'Quick and dirty' coding language acquires increasing sophistication

JScript is Microsoft's open source counterpart to Javascript

JScript: What is it?

VBScript may be better known, but JScript, Microsoft's other scripting language, is used widely in Active Server Pages (ASP) programming, and system automation and administration tasks. Along with its open source counterpart Javascript, JScript has evolved from a browser-dependent way of controlling web pages to a fully independent language used in server as well as client-side applications.

JScript has kept its scripting feel and is a fairly forgiving language that can be used by non-programmers and beginners, as well as for "quick and dirty" coding. But over the years it has acquired increasingly sophisticated object-oriented and other modern language features. JScript.net combines classic JScript compatibility with access to the resources of the .net Framework

Where did it originate?

In 1995 Netscape came up with a scripting language designed to be used with its Navigator browser. Its name was changed from Livewire to Javascript because its syntax resembled Java.

The browser wars were at their height, and in a bid to get its language established as an open standard, Netscape handed it over to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (Ecma). Microsoft followed with an Internet Explorer implementation, JScript. JScript and Javascript share an agreed core of functionality based on Ecmascript which, like other standards body-driven languages, has long intervals between releases.

Mozilla (which took over Netscape's products) has a version of Javascript for Java called Rhino.

What is it for?

Scripting languages were originally devised to enable web developers to make their pages more interactive. They can be used for automating routine administration tasks, obtaining feedback from users and updating records with the output of user visits.

But as users have become comfortable with them - and the languages acquire more sophisticated functionality - JScript and Javascript are used increasingly in large and complex applications.

What makes it special?

JScript.net supports different levels of programming ability. As Microsoft puts it, "One of the defining qualities of a script language is the ability to write code without having to worry about the types of variables. Making types optional allows developers to leverage their existing JScript skills and source code, while providing a smooth migration path for adding types to new and existing programs." Microsoft also claims that as a compiled language, JScript offers performance comparable to C# and Visual Basic .net.

How difficult is it to master?

Javascript and JScript were devised to enable HTML authors, who are not necessarily trained programmers, to embed snippets of code in their pages. The syntax has been kept simple, and the more demanding functionality is optional. Familiarity with Java or C++ can help.

Many users take advantage of the thousands of scripts freely available on the web, without ever formally learning how to use JScript or Javascript.

Where is it used?

JScript is used widely in ASP development, web design and systems administration.

What systems does it run on?

In general, JScript is used with Microsoft technologies and Javascript with everything else, but the skills are essentially portable and interchangeable.

What is coming up?

Ecmascript version 4, the first major revision since 1999, on which the next releases of JScript and Javascript will be based.

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