Saturday, September 15, 2007

JavaScript’s Limitations

JavaScript is most commonly used as a client-side language, and in this case the “client” refers to the end-user’s web browser, in which JavaScript is interpreted and run. This distinguishes it from server-side languages like PHP and ASP, which run on the server and send static data to the client.
Since JavaScript does not have access to the server environment, there are many tasks that, while trivial when executed in PHP, simply cannot be achieved with JavaScript: reading and writing to a database, for example, or creating text files. But since JavaScript does have access to the client environment, it can make decisions based on data that server-side languages simply don’t have, such as the position of the mouse, or the rendered size of an element.

Usually, the computer on which a client is run will not be as powerful as a server, so JavaScript is not the best tool for doing large amounts of data processing. But the immediacy of data processing on the client makes this option attractive for small amounts of processing, as a response can be received straight away; form validation, for instance, makes a good candidate for client-side processing.

But to compare server-side and client-side languages with a view to which is “better” is misguided. Neither is better—they’re tools for different jobs, and the functional crossover between them is small. However, increased interactions between client-side and server-side scripting are giving rise to a new generation of web scripting, which uses technologies such as XMLHttpRequest to make requests for server data, run server-side scripts, and then manage the results on the client side.

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