Lifecycle of JavaScript Frameworks

Lifecycle of JavaScript Frameworks

JavaScript frameworks are well-known for having short lifecycles. Why is the JavaScript Ecosystem moving so quickly?
JavaScript is one of the few technologies that is as fundamental to the internet as we know it today. While there are dozens of backend solutions, ranging from the buggy and traditional PHP to relative newcomers like Python and Node.js, there is only one frontend scripting language.

It doesn’t matter if you are using a transcriber or avant-garde alternatives like PyScript. To work on browsers, everything must eventually be translated to JavaScript. For better or worse, this means that every web developer must have at least a passing knowledge of the language.

There are numerous JavaScript frameworks available, ranging from the almost universally known Angular, React, and Vue.js to the less well-known but equally interesting Meteor, Mithril, or Polymer. Many of these solutions are useful for more than just frontend development. Node.js, for example, has quickly become one of the most user-friendly and popular runtime environments on the market.

If it feels overwhelming, that’s because it is. The lifecycle of JavaScript and its many derivatives is infuriating, but there is a reason for it. What causes this to happen? And what does this mean for our projects? Before we get to those questions, let’s go over some history.

The Birth of JavaScript

The World Wide Web (what we used to call the internet) was a very different place in the 1990s. The concept of dynamic web pages was initially limited to a visit counter at the bottom of the page that increased each time someone visited a website. To put it another way, the web was static, and Netscape wished to change that.

Netscape and Sun Microsystems collaborated to integrate the Java programming language as a scripting solution into their flagship web browser. Java was popular at the time. It was popular, powerful, and, most importantly, it revolutionized software development by bringing object-oriented programming to the forefront.

Netscape executives eventually decided that it would be better to develop their own language rather than rely on a license from a third party. So they assigned the project to Brendan Eich, and JavaScript was born 10 days later. Yes, you read that correctly: ten days. JavaScript was officially released in December 1995, and Netscape submitted it to Ecma International a year later as the starting point for a standard specification that all browser vendors could adhere to. Everything else is history.

By 2022, JavaScript would be used on 98% of all web pages. That same 10 day hodgepodge of a language had grown to become a massive juggernaut in web development. However, as we will see, the process was far from simple.

Early JavaScript, jQuery, and AJAX

JavaScript has a history of being buggy and eccentric. To be fair, that isn’t entirely incorrect. While the language has come a long way in the last two decades, many of its flaws can be traced back to its early days and the hurried development cycle it went through. To be sure, Eich accomplished an impressive engineering feat, but some issues can only be ironed out with time and testing.

The language is inefficient, disorganized, and unappealing. Its design incorporates competing paradigms as well as overlapping features. It’s horribly verbose in places and rather tame in others. But it did solve a significant problem, and thanks to a dedicated community, it has found a place in the tech industry.

One of JavaScript’s most popular libraries, jQuery, saved it in a variety of ways. This small project simplified JavaScript and provided solutions for issues that developers were having, such as AJAX, a set of web development techniques that uses various client-side technologies to create asynchronous web applications.

jQuery, if anything, served as a rallying cry for developers. It provided a foundation for paradigms to emerge around web development, and it was so successful and convenient that it is still used by more than 70% of all web pages today. So, how did we get from this relatively stable paradigm to the current lifecycle crisis?

JavaScript After the 2010s

JavaScript’s popularity has never waned. In fact, most of what jQuery did in the beginning is now standard JavaScript. Since the release of ECMA6 in 2015, we’ve seen yearly updates ranging from minor tweaks to major additions such as async functions. If anything, this demonstrates that the JavaScript ecosystem is dynamic and ever-changing, to the point where stability is almost irrelevant.

JavaScript frameworks, particularly the most popular ones, are well-known for receiving new revisions. In its ten years on the market, Angular, for example, has undergone 14 revisions. Vue.js has had 19 revisions in 8 years. From 2013 to 2022, React had 18 versions. In comparison, C++ has had six major revisions in the last 20 years. The disparity is clear.

This expansion corresponds to an increase in the processing power of computers/smart devices as well as the capabilities of web browsers. Simply put, it’s a self-reinforcing loop: better browser technology pushes for more elaborate frameworks, which pushes for better browser technology.

There’s also the issue that JavaScript cultures appear to priorities current trends, favoring new technologies over tried-and-true solutions. A look at StackOverflow framework trends reveals a decline in framework interest after only a few years, with only React maintaining a steady growth from 2016 to 2022.

The revision treadmill is unquestionably addicting. It’s easy to get excited about the latest and greatest without considering the implications for our products. This is particularly true of deprecations. While most businesses are prudent enough to thoroughly review the documentation before implementing an upgrade, it’s easy to overlook a line or two. What was the end result? The code is suddenly incompatible with the framework.

What It Means for Your Business

On the one hand, having such a large and active community is incredible. The ecosystem has gotten out of hand, and we’re finally seeing how powerful JavaScript and web apps can be. JavaScript fatigue, on the other hand, is real. Developers are stressed, burned out, and frustrated because it is impossible to keep up with all of the changes in the ecosystem in such a short period of time.

Do you really need to stay up to date on the latest release? Maybe. The only sound advice I can give at this point is to recognize that not every change is beneficial and that new revisions always necessitate some level of retraining. Don’t jump on the bandwagon if your current solution is working. To put it another way, think before you leap.

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