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JavaScript: Is It as Good as They Say?

Learn JavaScript with essential books, tutorials, and resources

I'm really excited about my latest JavaScript courseware project for AppDev, which offers an array of online training courses for developers. The company's current JavaScript course worked great for the pre-AJAX era but was in serious need of an overhaul for Web 2.0. I love writing courses for AppDev, but I think this is the most excited I've ever been about a new course. I've been writing JavaScript code for a long time, but until now I hadn't made the sort of systematic, in-depth exploration of the language that's necessary to teach it to programmers.

Like many professional web developers and programmers, I initially perceived JavaScript as a toy language that fostered bad programming practices, although it was necessary for creating robust and dynamic web pages across browsers. AJAX and other factors changed all of that, and I grew to view JavaScript as a far more powerful and versatile language than I had originally imagined. Sometimes I kick myself for not seeing JavaScript's incredible potential early on.

During course development, I've been digging up good JavaScript resources that I can point students toward. One of the most interesting and obvious is Douglas Crockford's JavaScript: The Good Parts (O'Reilly Media, 2008). This book isn't news to anyone who's been writing JavaScript for a while, but it has deeply influenced my appreciation of the language. In particular, I've bought wholeheartedly into the notion of using only the language's good parts, and I'm writing my JavaScript course to teach those good parts in an effort to steer students away from bad practices. This book is one of the few that I schedule myself to re-read regularly as part of my professional development.

On a whim, I decided to explore Crockford's previous work related to JavaScript (among other things including JSLint). That's when I stumbled onto "Crockford on JavaScript," a series of free lectures that Crockford presented at Yahoo! about JavaScript. (Crockford is currently chief JavaScript architect for Yahoo!) In these lectures, Crockford delved into the history of JavaScript and described useful functionalities of the language. It's a marvelous series that will broaden your understanding of JavaScript and deepen your appreciation of the language's versatility. Throughout the series, Crockford also explains his rationale for deciding what JavaScript's good parts are.

Another must-have book for JavaScript developers is David Flanagan's JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, 6th ed. (O'Reilly Media, 2011). Be sure to get the latest edition. The sixth edition includes information on JavaScript's newest features and updates to the current ECMAScript standard. I don't force myself to read this book every year cover to cover—it's 1,018 pages with the appendices, after all—but it's something I refer to all the time.

There are two other interesting JavaScript books that I recommend to people who are learning the language. The first is Eloquent JavaScript: A Modern Introduction to Programming (No Starch Press, 2011) by Marijn Haverbeke. This is one of the better soup-to-nuts introductory JavaScript texts that I've seen and one of the best resources for writing good JavaScript code. This book isn't quite the introductory programming text that the title implies, but it's unlikely to leave you confused if you're fuzzy on key programming concepts. It's well written with good, simple examples that will give you a broad understanding of how the language works.

The other book is Head First JavaScript (O'Reilly Media, 2008) by Michael Morrison. This is one of the titles in the innovative Head First series from O'Reilly Media. The books in the series aren't your typical technical books. Instead, they're designed to make a connection between your brain and the topic by using uniquely designed pages and graphics with lots of hands-on exercises. The book is probably better for individuals without much programming experience because it goes into a lot of basic programming concepts. Head First JavaScript isn't quite as intense as other JavaScript books, but it's certainly more fun.

Besides W3Schools.com's JavaScript tutorial and Mozilla's JavaScript reference site, I've found Wikibooks's JavaScript topic to be a good resource. This project is by the Wikimedia Foundation—the same organization that brings you Wikipedia—and consists of a collection of open-content textbooks that anyone can edit. The JavaScript wikibook is a fairly complete resource about the language. The chapters don't go into great depth, but they makes up for it in breadth. The best part is that if you find anything missing, misleading, or just plain wrong, you can edit the material to help out others. Overall, it's a nice resource.

As a result of all the good influences of these books and resources, I have to say that JavaScript really is as good as they say. Not perfect, but brilliant nonetheless.

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