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ноември 02, 2014

Little red ranting hood... in the JavaScript forest.

This is my rant about all the 'fixing JavaScript' "effort" that has been going on for some time now. The post is pretty long even fro me and it is really a rant I do for fun sometimes, in fact I have used or use some of those technologies, so don't get your torches and head to my house yet...


CoffeeScript


First there was CoffeeScript. Oh my God  - what a brainfart it is! So, you take the JavaScript shitty way of doing things and then you slap Python on top of it and then even better you slap 'custom passes' on top of it. So at the end you write in a language that no Virtual Machine understands, that no online editor can help you edit and with files that no JavaScript developer ever wants to 'figure out' because your syntax is way off the language you are actually targeting but in the same time it is exactly the same language with messed up syntax. There are no 'Coffee script' developers, those are just JavaScript developers with aneurysm. And you cannot run your code (oh yeah, I know about 'compile on save' - so I have to ask you, which will be faster: 'reload on save' or 'compile on save'. Wrong question, you cannot actually do that either, you have to reload on compile....). 

Now some people that like to call themselves experts in JavaScript, Closure (and surprisingly on something that does not really exists - Coffee script (OMG there are people that teach this!!!)), would even go further and add a pass that converts to 'closure compiler compatible' JavaScript. Lets review - you write in something that is fictional, then translate to something that is halfway there, then you have to compile it (if only to check types) and then you have to test in both development mode (source files that are actually not sources but translation results) and production mode (translation results compiled). Lets just say that this might get a bit slow and that it might be hard to set up this workflow on any kind of environment, let alone an online one..

But that is not all, ladies and gentlemen, it gets better - those same sick people are now "helping you" when you have JavaScript question with code snippets written in Coffee script!! Yes, like the crazy people they think you see the dragons that are only in their heads. Well that's messed up...

Dart

Going further in time - Dart was born. A completely new language that is all so much powerful and faster and better and shinier. Only if it could work in browsers... but it cannot. You are still debugging JavaScript at the end. There is (as with Coffee whatever) virtually no IDE support for it, you are stuck with DartEditor (which you might find nice, unless you want code collaboration, online editing of something that does not require  rocket fuel powered computer to run at acceptable speed). Oh, you say there is support for Sublime? Really? Have you tried it? The 'support' is basically born-again approach from the end of the 70's. Yes, you read it right - 45 years aaaggggooooo! You save your file then a script runs and then it collects the output of that script and then it presents you the result (in a surprisingly unhelpful way). There is no real intelligence in the completion or there 'should be' but it is not working. Same goes for another brilliant project - WebStorm.

Assuming you are fine with IDEs written in Java (which most of us are not - after all I am developing on the web for the web - Java exited the web like a decade ago and is slowly turning into corpse on the server as well) the Dart 'support' in WebStorm is somewhere between unsatisfying and completely unreliable. Oh, and the last build is broken as well (mind you, the product costs MONEY!) so you will have to either downgrade or wait for a fix... because we forgot to include complete intellisense for dart because.... well because on large projects we just like to crash the whole IDE, "but on the other hand we improved on the start-up speed so you are on the track", don't worry, keep paying...

Lets say you like the 70s, the music was great and the IDE's were non existent, the real men wrote code with text editors. Like Vim. Like scrolling is not a real thing - right, it is much faster to type gg/goog^M^[jjjVapk:sort:w - right! Your hands do not have to move like at all. It would have been sooo great is we as humans have evolved without the lower parts of our bodies (well maybe the penis should stay) and maybe.. hum.. little hands (like the ones found on T. rex) with lots and lots of fingers. Then maybe Vim would have been the ultimate and final - best of all, end of universe - editor.  You can sit (well, you would always sit without the lowed part of your body, but would it be called sitting?) all day long and use only your fingers, we would not need shoulders because we do not need to move our hands, we would just type and be really 'fast and productive'. I see paradise... but then Dart would have come.... Well, the Dart story in Vim is sad, just like with Sublime text. And that paradise would have been ruined. Just like Dart feel like on Vim....

But otherwise Dart is great. Its like 'twice as fast' than JavaScript (well.. on benchmarks, in real world it is twice as slow but don't be discouraged, we will get there, give it 15 years or so of evolution and I can almost guarantee you it will be as fast on the server as.... Java). On the browser... YES, it is twice as fast there as well... oh well not really because v8 catches up and now it is only like 20% faster.... on benchmarks. But we cannot really use it in the browser because no browser really supports it and we have to compile to JavaScript and in theory it should run as fast or faster than hand written JavaScript but... it does not. At least not when someone who actually knows what he/she is doing write the JavaScript.

But its fine, as the development story goes it is really fun to write in Dart. You 'save and reload' just like in JavaScript. Well not really, because you have to use Chromium, which supposed to be Chrome but it is not really and has bugs that are not found on Chrome and you have to figure out if the problem is your code (for CSS for example) or the browser quirks. And then again you have to test in all browsers because you know... it is not really clear if the generated JavaScript is working everywhere, it is supposed to be but... who knows. I really liked the video where the Dart developers explain how trivial the generated class code is, how it is almost one to one transpilation from Dart to JS. Well it is not. This is just a lie and you can read the generated file all day and still you wont be sure how does the result maps to your original code. At the end of day 3 you will figure it out eventually, but does it worth it? The problem is really simple - Dart does not compile to JavaScript idioms, it compiles to a JavaScript blob that is internally emulating how Dart is working. Trying to read/fix the compiled code is almost as trying to fix the result from the C compiler. Pointless. You have to go and 'fix up' your code (well because it works in Dart/ium) to 'make the compiler' happy(er). If you are still on the Dart bandwagon at this point (and you are still read the Dart passage) you might need a dominatrix in your life. There is a lot of internalized pain you need to let out...


TypeScript

Microsoft (I always liked that name, it is so 80s, like Sun microsystems.. omg!) did not wanted to be left behind in this new era of computing, they wanted to appeal to the new type of developers that like the web and want to stay on it as much as possible and even develop inside of it (can you imagine that William?). So how about we take a guy, that at his peak did do some good stuff and let him create a 'superset' of JavaScript that looks like ES6 (but is not really and cannot be run as such even if the browsers support it) and slap some type system on top of it. Well the type system should really be fun, it should be something that is half useful, half making the JavaScript developers go grey and die off, so we can reignite the Windows era (if possible, please... pretty please...?). So TypeScript was born. Have you tried it? I guess you did! 

The problem is that TypeScript tries to add types to functional code (i.e. not Object oriented code) and presents it as 'safety'. There is however one simple catch: most functional code that already exists deals with the JavaScript's lack of types in a funny way, so you have functions with 10 different signatures. I especially like the ones where the middle arguments are optional, you basically cannot infer the types based on their positions as arguments. This is especially funny in jquery where the number of arguments does not really implies the types of those arguments. Have you seen the definitions for jQ? What is really funny is that MS embraced JQ as main library (kind of like a standard library in TypeScript) hoping to appeal to larger audience and as a result no one really writes OO JS in TypeScript, instead everyone writes functional style and then impale themselves on the type system and wait for slow dead. Does the type system in TS make something useful? Well yes, of course, it made MS learn NodeJS. But no, I would not rant about nodejs in this post, here I will be only targeting the 'JS augmentations'. Another problem Microsoft did not foresee with TypeScript was that JavaScript developers rarely know anything about types.

Even if they know something about OOP, OOP in JavaScript is a different story and there are (really fat fat) books about OOP in JavaScript and the fun part is that they present so many patterns for OOP and explain so many things that are not actually useful in practice for one reason or another, they are so purely academical studies of the language capabilities and how far you can go about it, that I have been asked questions directly taken from the 'check your knowledge' sections of those book on job interviews!

I really enjoy citing the author, book title and page where the question is taken from to the 'technical' interviewer and then tell them that if his company is using any of those absurd patterns I will not work there. It always gets to them and distracts the 'knowledgeable' interviewer from you and wake up some internal fears that they themselves are not good enough, which automatically makes you appear more knowledgeable. What do they say? Play the player, not the game?

Sorry for the digression. Where was I? Oh yeah, TypeScript. One thing they got right (shorter syntax for classes) they kill with the type system. Every other negative side of Coffee script apply to TS as well, you still need to transpile just to test run it. Fortunately the results are much more predictable, but the lack of real support from tools (other than Visual studio) simply repulse most developers. I know developers that use TypeScript. Can you guess what their specialty is? Hang on - its .Net! That's right, TS appeals mostly to people that already use VS... ah, the irony...

AtScript

This is the last dumpling from Google. I like how Google is shooting in all directions in recent times, makes them look really desperate. I also like it when they send someone to do a technical talk and then that someone says something Google did not expected, but the talk was recorded and ends up on youtube, only to 'disappear' a week later when they realize what had happened. If you wonder why I will never Angular? Well they did a tech talk. Yes, about that 'first large internal project'. First of all it was done with Dart, which is already a red flag, then the guy said that 'we had to rewrite/do custom versions of pretty much all directives because the ones that are built in were too slow for our use case' - that really pinpointed it. It really said " the idea is great on paper, but not applicable in practice". Well, the idea is so great they decided to reiterate on it, hoping that this time something will be done right. Finally some teams at Google talked to each other and someone said:

Sooo, we have those great things (decorators/annotations) in Dart that no ones know how to use really, but they look nice and give legitimate use for the '@' sign which is pretty cool sign, right, so, you know, how about we slap it inside JavaScript as well. It should be fun.

And the other team said:

Cool, lets make some interns proud of themselves and give them something to live for, let them do a new language. But we will not call it a new language because of some jokes that are circulating around the Internet, something about the problems and number of solutions, don't look at me like that, I do not spend my time browsing comics, i DO work... sometimes, soo... okay where was I, ah yes, lets do this 'super set' thing that Microsoft did. We will take es5, then slap es6 on top of it, then slap typescript on top of it and then we will put the annotations on top of it.

Oh, oh, oh, wait wait, someone wrote an assertion library and management said if we do not use it for something they will fire the guy and he is like a great and nice guy, so we have to use it for something, right, so he does not get fired....right, can we do that, pleeease!

At this point everybody is looking suspiciously at the person that said the last line assuming a work related romance/bro-mance/gay-mance/whatever, but they decided to go with it anyways and as a result we have a new 'super set' that has everything poor old bastards at Microsoft had, but with annotations and runtime checks.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present you AtScript. And because it was a talk between the Dart angular team and the normal Angular team management would be really happy if this new thingy is 'beneficial' for both projects, so lets make it compile-able to both Dart and JavaScript. After all, we can always market it as a good thing....

So now we have to not only write JavaScript, an 'almost HTML, but not really', now we also have to compile it before we run it. Oh, oh oh and you know what, closure team has been doing this angular pass for year now, lets include them in the party, lets run the compiled JavaScript with another compiler, that would be fun!

Yey, Google is such a wonderful place to work at, you can get something and then mix it with something else and then talk to other teams and make really ridiculous things and we can always expect people to like it, especially developers because Google is such a magical word for developers, we can actually get away with anything it we figure out a way to make an internal project with it...

So now we have  AtScript. Of source there will be IDE support.... somewhere in the future... let say we will make a bash script that will monitor files for change and automatically compile them to both Dart and JavaScript, how about that? But that is down the road, for now you can happily use vim or anything else because you see, there is really no such language as AtScript, it is 'a super set' and as such no tool nor IDE nor virtual machine really understands it, so it is simply a dumb text file. But you can use it, Google uses it, so it must be great! Oh, and by the we are not really compatible with es6, nor TypeScript but we will get there as well, I promise!

Did I miss something?
Let me know in the comments:)
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