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ECMAScript Harmony

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Big news for the future of the Web: JavaScript 2 (ECMAScript 4) is dead, though pieces of it will live on in the new ECMAScript 3.1-based (informally dubbed "Harmony") specification. The members of the ECMA Technical Committee 39 (Adobe, Mozilla, Opera, and Google in favor of ECMAScript 4 and Microsoft, Yahoo in favor of the less ambitious ECMAScript 3.1), which had been at odds over the future direction of the JavaScript language for some time, finally agreed upon the new direction. Brendan Eich, the original creator of JavaScript, broke the news on Wednesday (8/13).

The details of what the new unified specification will look like are far from finalized at this point, but clearly it will be a very scaled back version from the ambitious ECMAScript 4 proposal. Some early results:

  • Packages, namespaces, and early binding from ES 4 are off the table for good.
  • ES 4 classes are being "rephrased": they will now be syntactic sugar for lambda-coding and Object.freeze() (which was proposed in ES 3.1)
  • JavaScript getters and setters are being fast-tracked as part of the new specification.
  • ES 4 let expressions seem to have some general agreement among committee members.

The announcement has sent ripples across the Web. Adobe, which had built ActionScript 3 to closely match anticipated ECMAScript 4 features, has maintained that they will not change AS 3 at all in response to the new direction. Some have speculated that Microsoft's motivation in bucking the ECMAScript 4 standard--and certainly the main factor in why it was abandoned--was political.

Whatever the reasons for abandoning ECMAScript 4, it is certainly clear that JavaScript will now evolve at a much slower pace than some had hoped or anticipated.