This is unfortunate and we’re stuck with it forever

I. Some weeks ago, at NodeConf Argentina, Mathias Bynens gave a presentation about RegExp and Unicode in JavaScript. At some point he showed a series of examples that yielded counter-intuitive results and said: “This is unfortunate and we’re stuck with it forever”. The phrase immediately resounded in my head, because to me it was a perfect definition of JavaScript, or at least the current state of JavaScript.

II. Douglas Crockford published JavaScript: The Good Parts about eight years ago. It’s a masterpiece to me, with a lot of takeaways: JavaScript is loaded with crap (the bad and awful parts); there’s a great functional language somewhere in there, striving to get out; sometimes, a lot of the times, less is more. The book itself is the perfect example: 100 pages long, mostly filled with snippets and examples, and still it had a clearer purpose and communicated it more effectively than most computer books. We can (and we should) make a better language out of JavaScript by subsetting it.

III. JavaScript and its ecosystem have been evolving constantly over the last few years; I imagine it mutated faster than any other programming language has done before. And a lot of the changes are genuinely good additions, that make our lives easier and more pleasant. But is JavaScript as a whole getting any better?

IV. Unlike any other language, JavaScript runs in browsers. And we can’t control the runtime of the browsers. And we want older browsers to support our new code, and new browsers to support our old code. We can’t break backwards compatibility. We can add (some) stuff to the language but we can’t take stuff out. All the bad and awful parts are still there. JavaScript is like a train wreck with a nose job.

V. I always wonder how is it like to learn JavaScript in 2016, for new programmers and for programmers coming from other languages. Do you tell them about var? Or just stick to let and const? And which one of those is preferred? And why the preferred one isn’t just the default? Why do we always have to prepend some operator to define a variable? Yes, we can instruct a linter to forbid this or that keyword (especially this!) but it should be the compiler/interpreter doing it. And we can’t make the interpreter assume a const declaration by default.

VI. Is there really no way to break backwards compatibility? Can’t we just stick a flag in there somewhere? <script language="javascript-good">? 'use non-crappy'? I don’t mind adding the 'use strict' on every file and I honestly forgot what it does. Can’t the browsers manage multiple versions of JavaScript? is it worth their save, especially now that this uneven language has crawled its way to the server and the desktop?

VII. I know there must be excellent reasons why we can’t break backwards compatibility of JavaScript or why it would be just too expensive to do so. But I can’t help my mind, my syntax-oriented-programmer-with-an-inclination-to-a-less-is-more-kind-of-thinking-type-of-mind, I can’t help it from imagining how would I go about subsetting the language. How would I design my JavaScript--. I can’t help myself from outlining a spec of that imaginary language in my head. I even came up with a name for it, which, unsurprisingly, has already been taken.

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