Modern JavaScript Development Is Hard

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A complex watch mechanism with many moving parts. A metaphor for how many see modern JS development.

It’s not uncommon these days to see people complaining about just how complex JavaScript development seems to have become. I can have some sympathy with that view when it’s coming from someone new to the language.

If you’re learning JS, it won’t take long for you to be exposed to the enormity of the ecosystem and the sheer number of moving pieces you need to understand (at least conceptually) to build a modern web application.

Package management, linting, transpilation, module bundling, minification, source maps, frameworks, unit testing, hot reloading… it can’t be denied that this is a lot more complex that just including a couple script tags in your page and FTPing it up to the server.

Some people who have been involved with web development for years are still pining for those ‘good old days’, and it’s this kind of complaining that I have much less sympathy for. One such comment I read this last week claimed that web development had been hijacked by those who enjoy using the command line and writing JSON config files.

For a long time, JavaScript was looked upon by many as a joke; a toy language whose only real use was to add non-essential eye-candy, such as mouseover changes, and was often a source of weird errors and broken pages. The language is still not taken seriously by some today, despite having made much progress since those early days. It’s not hard to have some sympathy with PHP developers.

For better or for worse, JavaScript was (and still is) the only language supported natively by the vast majority of web browsers. The community has worked hard to improve the language itself, and to provide the tooling to help build production-grade apps. I find it ironic that now people attack JavaScript development for being “too complicated”. Unfortunately, you just can’t have it both ways.

JavaScript developers are now some of the most in-demand (and well compensated) in the industry. Is there any reason to think that it should be ‘easy’? Try talking to a Java or a .NET developer; both these technologies have large ecosystems and build tooling setups for developing production-quality apps. And as for config files, many Java tools have XML files coming out of their… ears.

A lot of JavaScript tutorials often include things like module bundling and transpilation, because writing modular code with the latest language features are skills that are in demand in the job market. They are the necessary pieces for building large, complex applications in a team environment. Keep in mind that a lot of these build tools and development techniques are entirely optional. No one is forcing you to use them for your projects. Like all tools, they are a trade-off: they solve specific problems, at the cost of increasing your project’s complexity (in one form or another). Nothing is stopping you writing plain old ES5 JavaScript files and linking them to your HTML with script tags. You can even pull in frameworks like React and Vue from CDNs if you want to.

Are you happy with JavaScript’s evolution, or has modern web development taken all the joy out of coding for you? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this, so please let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

PS. If you are new to JavaScript development or are coming back to the language after an extended break, be sure to check back tomorrow for our guide to the anatomy of a modern JavaScript application!

Frequently Asked Questions about Modern JavaScript Development

Why is JavaScript considered difficult to learn?

JavaScript is often considered challenging due to its unique syntax and programming concepts. It’s a multi-paradigm language, meaning it supports both object-oriented and functional programming. This flexibility can be overwhelming for beginners. Additionally, JavaScript is an interpreted language, which means it can be more forgiving of errors, leading to bad coding habits if not careful. However, with consistent practice and a good understanding of its core concepts, mastering JavaScript is achievable.

What are the prerequisites for learning JavaScript?

While you can start learning JavaScript without any prior programming knowledge, having a basic understanding of HTML and CSS can be beneficial. These three technologies form the backbone of web development. Understanding how they interact can make learning JavaScript easier and more meaningful.

How long does it take to learn JavaScript?

The time it takes to learn JavaScript can vary greatly depending on your background, the amount of time you can dedicate to learning, and the depth of knowledge you wish to achieve. For a complete beginner dedicating around 10-20 hours per week, it might take anywhere from six months to a year to gain a solid understanding of the language and its frameworks.

What are the key concepts to understand in JavaScript?

Some of the key concepts in JavaScript include variables, data types, functions, loops, conditionals, and events. Understanding these concepts is crucial to being able to write effective JavaScript code. Additionally, concepts like closures, promises, and asynchronous programming are also important for more advanced JavaScript development.

Is JavaScript only used for web development?

While JavaScript was initially designed for web development, its use has expanded over the years. Today, JavaScript is used not only for client-side web development but also for server-side programming with Node.js, mobile app development with React Native, and even game development.

What are some resources to learn JavaScript?

There are numerous resources available to learn JavaScript. Online platforms like Codecademy, Udemy, and freeCodeCamp offer interactive courses. Books like “Eloquent JavaScript” and “You Don’t Know JS” are also highly recommended. Additionally, Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) provides comprehensive documentation on JavaScript.

What are some common mistakes beginners make when learning JavaScript?

Some common mistakes include not understanding the difference between ‘==’ and ‘===’, not properly understanding how ‘this’ keyword works, confusing between global and local variables, and not handling errors properly. It’s important to learn from these mistakes and understand the underlying concepts.

How important is it to learn JavaScript frameworks?

JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular, and Vue.js are widely used in modern web development. They provide a structure for JavaScript code, making it easier to build complex applications. While it’s not necessary to learn these frameworks right away, having a good understanding of at least one framework can significantly boost your JavaScript skills.

Can I get a job with just JavaScript knowledge?

While knowing JavaScript can certainly help you land a job, most employers look for developers with a broader set of skills. This often includes knowledge of other technologies like HTML, CSS, Git, and a JavaScript framework like React or Angular. However, JavaScript is a great starting point and can open up many opportunities in web development.

Is JavaScript a good first programming language to learn?

Yes, JavaScript can be a good first programming language to learn. It’s widely used, has a large community, and offers many resources for learning. Additionally, seeing your code come to life in a web browser can be very rewarding and motivating for beginners.

Nilson JacquesNilson Jacques
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Nilson is a full-stack web developer who has been working with computers and the web for over a decade. A former hardware technician, and network administrator. Nilson is now currently co-founder and developer of a company developing web applications for the construction industry. You can also find Nilson on the SitePoint Forums as a mentor.

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