Thursday, 17 January 2013

What Javascript programmers should learn from Perl mistakes

Although I spend most time developing stuff in Perl, sometime I have to fix Javascript code that's been written by JavaScript specialists. Sorry, ECMA script as it should be called. And the more I look at 2013 JavaScript programming, the more I can see some similarity with the state of Perl programming 12 years ago.
Remember the Perl obfuscated code contest? Basically it was all the "serious" Perl programmer boasting about being able to write the most f...d up original version of Yet Another Perl Hacker. While this was quite fun and made quite a good showcase of Perl's flexibility and expressiveness, some Perl programmers of the time were not quite serious enough and started to (unwillingly ?) use obfuscation techniques in production code, gaining Perl a reputation of being unreadable and unmaintainable, thus not fit for serious industrial development. You know the rest of the story: PHP, the offspring of 1994 Perl took over.
As programmers, we know that you can write unreadable and unmaintainable code in any language, and you can certainly write elegant things in any language too. Although I'm not sure about The problem lies in the fact that non-programmers easily confuse the Programming language itself and the nasty habits of programmers. Have enough people write bad *any language* code, even for fun, and *any language* will gain a bad reputation. It comes from the extraordinary appetite our lazy human brains have for generalisation. Show enough retarded programs on TV and very soon people will think that the TV media itself is retarded.
So please, Javascript programmers, stop writing stuff like that:

var layout_options = {}, optgroups = {
                    globals: 'Public',
                    userones: 'Private'
Or like that:
var block = conf[i], options, sel_conf, k, j;
Or like that:
opt.lytId == cfg.actLyt_id && opt.lytType === cfg.actLytType && (option_conf.selected = true);
Maybe some prehistoric browsers will actually run that faster than if you were using the 'var' keyword sensibly or if you were using good old 'if' statements. Otherwise, I think it's safe to assume these are completely useless optimizations, paid at the high price of unreadability. Plus, you know, text editors have auto-completion, so it's useless too to save keystrokes on variable names, specially if your code goes though some optimizer/packager in production.
Maybe I shouldn't rant about Javascript programming, maybe stuff like CoffeeScript or Dart will take over and it JavaScript will only live as an assembly language. Personally I have the feeling it would be a good thing. A higher level - cleaner language compiled to JavaScript taking all browsers specificities into account. Why not? I don't see anything wrong with that.
But JS programmers, if you love JavaScript and want to make sure it's still used in its current form over the next few years, stop writing code that's only barely readable by your fellow gurus.

Edit: Actually, someone has pointed out to me that Perl is still more popular than PHP in terms of Job offers.

Although PHP easily wins on Google fight.