Revenge of the Browser

Last weekend I attended the awesome Texas Javascript conference down in Austin, TX. This was probably the best geek conference I’ve been too. It made the early Rails conference look downright corporate. TXJS had awesome parties sponsored by Google and Facebook, the top names in JavaScript for speakers, and an open bar with mimosas for breakfast. This sets the bar pretty high on the geek awesomeness scale.

One of the most interesting discussions at the conference revolved around server-side JavaScript. Some very clever programmers have taken the V8 JavaScript runtime from Chrome, wrapped it with a library and pushed it out as a runtime for executing JS scripts on the server. The project is called NodeJS and it already has a pretty rich plugin environment around it. The implication is you can actually write a high-performance server-side application in JavaScript.

The trend for the past several years has been for the server-side programming languages to hide the JavaScript from developers. Both Rails and GWT approach things with a “use our language to do it all”. There is obviously value in this approach for people who don’t know JavaScript, but NodeJS suddenly flips that model on its ear.

The NodeJS story is “you use JavaScript already in the browser, so why not use the same skills on the server”. We now have a programming paradigm established at the browser that is pushing in to the lower tiers, rather than the lower tiers pushing out to the web. NodeJS has potential to obsolete a lot of what we think of as server-side development. Both Yahoo and ExtJS have projects in the works that use NodeJS as the backend, and I bet Google must have something going too.

NodeJS is basically the new Ruby. Keep an eye on what the cool kids start doing with it, and give it a try yourself. We’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

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