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Compile to JavaScript: The 4 best alternatives to JavaScript

JavaScript is everywhere. It’s currently the 7 th most popular programming language on the planet according to the Tiobe index. But basic JavaScript isn’t too magnificent. It isn’t the easiest language to work with and brings with it some challenges, the most troublesome being how hard it is to write manageable and scalable code with ease. This kind of sucks because of how widely used the language is. JavaScript is the uncontested standard for browser based programming. Once Node.js hit the scene JavaScript started to take over server side programming as well. The arrival of hybrid apps brought it into the world of mobile development making it even more prominent. Realizing this trend a ton of alternatives that compile into JavaScript were created to make developers lives easier which is what I am here to share with you today. Due to the abundance of JavaScript alternative languages, I have tried to cover the modern and more widely used ones to make your life easier.

Alternatives to JavaScript

CoffeeScript

Back at the end of 2009 Jeremy Ashkenas made the first CoffeeScript commit calling it “the mystery language” with a compiler written in Ruby. A few months later the Ruby compiler was replaced with one written in pure CoffeeScript and the GitHub page was receiving over 300 hits per day. Now CoffeeScript is the most widely used language among the alternatives to JavaScript. It can run in all of the same environments that JavaScript can run in, can run locally on a Node server, and it’s available as a npm package.

One of the syntax differences to help you understand the feel of CoffeeScript is that there are no semicolons which gives it the feel of Ruby. Another big difference is that some JavaScript keywords and features are deprecated in the name of simplicity including function and var which will throw syntax errors.

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TypeScript

Anders Hejlsberg of Microsoft created this intuitive JavaScript alternative with his background of C# in mind, which you clearly see hints of throughout this strict JavaScript superset. This language also adds optional static typing and object-oriented programming based on classes, bolstering its power. One of the most useful features of this language is that you can use pre-existing JavaScript code, libraries, and frameworks directly in a TypeScript project.

TypeScript utilizes definition files that contain type information of existing JavaScript libraries enabling other programs to use values defined within these definition files as if they were statically types Typescript entities. Popular libraries such as JQuery, MongoDB, and D3.js all have third party header files as well. The TypeScript compiler is written in TypeScript and licensed under the Apache 2 License. Overall, Typescript is a solid and powerful alternative to JavaScript.

Spider

Imagine if CoffeeScript, Go, Python, C#, and Swift all somehow had a baby together. Well, essentially they did… and it ended up being an eight-legged arthropod, Spider. For starters, Spider went down the dynamic route as opposed to the static one. Reason being that JavaScript is already dynamic, and that makes interacting with otherwise dynamic code a lot more simple when the entire system is dynamic. Unlike a completely new indentation-based syntax like CoffeScript, Spider preserves JavaScript’s familiar syntax. Spider embraces JavaScript’s prototype-based object oriented programming and is fully compatible with already existing JavaScript libraries. The language is extremely safe and fixes many of JavaScript’s problems such as == automatically compiling to ===, and the typeof operator supporting regexp, date, array, and more. Overall, due to the fact that this language was created based off of the errors and mishaps of many others, it is a very fluid and strong language, one of the best alternatives to JavaScript.

Dart

This language was created by Kasper Lund and Lars Bak whom also created the V8 JavaScript engine contributing to Google Chrome being the leading web browser. This class-based, single inheritance, object-oriented language with C-style syntax is precompiled using the dart2js compiler to become JavaScript. What is interesting about Dart is it can run in its own VM with several unusual properties including a unified internal instruction set to precompile Dart code before execution.

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A huge plus about Dart is that it has the goodness of libraries like JQuery right into the language. They got rid of names like getElementByTagName and replaced it with query that takes J-Query-like parameters to find what you need. They also standardized the internal data structures used to describe the DOM, eliminating the need to remember method calls like hasChildNodes and firstChild.

Conclusion

CoffeeScript and TypeScript are definitely the most popular and mature JavaScript alternatives, but Spider sneaks in and has a younger factor going for it. Spider took the problems of previous JavaScript alternatives and JavaScript itself and fixed them allowing for an essentially better experience. Dart comes in the mix and gives you an entirely new option with powerful syntax options but remains less popular due to having less in common with traditional JavaScript. At the end of the day you will have to choose what is right for you and your preferences. Check out each language by clicking on their names.

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