JavaScript’s a mess – and that’s a good thing

[2018-02-05] dev, javascript, esnext
(Ad, please don’t block)

JavaScript never removes old features – new versions are always backward compatible. I wish we could clean it up, but staying compatible has too many benefits, as I’ll explain in this blog post.

The benefits of backward compatibility  

These are benefits of staying backward compatible:

  • It is trivially easy to migrate to new language versions. For example, all old code was already compatible with ES6 when it came out.
    • Only ES modules are relatively difficult to adopt – but they kind of do break backward compatibility.
  • It avoids versioned code. If you allow some code to be “old” and some code to be “new”:
    • Language engines and tools become more complicated.
    • Programmers need to be aware of versions.
    • You can’t move code around, anymore (if a code base is mixed).

Tips for dealing with JavaScript’s expanding feature set  

  • Teaching and learning: you can mostly ignore old features, apart from what they look like and – roughly – what they do.
  • Let linters help you with using the language properly.
  • Let Prettier help you with formatting source code properly.

A cleaner JavaScript  

If you want to program in as clean a JavaScript as possible, there is much you can ignore (some suggestions are more radical than others):

  • var. Use let and const, instead.
  • function. Use only arrows and method definitions. Benefit: handling this becomes much simpler (details).
  • Promises. Use only async functions. Learn what to watch out for (you can’t ignore Promises as completely as var).
  • Iterating over objects. Use Maps, instead.
  • Loops: for-in (avoid always), for (avoid if you can). Use for-of, instead.
  • arguments. Use rest parameters (...args), instead.
  • Function.prototype.apply(). Use the spread operator (f(...myArray)), instead.
  • Constructor functions. Use classes, instead.
  • IIFEs. Use blocks, instead.


  • typeof vs. instanceof is too complicated. This blog post describes a library for simplifying things.

Further reading