Unrelated image from pexels.com to make this post look nicer in social media shares.
Unrelated image from pexels.com to make this post look nicer in social media shares.

Or more specifically, why is javascript called javascript when it has basically nothing in common with java?

First, let’s have a little context. Javascript originally ran only in the browser and made webpages interactive. Java was primarily a server-side language but could run in the browser in the form of applets (they’re very rarely used now, don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them). Javascript is also dynamically typed (you can put anything you want in a variable and the interpreter figures it out (or not) at runtime), uses prototypal inheritance (you create new objects using an existing object as a prototype), and has had closures (first-class functions that ‘remember’ the state of the variables they had access to when they were declared) from the beginning. Java, on the other hand, is statically typed (thou shalt not put a double in a variable that you declared as an int), uses class-based inheritance (you create objects using a blueprint called a class and only classes can extend other classes), and only just got closures (called lambdas in java) in 2014 when java 8 came out.

About the only thing java and javascript have in common is that they both use c-style syntax (curly brackets and periods, basically). So given all that background information about how little java and javascript have in common, why on earth is javascript named javascript?

Back in the 90s when javascript came out, java was the shiny new thing everyone was excited about, and the theory I’ve always heard about the name was that it was a marketing ploy intended to make people think javascript actually did have something to do with java and was therefore cool. According to this interview with Brendan Eich, the inventor of javascript, javascript actually was intended to sorta, kinda, have a little bit of a relationship with java: “the idea was to make it a complementary scripting language to go with Java, with the compiled language.” And according to this press release, javascript’s design was: “complementary to and integrated with Java” It turns out javascript actually can interact with applets, too.

These days javascript has nothing to do with java, and honestly it may never have had much to do with it, but just because you’ve heard the “purely a marketing ploy” theory over and over doesn’t make it the whole truth. Now, who can tell me how the moral of the story applies to programming? ;)