Google launches Dart as a JavaScript killer

Dart can be used for both small Web projects, as well as large ones, company engineers said

Google has launched a preview version of a new Web programming language, called Dart, which the company's engineers hope will address some of the shortcomings of the widely used JavaScript language.

Google's goals for Dart are to create "a structured yet flexible language for Web programming," wrote Lars Bak, who is a software engineer for Google's Dart team, in a blog post officially announcing the language Monday.

Although Bak did not mention JavaScript by name, Dart's capabilities resemble those of JavaScript, though they also address some of the scalability and organizational issues that have been associated with JavaScript. In leaked memos, Google engineers have expressed frustration over "fundamental flaws that cannot be fixed by merely evolving" JavaScript.

Designed for building Web applications, Dart is an object oriented language, one designed to be used for both quickly cobbling together small projects, as well as for developing larger-scale Web applications. Dart allows the programmer to add variables without defining their data type -- called dynamic typing -- or to define their data types, called static typing. Dynamic typing is best for small projects that need to be ramped up quickly, while static typing will help secure and speed large-scale Web programs.

The preview version includes a compiler and a virtual machine, along with a set of basic libraries. In order to get their Dart creations to run on browsers, programmers can compile them to JavaScript using a tool included in the Dart package. Eventually Google would like each browser to include a native Dart virtual machine, upon which Dart programs can run. Now, not even Google's own browser, Chrome, will support Dart. "We plan to explore this option," Bak wrote.

Google will have a lot of campaigning to do, if it indeed wants Dart to replace JavaScript across the Web. In its latest monthly estimate of programming language popularity, Tiobe Software ranked JavaScript as the 10th most widely used language overall.

First developed by Netscape in 1995, JavaScript was designed as a scripting language for adding programming functionality to Web browsers. The following year, Netscape submitted it to ECMA International as a standard, resulting in the standardized version called ECMAScript. Adobe also uses a version of ECMAScript, called ActionScript, for developers to write for Adobe's Flash player.

Dart is not Google's first foray into creating a new programming language to address the shortcomings of older ones. In 2009, the company debuted Go, which the company's engineers created as an alternative to the complexities of C++, Java and other traditional languages.

Bak plans to reveal more about Dart at the GoTo conference, being held this week in Aarhus, Denmark.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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