Is JavaScript the First Ever Dominant Programming Language?


Well into its third decade of use, JavaScript continues to grow in popularity. It lies at the heart of popular programming frameworks – like React.js – used in both web and mobile development. One tech leader feels this venerable language is rapidly becoming the dominant one in the software development world.

Let’s take a closer look at JavaScript’s dominance – perceived or not – within the programming community. What are some of the reasons behind its seemingly never-ending popularity growth? Perhaps these insights offer some food for thought for your own team’s software engineering efforts.

Network Effects help JavaScript grow in Dominance

Anil Dash, the CEO of Fog Creek Software (maker of Glitch), column for Medium, where he posits that network effects are driving the growth of JavaScript. Dash feels the days of the lone wolf programmer are long gone; in essence, they’ve now become “networked.” In the modern era, developers sometimes end up collaborating with each other all over the world. This is likely yet another outgrowth of the open source movement.

Dash notes a variety of reasons for this change in programming style. Websites like Stack Overflow serve as a valuable source for tips and tricks of the software engineering trade. In fact, new frameworks tend to grow in popularity in tandem with how much they get discussed on Stack Overflow.

The social aspect of GitHub provides another means for developers to collaborate and commiserate. Finally, Dash highlights a few online developer news sites, like Hacker News, that let programmers better learn the practice while networking with each other. All of this leads to “software being evaluated based on its social success and social merits, rather than just some ostensibly “objective” technical merit.”

So how does the increased networking of the developer community lead to JavaScript becoming the dominant programming language? For one, JS is flexible enough to allow virtually any application to be written in it. Dash feels the capability lies at the heart of its network-driven dominance.

The Many Tentacles of JavaScript

JavaScript is now essentially a network and/or ecosystem unto itself, according to Dash. Everything from popular frameworks like Node.js and React.js to useful variants like TypeScript relies on the programming language. When you consider anyone using a web browser is also running a JavaScript interpreter; well, simply look up ubiquitous in the dictionary.

Stack Overflow’s user data also reveals the dominance of JavaScript. 70 percent of the site’s users include JS among their currently-used programming languages. This percentage of users is only trending upwards, and Dash feels this takes JS closer to its escape velocity. He wonders if one now needs to consider JavaScript as a kind of social network.

What a dominant programming language means for the development world is interesting to ponder. “We just might be on the precipice of an era in coding that’s unprecedented, where we might actually see something new in the patterns of adoption and usage of an entire programming language. That potential has us excited, and waiting with bated breath to see how the whole ecosystem plays out,” says Dash.

There’s no denying that JavaScript continues to wrap its tentacles around many different platforms and applications. Ultimately, any modern developer needs to become an expert in the language in addition to the rest of their skill set.

Thanks for reading this edition of the Betica Blog. Keep coming back for additional dispatches on the software development world.