Altabel Group's Blog

From JavaScript to jQuery

Posted on: January 1, 2013

JavaScript has been popular with the developers for a number of years and has been more discussed than jQuery. However it seems to me that we should also pay attention to jQuery as, I bet, we could find a number of interesting facts about it.

Let`s start from the brief history of the two.

Initially JavaScript was called LiveScript and was invented by Netscape. In 1996 Netscape decided to change its name to raise the popularity of the language by combining it with Java. At that moment Java was used to prepare individual plug-ins. Despite the fact that JavaScript developers have tried to recreate the same syntax and functionality, as in Java, between the two languages, there are many differences. The most important difference is that the Javascript – client is an interpreted scripting language. It runs in the browser without first compilation, which is a mandatory action for programs written in Java…but it is another story.

So JavaScript is a scripting language that is mainly used for website development and client side validation.

The most common use of JavaScript is to write functions that are included in the HTML to interact with HTML elements. For example:
- Sending HTML page data to server using AJAX;
- Animating HTML element;
- Validating the HTML form;
- Storing user information that may help for Web Analytic, Ad tracking etc.

As for jQuery, when it came out in January 2006, from first sight, it looked like a cute hack and in general jQuery was seen as a passing fad. Because the chaining stuff looked like a bit gimmick and the library didn’t look like it would cover all of the bases. Still over the past months we could see that the first impression was wrong, because jQuery encapsulates an extraordinary range of common functionality, and provides a clever plugin API for any functionality not included by default. And the most important thing is that the using of the library obeys best practices and plays well with other JavaScript code.

Mostly jQuery focuses on designers and inexperienced developers, still it could be of interest to experienced programmers as well. Here I will try to enumerate the reasons why:

1) Element’s selecting. Every jQuery operation starts from selecting one or more nodes from the DOM. jQuery’s selection syntax is an interesting hybrid of CSS 1, 2, bits of CSS 3, some XPath and a few custom extensions as well.

2) Namespace. The main point in creating a good JavaScript-code for further using is carefully managed namespace. There is a single global namespace in JavaScript and many programmers clog it without any needs. More sensible developers minimize their intervention to the space using different methods. jQuery introduces the only object in the global namespace: function or object jQuery. Everything else is either direct property jQuery or a method of the object returned by a call to jQuery.

3) The $ function. You could say it is not true that that jQuery introduces only one object in the global namespace as there is also a $: the $ symbol is also set up as a shortcut for jQuery. This makes enough gently: if you want to back your former function $ (for example, if you have a piece of code based on Prototype), you can call jQuery.noConflict (), to return to his old the $. At the beginning you could considere the widespread using $ in jQuery is no more than a clever trick. But for some reason thinking of it in terms of the jQuery symbol makes everything seem a lot more sensible

4) Chaining. jQuery development team often boast about supporting this library call chains, reaching statements like «jQuery created in order to change your style of programming in JavaScript». Frankly speaking, this technique is a big turn-off than the road to the future but you can make good use of jQuery while avoiding lengthy chains of methods entirely. Briefly speaking, the chain can be used for some interesting tricks. In addition to using a set of DOM-samples you can use jQuery-end () method to move the object on the stack and exit the current context. It’s a bit hard to explain, but when you use a method that changes the current (object) context (for example, children () or filter ()), you can use the end () later to return to the previous sample.

5) Manipulating with DOM. jQuery offers a few smart ways of making large scale manipulations to the DOM. The first is quite surprising: the jQuery function can take a snippet of HTML which it will turn in to a DOM element.

6) The returned beast. Object, which is returned by the selectors jQuery, could be quite interesting. It represents a set of DOM-elements and behaves a bit like an array—it has a length property, items can be accessed by index and (most importantly) Firebug treats it as an array when displaying it in the interactive console. This is a clever illusion; the collection is actually a jQuery object, incorporating a large number of methods which can be used to query, modify and extend the collection of selected elements.

There are three principle categories of jQuery methods: those that manipulate all of the matched elements, those that return a value from the first matched object, and those that modify the selection itself. If you have Firebug you can try these out interactively: use this Insert jQuery bookmarklet first to load the jQuery library in to any page, then paste the code examples in to the Firebug console. I would like to note a convenient symmetry of these methods: they are used for display attributes (taking 2 arguments passed to or from a number of properties of the object), and to read the values of these attributes (if only one argument). This symmetry is used throughout jQuery, which greatly facilitates the storage API.

7) Unostentatious programming. The best web applications are those that can still function in disconnected scenarios, and the best method to achieve this is using JavaScript, when the events are assigned to elements only after all the HTML-page are loaded by the user. In jQuery there is excellent support for this approach. First, the paradigm of the selectors to select a node is fundamental for jQuery, and for the non-intrusive programming in general. Second, jQuery provides solutions for window.onload problems

8) jQuery and Ajax. jQuery has the best API for working with Ajax. The most simple form of an Ajax call looks like jQuery(‘div#intro’).load(‘/some/fragment.html’). This performs a GET request against /some/fragment.html and populates div#intro with the returned HTML fragment. It’s a neat shortcut, but what if you want to do something more advanced like display an Ajax loading indicator? jQuery exposes custom events (ajaxStart, ajaxComplete, ajaxError and more) for you to hook in this kind of code.

9) Extensions. Considering the whole set of features as standard, it is worth noting that uzhaty jQuery version is only 20 KB, and even less if you use archive (. Gz). Additional functionality that extends beyond this delivery can be arranged with the help of extensions that can (and do) to add new methods to an existing jQuery. If you want, you can do something like this: jQuery (‘p’). bounceAroundTheScreenAndTurnGreen(); The extension mechanism in jQuery provides documented methods for adding them to the system. Simplicity and ease of use have attracted a large community of authors such extensions, the extensions directory has more than a hundred examples. Another nice feature is the ability to add your own selectors as well as their own methods. MoreSelectors expansion adds methods like div: color (red), which, for example, selects all div with red text.

10) Several words about leaky abstractions. When studying jQuery with more respect, you could struggle with one philosophical blocker. In certain cases, jQuery uses a truly unique methods to achieve a particular function: some parts (such as source code selectors) of this library look scary. If you do so , it requires an understanding of how the library works. To understand this, you need to know some basic concepts, the differences between browsers and a set of methods, which the library uses to get around them. No library can protect you 100% against weird browser behaviour, but as long as you have a grounding in the underlying theory you should be able to figure out if a problem stems from your own code, your library or the underlying implementation.

11) Conclusion. I hope enough evidence was brought to have a positive conclusion about jQuery: it is not a regular library. It contains a lot of interesting ideas that can surprise even the most experienced JavaScript programmers and teach them something new. Even if you will not use it in the work, it is necessary to devote some time and explore the “ecosystem” jQuery.

Elvira Golyak

Elvira Golyak
Elvira.Golyak@altabel.com
Skype ID: elviragolyak
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

2 Responses to "From JavaScript to jQuery"

Hm… jQuery IS JavaScript, so I don’t get the point here. If you use vanilla JS, there’s no additional loading times on a site, nor is there a quite massive RAM requirement. These are aspects to keep in mind, especially if creating mobile sites/pages. I don’t say jQuery (or any other library) is bad, but I try to avoid it wherever possible….

I agree with you Andy! I always avoided jQuery, even though I heard lot it, I never tried to go with it because of its dependencies.

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