Sequoia McDowell

Computer Systems Analyst

What is "JavaScript?" Part 2: Solutions

In my last post I outlined my concerns about lack of visibility into the incorporation of experimental features into popular JavaScript libraries. In short, the problems are:

  1. The lack of a clear, standard indicator of when a library incorporates experimental language features
  2. The inability to consciously opt in to using these features

In this post I'll outline my proposals for addressing these issues.

Proposal 1a: minimum-proposal-stage

This idea is lifted from Composer, which has minimum-stability property for projects. My idea is as follows:

  1. Libraries indicate if they are using experimental language features and from what stage
  2. Project authors specify the lowest proposal stage they're comfortable with
  3. npm install warns if you are installing a library with features newer than desired

For example, if you only want "finished" (Stage 4) or higher features in your project, you add the following to your package.json:

 "minimum-proposal-stage" : 4

Aurelia would indicate that it incorporates a Stage 2 proposed/experimental feature (decorators) by adding the following to its package.json files:

"lowest-proposal-stage" : 2

Upon attempting to install Aurelia, npm would warn you that the library's lowest-proposal-stage is lower than your minimum-proposal-stage. Basically: "hey! You're about to install a library with language features more experimental than you might be comfortable with!"

Pros

Cons

Proposal 1b: maximum-ecmascript-version

This is like above, but pegged to ECMAScript versions.

Example: in my project, I don't want code newer than ES7 (the current released standard at the time of this writing), i.e. I don't want unreleased features:

    "maximum-ecmascript-version" : 7

In the library's package file, they indicate that the library incorporates features that do not exist in any current version of ECMAScript:

    "ecmascript-version" : "experimental"

npm would warn me before installing this package. This one, on the other hand, would install without complaint:

    "ecmascript-version" : 5

because the ecmascript-version is lower than my maximum.

Pros

Cons

The two systems could also be used in conjunction with one another; I won't go into that possibility here.

Possible Solution 2: Badges

Add badges to README.md files to indicate whether experimental features are used in the library. Here are some sample badges that use the proposal stage names rather than numbers:

(Please excuse the largeness of these badges)

Alternately, the language version could be used:

Pros

Cons

Conclusion

Change is good, but stability is also good. Everyone should be able to easily choose to use or not use the latest and greatest JavaScript features and proposed features. Increasing visibility into experimental feature dependencies will...

  1. Give users a better understanding of the JavaScript feature development process and what it means for something to be "JavaScript"
  2. Allow users to consciously opt-in to using experimental language features
  3. Allow those who prioritize stability to opt-out of using experimental language features
  4. Give frazzled, overwhelmed users a bit of solid ground to stand on in the Churning Sea of JavaScript
  5. Make JavaScript look a bit less scary to enterprise organizations

Please let me know what you think with a comment (below) or on hackernews.

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