Dynamic programming futures

JavaScript, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, and other dynamic languages are remaking the Web and bringing programming to the masses. Where should developers place their bets?

At the end of 2007, Larry Wall wrote, perhaps puckishly, that JavaScript "has some issues, but in the long run JavaScript might actually turn out to be a decent platform for running Perl 6 on."

Sophisticated engines such as SpiderMonkey and V8 show that scripting languages can begin to compete with full compiled code because a smart just-in-time compiler can make guesses about the data that are often good enough.

The stunning performance is bound to attract the attention of folks who dream of running JavaScript on the server. While Netscape tried this idea a long time ago, there's some merit in letting both the server and the client speak the same language. Now the only problem is figuring out which version of JavaScript to use. If history is any indication, it will be just a bit different from all of the browsers.

7. Emulation and cross-compilation will extend the life of dynamic code. Java programmers can use Jython to let Python code control Java objects. Groovy burrows deeply into the Java stack. Google's Web Toolkit converts Java into JavaScript. Watch for the virtual machines from Java and .Net to become even friendlier to changes that come along at runtime.

8. All of the embedding makes it simpler for programming to escape the command line and start appearing in Web applications themselves. Some of the highly customizable platforms let you add custom code in a Web form.

Uploading JavaScript or Python on the fly to customize a Web application is still only for real programmers, but it will become easier and easier for casual users to avoid bugging the IT staff by writing their own code. Some WordPress plug-ins let users edit the JavaScript that controls the ads. The bloggers may be changing only a few colors and details for Google AdSense, but these Turing-complete mini-sandboxes are going to bring programming to the masses.

Watch clouds like AppJet, a Web site that lets you build a Web application with one file filled with JavaScript. AppJet's Web site is the IDE: You just go to a Web page and edit the code, and voila, the code is tested right in your browser.

9. The rise of the amateurs may make much of dynamic programming irrelevant. Web sites such as Coghead, Caspio, and Microsoft's Popfly let the world do much of the programming without typing any characters at all -- unless they want to put a label on some Web form. All of the instructions for the server are communicated by mouse clicks, lines, and flowcharts. This democratization will create graphical languages that may flourish -- if the creators can make them simple enough for the average human.

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Peter Wayner

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