds of differant coding style. There was no structure. Things could be done a thousand ways and noone would tell you which was the right one. People would randomly create variables on the global scope with very precise names such as data or i. There were memory leaks everywhere. There was no need for jslint, no need for convention, no need for a grumpy old man to tell you what to do. Noone ever bothered to create very clean JavaScript code. It was just something that people usually rushed at the end of the dev cycle in order to produce some quick and dirty client-side effect or field validation. It wasn’t even considered a real language, something that you could put on a resume or that you could brag about.

I’ve always believed that anyone can produce the crappiest code with any programming language or framework. Yet I think that some languages make it easier than others, PHP and JavaScript being the first 2 that come to mind.

The truth is: people didn’t like JavaScript because they didn’t understand the language. They looked at it as some trivial scripting language that anyone could code by typing random keys on a keyboard. People did not take the time to learn the subtleties of the language because they despised it. This is why jQuery came out so strong. People were seeing it as an escape from JavaScript, something that would replace its ackward and aweful syntax. DOM manipulation became easy, and it could be done properly without worrying much about anything else. jQuery was just so cool.

$(2 + 2)
From that point on, jQuery was adopted into every single website out there. And any website who didn’t use it would have been foolish not to do so. This was at the time when people would test each browser version number and specify which was supported. Chrome was released and butchered the old version numbering traditions by going from Chrome 1 to Chrome 8 in less than a year. It became impossible to go by without using jQuery’s hassle-free cross browser code. And yet, while jQuery solved many issues for us at the time, it didn’t address the most important one: people were still coding in JavaScript without knowing anything about JavaScript. All the complex parts of the language were wrapped and hidden so that anyone could build clean client code using the library. How many times have I wished that jQuery’s scope management hadn’t been left out to die, forcing people to keep references of this and that everywhere. (kudos to ExtJS for doing the exact opposite by the way)

And so it was that everyone’s toolbox was soon to be only filled with this all-in-one hammer called jQuery. You have a JavaScript problem? jQuery is the answer! Just look at StackOverflow’s JavaScript questions and answers. Every “vanilla” (I’m not found of that word…) JavaScript question is answered or tagged with a jQuery answer, making it even more complex to differenciate one from the other. jQuery started as a helper library. It became an imposed non-requirement. It’s been said a thousand times:

when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

At that rate, I was predicting that people would soon do simple math using the $ sign. I would have bought some candles for Brendan Eich. This is where I am ranting about our community of developers. We need to do a better job of helping people understand that jQuery is not JavaScript. We should not answer with jQuery when it is not needed. We should also provide JavaScript answers to jQuery questions when jQuery has nothing to do with the problem. It is our duty to help others understand the language more, as it is quickly becoming the most important programming language in the world. We need to help people open up jQuery’s source code, understand its magic methods like $.extend or $.ajax, or how it manipulates the DOM. Just like 10 years ago, anyone today who has only done object-oriented programming will be thrown off by JavaScript’s prototype-based language and dynamic typing. But if one starts digging into what makes JavaScript unique, understanding the concepts of closures, anonymous functions, first-class functions, class-less syntax, he/she will immediately realize how beautiful, complex, and powerful JavaScript can be.

AngularJs to the rescue!
It seems hard for Google to create something that isn’t amazing. Their quality standards are part of what makes the internet great today. AngularJs came out late 2010. With about 2 releases a month using entertaining codenames like sneaky-seagull or barefoot-telepathy, it quickly started getting recognition as a new way to build complex, rich and unified single-page applications. As of today, it is one of the hot and trending tag you want to put on your resume.
Of course there have been other breakthroughs with the JavaScript usage, such as its usage on the server side. But the unique thing about AngularJs is that when designed correctly, your app should not include both angular.js and jquery.js. When designed correctly, AngularJS makes jQuery obsolete by taking care of the DOM manipulation in its own way. And as people stop using jQuery, they once again have a chance to dig into the wonderful world of JavaScript they had once despised.

Don’t misread me. I’m not saying that people should forget jQuery and replace it with AngularJS. It would be of no worth to replace an all-in-one tool with another. But as people strive to have multiple tools in their toolbox, they might end up realizing that they don’t need a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

7 thoughts on “How AngularJs will save JavaScript from its $ sign

  1. Nice post,thanks. I really agree 😉

    But, let me sounding the alarm.
    I really really love angularJs, ( i just ask , for the debate 😉 ), but with the new standards to come ( Oo, web components ) , do you think there is no risk of ending up with a similar situation? I mean , include angularJs only for templating, or angularsJs for his data binding ? angularJs as a solution for all the Js problems?

    • Thanks Max! You’re right I do think that it could be a concern. Now there are a lot of emerging frameworks out there like polymer who are aiming at resolving some paradigms that jQuery is not targeting. So I’m hoping that with time we end up with a bunch of strong frameworks that we can choose from depending on our use case, and that in the midst of that choice we may see that some issues can best be solved with just plain JavaScript code.

  2. Like a lot of things it’s about education and knowledge. Knowing the use is the key.
    By the way, Ecmascript 6 will be a true revolution so even without framework Javascript will be very powerful.

    I hope it will continue to be easier and not like the JEE world , too complicated to use without IDE, too much configuration and a lot of bad or missing doc

    A good motto : Easier and stronger 🙂

  3. Can a website be correctly implemented using AngularJS and Bootstrap without using jQuery?

    Bootstrap is almost as omnipresent as jQuery nowadays and using with Angular feels (from a tech-standpoint) wrong and polluting the code-base.

    What’s the best way to have it all?

    Regards,
    Stevie

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