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JavaScript
Paradigm Multi-paradigm: prototype-based, functional, imperative, scripting
Appeared in 1995
Designed by Brendan Eich
Developer Netscape Communications Corporation, Mozilla Foundation
Latest release 1.8/ 2008
Typing discipline dynamic, weak, duck
Major implementations SpiderMonkey, Rhino, KJS, JavaScriptCore, V8
Dialects JScript, JScript .NET
Influenced by Self, C, Scheme, Perl, Python, Java
Influenced Objective-J
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|style="text-align: center; background: #ccf"|This article is part of the series. |- |style="text-align: center"|JavaScript |- |style="text-align: center"|JavaScript syntax |- |style="text-align: center"|JavaScript topics |- |style="text-align: center"|This box: view • talk • edit |}JavaScript is a scripting language used to enable programmatic access to objects within other applications. It is primarily used in the form of client-side JavaScript for the development of dynamic websites. JavaScript is a dialect of the ECMAScript standard and is characterized as a dynamic, weakly typed, prototype-based language with first-class functions. JavaScript was influenced by many languages and was designed to look like Java, but to be easier for non-programmers to work with.

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JavaScript was originally developed by Brendan Eich of Netscape under the name Mocha, which was later renamed to LiveScript, and finally to JavaScript. The change of name from LiveScript to JavaScript roughly coincided with Netscape adding support for Java technology in its Netscape Navigator web browser. JavaScript was first introduced and deployed in the Netscape 2.0B3 in December 1995. The naming has caused confusion, giving the impression that the language is a spin-off of Java, and it has been characterized by many as a marketing ploy by Netscape to give JavaScript the cachet of what was then the hot new web-programming language.

JavaScript, despite the name, is essentially unrelated to the Java programming language even though the two do have superficial similarities. Both languages use syntaxes influenced by that of C syntax, and JavaScript copies many Java names and naming conventions. The language's name is the result of a co-marketing deal between Netscape and Sun, in exchange for Netscape bundling Sun's Java runtime with their then-dominant browser. The key design principles within JavaScript are inherited from the Self and Scheme programming languages.

"JavaScript" is a trademark of Sun Microsystems. It was used under license for technology invented and implemented by Netscape and current entities such as the Mozilla Foundation.

Due to the widespread success of JavaScript as a client-side scripting language for web pages, Microsoft developed a compatible dialect of the language, naming it JScript to avoid issues. JScript added new date methods to fix the non-Y2K-friendly methods in JavaScript, which were based on java.util.Date. JScript was included in Internet Explorer 3.0, released in August 1996. The dialects are perceived to be so similar that the terms "JavaScript" and "JScript" are often used interchangeably. Microsoft, however, notes dozens of ways in which JScript is not ECMA-compliant.

Netscape submitted JavaScript to Ecma International for standardization resulting in the standardized version named ECMAScript.

JavaScript has become one of the most popular programming languages on the web. Initially, however, many professional programmers denigrated the language because its target audience was web authors and other such "amateurs", among other reasons. The advent of AJAX returned JavaScript to the spotlight and brought more professional programming attention. The result was a proliferation of comprehensive frameworks and libraries, improved JavaScript programming practices, and increased usage of JavaScript outside of the browser, as seen by the proliferation of Server-side JavaScript platforms.

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The following features are common to all conforming ECMAScript implementations, unless explicitly specified otherwise.

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JavaScript supports all the structured programming syntax in C (e.g., statements, loops, statements, etc.). One partial exception is scoping: C-style block-level scoping is not supported. JavaScript 1.7, however, supports block-level scoping with the keyword. Like C, JavaScript makes a distinction between expressions and statements.

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JavaScript is officially managed by Mozilla, and new language features are added periodically. However, only some non-Mozilla "JavaScript" engines support these new features:

  • conditional clauses
  • property getter and setter functions
  • iterator protocol adopted from Python
  • shallow generators/coroutines also adopted from Python
  • array comprehensions and generator expressions also adopted from Python
  • proper block scope via new keyword
  • array and object destructuring (limited form of pattern matching)
  • concise function expressions ()
  • E4X

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As of 2008, the latest version of the language is JavaScript 1.8. It is a superset of ECMAScript (ECMA-262) Edition 3. Extensions to the language, including partial E4X (ECMA-357) support and experimental features considered for inclusion into ECMAScript Edition 4, are documented here.

Sample code showcasing various JavaScript features:The output is:

LCMCalculator: a = 28, b = 56, gcd = 28, lcm = 56
 
LCMCalculator: a = 21, b = 56, gcd = 7, lcm = 168
 
LCMCalculator: a = 25, b = 55, gcd = 5, lcm = 275
 
LCMCalculator: a = 22, b = 58, gcd = 2, lcm = 638

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The primary use of JavaScript is to write functions that are embedded in or included from HTML pages and interact with the Document Object Model (DOM) of the page. Some simple examples of this usage are:

  • Opening or popping up a new window with programmatic control over the size, position, and attributes of the new window (i.e. whether the menus, toolbars, etc. are visible).
  • Validation of web form input values to make sure that they will be accepted before they are submitted to the server.
  • Changing images as the mouse cursor moves over them: This effect is often used to draw the user's attention to important links displayed as graphical elements.

Because JavaScript code can run locally in a user's browser (rather than on a remote server) it can respond to user actions quickly, making an application feel more responsive. Furthermore, JavaScript code can detect user actions which HTML alone cannot, such as individual keystrokes. Applications such as Gmail take advantage of this: much of the user-interface logic is written in JavaScript, and JavaScript dispatches requests for information (such as the content of an e-mail message) to the server. The wider trend of Ajax programming similarly exploits this strength.

A JavaScript engine (also known as JavaScript interpreter or JavaScript implementation) is an interpreter that interprets JavaScript source code and executes the script accordingly. The first ever JavaScript engine was created by Brendan Eich at Netscape Communications Corporation, for the Netscape Navigator web browser. The engine, code-named SpiderMonkey, is implemented in C. It has since been updated (in JavaScript 1.5) to conform to ECMA-262 Edition 3. The Rhino engine, created primarily by Norris Boyd (formerly of Netscape; now at Google) is a JavaScript implementation in Java. Rhino, like SpiderMonkey, is ECMA-262 Edition 3 compliant.

A web browser is by far the most common host environment for JavaScript. Web browsers typically use the public API to create "host objects" responsible for reflecting the DOM into JavaScript. The web server is another common application of the engine. A JavaScript webserver would expose host objects representing an HTTP request and response objects, which a JavaScript program could then manipulate to dynamically generate web pages.

A minimal example of a standards-conforming web page containing JavaScript (using HTML 4.01 syntax) would be:http://

The DOM interfaces for manipulating web pages are not part of the ECMAScript standard, or of JavaScript itself. Officially, they are defined by a separate standardization effort by the W3C; in practice, browser implementations differ from the standards and from each other, and not all browsers execute JavaScript.

To deal with these differences, JavaScript authors can attempt to write standards-compliant code which will also be executed correctly by most browsers; failing that, they can write code that checks for the presence of certain browser features and behaves differently if they are not available. In some cases, two browsers may both implement a feature but with different behavior, and authors may find it practical to detect what browser is running and change their script's behavior to match. Programmers may also use libraries or toolkits which take browser differences into account.

Furthermore, scripts will not work for all users. For example, a user may:

  • use an old or rare browser with incomplete or unusual DOM support,
  • use a PDA or mobile phone browser which cannot execute JavaScript,
  • have JavaScript execution disabled as a security precaution,
  • or be visually or otherwise disabled and use a speech browser

To support these users, web authors can try to create pages which degrade gracefully on user agents (browsers) which do not support the page's JavaScript.

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JavaScript and the DOM provide the potential for malicious authors to deliver scripts to run on a client computer via the web. Browser authors contain this risk using two restrictions. First, scripts run in a sandbox in which they can only perform web-related actions, not general-purpose programming tasks like creating files. Second, scripts are constrained by the same origin policy: scripts from one web site do not have access to information such as usernames, passwords, or cookies sent to another site. Most JavaScript-related security bugs are breaches of either the same origin policy or the sandbox.

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A common JavaScript-related security problem is cross-site scripting, or XSS, a violation of the same-origin policy. XSS vulnerabilities occur when an attacker is able to cause a target web site, such as an online banking website, to include a malicious script in the webpage presented to a victim. The script in this example can then access the banking application with the privileges of the victim, potentially disclosing secret information or transferring money without the victim's authorization. A solution to XSS vulnerabilities is to use HTML escaping whenever displaying untrusted data.

XSS vulnerabilities can also occur because of implementation mistakes by browser authors.

Another cross-site vulnerability is cross-site request forgery or CSRF. In CSRF, code on an attacker's site tricks the victim's browser into taking actions the user didn't intend at a target site (like transferring money at a bank). It works because, if the target site relies only on cookies to authenticate requests, then requests initiated by code on the attacker's site will carry the same legitimate login credentials as requests initiated by the user. In general, the solution to CSRF is to require an authentication value in a hidden form field, and not only in the cookies, to authenticate any request that might have lasting effects. Checking the HTTP Referrer header can also help.

"JavaScript hijacking" is a type of CSRF attack in which a <script> tag on an attacker's site exploits a page on the attacker's site that returns private information as JSON or JavaScript. Possible solutions include requiring an authentication token in the POST and GET parameters for any response that returns private JSON (even if it has no side effects); using POST and never GET for requests that return private JSON; and modifying the response so that it can't be used via a <script> tag (by, for example, wrapping the JSON in a JavaScript comment).

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Client-server applications, whether they involve JavaScript or not, must recognize that untrusted clients may be under the control of attackers. Thus any secret embedded in JavaScript could be extracted by a determined adversary, and the application author can't assume that his JavaScript runs as intended, or at all. Some implications:

  • Web site authors cannot perfectly conceal how their JavaScript operates, because the code is sent to the client, and obfuscated code can be reverse engineered.
  • JavaScript form validation only provides convenience for users, not security. If a site verifies that the user agreed to its terms of service, or filters invalid characters out of fields that should only contain numbers, it must do so on the server, not only the client.
  • Scripts can be selectively disabled, so JavaScript can't be relied on to prevent operations such as "save image".
  • It would be extremely bad practice to embed a password in JavaScript (where it can be extracted by an attacker), then have JavaScript verify a user's password and pass "password_ok=1" back to the server (since the "password_ok=1" response is easy to forge).

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JavaScript provides an interface to a wide range of browser capabilities, some of which may have flaws such as buffer overflows. These flaws can allow attackers to write scripts which would run any code they wish on the user's system.

These flaws have affected major browsers including Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari.

Plugins, such as video players, Macromedia Flash, and the wide range of ActiveX controls enabled by default in Microsoft Internet Explorer, may also have flaws exploitable via JavaScript, and such flaws have been exploited in the past.

In Windows Vista, Microsoft has attempted to contain the risks of bugs such as buffer overflows by running the Internet Explorer process with limited privileges.Google Chrome similarly limits page renderers to an operating-system-enforced "sandbox."

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Web browsers are capable of running JavaScript outside of the sandbox, with the privileges necessary to, for example, create or delete files. Of course, such privileges aren't meant to be granted to code from the web.

Incorrectly granting privileges to JavaScript from the web has played a role in vulnerabilities in both Internet Explorer and Firefox. In Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft demoted JScript's privileges in Internet Explorer.

Microsoft Windows allows JavaScript source files on a computer's hard drive to be launched as general-purpose, non-sandboxed programs. This makes JavaScript (like VBScript) a theoretically viable vector for a Trojan horse, although JavaScript Trojan horses are uncommon in practice. (See Windows Script Host.)

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Outside the web, JavaScript interpreters are embedded in a number of tools. Each of these applications provides its own object model which provides access to the host environment, with the core JavaScript language remaining mostly the same in each application.

  • ActionScript, the programming language used in Adobe Flash, is another implementation of the ECMAScript standard.
  • Apple's Dashboard Widgets, Microsoft's Gadgets, Yahoo! Widgets, Google Desktop Gadgets, Serence Klipfolio are implemented using JavaScript.
  • The Mozilla platform, which underlies Firefox and some other web browsers, uses JavaScript to implement the graphical user interface (GUI) of its various products.
  • Adobe's Acrobat and Adobe Reader (formerly Acrobat Reader) support JavaScript in PDF files.
  • Tools in the Adobe Creative Suite, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and InDesign, allow scripting through JavaScript.
  • Microsoft's Active Scripting technology supports the JavaScript-compatible JScript as an operating system scripting language.
  • The Java programming language, in version SE 6 (JDK 1.6), introduced the package, including a JavaScript implementation based on Mozilla Rhino. Thus, Java applications can host scripts that access the application's variables and objects, much like web browsers host scripts that access the browser's Document Object Model (DOM) for a webpage.
  • The Qt C++ toolkit includes a module to interpret JavaScript, analogous to .
  • OpenOffice.org office application suite allows for JavaScript as one of its scripting languages.
  • Adobe Integrated Runtime is a JavaScript runtime that allows developers to create desktop applications.
  • The interactive music signal processing software Max/MSP released by Cycling '74, offers a JavaScript model of its environment for use by developers. It allows much more precise control than the default GUI-centric programming model.
  • Late Night Software's JavaScript OSA (aka JavaScript for OSA, or JSOSA), is a freeware alternative to AppleScript for Mac OS X. It is based on the Mozilla 1.5 JavaScript implementation, with the addition of a object for interaction with the operating system and third-party applications.
  • ECMAScript was included in the VRML97 standard for scripting nodes of VRML scene description files.
  • Some high-end Philips universal remote panels, including TSU9600 and TSU9400, can be scripted using JavaScript.
  • Sphere is an open source and cross platform computer program designed primarily to make role-playing games that use JavaScript as a scripting language.
  • The open-source Re-Animator framework allows developing 2D sprite-based games using JavaScript and XML.
  • Methabot is a web crawler that uses JavaScript as scripting language for custom filetype parsers and data extraction using E4X.

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Within JavaScript, access to a debugger becomes invaluable when developing large, non-trivial programs. Because there can be implementation differences between the various browsers (particularly within the Document Object Model) it is useful to have access to a debugger for each of the browsers a web application is being targeted at.

Currently, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, and Opera all have script debuggers available for them.

Internet Explorer has three debuggers available for it: Microsoft Visual Studio is the richest of the three, closely followed by Microsoft Script Editor (a component of Microsoft Office), and finally the free Microsoft Script Debugger which is far more basic than the other two. The free Microsoft Visual Web Developer Express provides a limited version of the JavaScript debugging functionality in Microsoft Visual Studio.

Web applications within Firefox can be debugged using the Firebug add-on, or the older Venkman debugger. Firefox also has a simpler built-in Error Console, which logs and evaluates JavaScript. It also logs CSS errors and warnings.

WebKit's Web Inspector includes a JavaScript debugger in Apple's Safari.

Some debugging aids are themselves bits of JavaScript code built to run on the Web. JSlint scans code for violations of a standard coding style. Web development bookmarklets and Firebug Lite provide variations on the idea of the cross-browser JavaScript console.

Since JavaScript is interpreted, loosely-typed, and may be hosted in varying environments, each incompatible with the others, a programmer has to take extra care to make sure the code executes as expected in as wide a range of circumstances as possible, and that functionality degrades gracefully when it does not.

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Version Release date Equivalent to NetscapeNavigator MozillaFirefox InternetExplorer Opera Safari GoogleChrome
1.0 March 1996 2.0 3.0
1.1 August 1996 3.0
1.2 June 1997 4.0-4.05
1.3 October 1998 ECMA-262 1 edition / ECMA-262 2 edition 4.06-4.7x 4.0
1.4 NetscapeServer
1.5 November 2000 ECMA-262 3 edition 6.0 1.0 5.5 (JScript 5.5),
6 (JScript 5.6),
7 (JScript 5.7),8 (JScript 6)
6.0,
7.0,
8.0,
9.0
1.6 November 2005 1.5 + Array extras + Array and String generics + E4X 1.5 3.0, 3.1
1.7 October 2006 1.6 + Pythonic generators + Iterators + let 2.0 3.2, 4.0 1.0
1.8 June 2008 1.7 + Generator expressions + Expression closures 3.0
1.8.1 1.8 + Minor Updates 3.5
1.9 1.8.1 + ECMAScript 5 Compliance 4
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The standardization effort for JavaScript needed to avoid trademark issues, so the ECMA 262 standard calls the language ECMAScript, three editions of which have been published since the work started in November 1996.

Objective-J is a strict superset of JavaScript that adds traditional inheritance and Smalltalk/Objective-C style dynamic dispatch and optional pseudo-static typing to pure JavaScript.

Microsoft's VBScript, like JavaScript, can be run client-side in web pages. VBScript has syntax derived from Visual Basic and is only supported by Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation, is a general-purpose data interchange format that is defined as a subset of JavaScript.

JavaScript is also considered a functional programming language like Scheme and OCaml because it has closures and supports higher-order functions.

Although JavaScript and Lua are not genealogically related, the two are semantically very similar despite apparent syntactical and implementational differences.

Mozilla browsers currently support LiveConnect, a feature that allows JavaScript and Java to intercommunicate on the web. However, support for LiveConnect is scheduled to be phased out in the future.

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A common misconception is that JavaScript is similar or closely related to Java; this is not so. Both have a C-like syntax, are object-oriented, are typically sandboxed and are widely used in client-side Web applications, but the similarities end there. Java has static typing; JavaScript's typing is dynamic (meaning a variable can hold an object of any type and cannot be restricted). Java is loaded from compiled bytecode; JavaScript is loaded as human-readable code. C is their last common ancestor language.

Nonetheless, JavaScript was designed with Java's syntax and standard library in mind. In particular, all Java keywords are reserved in JavaScript, JavaScript's standard library follows Java's naming conventions, and JavaScript's Math and Date classes are based on those from Java 1.0.

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