Understanding JavaScript as an Open Standard

Posted June 29, 2023 | Updated July 5, 2023

Unlike languages like Swift, owned by Apple, or C#, owned by Microsoft, JavaScript is not under the thumb of any one corporation. Instead, it's an open standard.

An open standard is a standard that is publicly available, and developed, approved, and maintained via a collaborative and consensus-driven process.

JavaScript's evolution is overseen by the ECMA International, through the TC39 committee. This committee is composed of a number of organizations, including browser vendors, companies, and individuals, who come together to discuss, propose, refine, and finally, accept or reject potential changes to the language.

This process ensures that any and all alterations are the result of a democratic decision, which seeks to represent the best interests of the global development community, not a single corporate entity. Through a series of stages, proposals for new features are meticulously reviewed, tested, and modified until they are ready for integration into the language.

This democratic, community-driven process is both a blessing and a curse, as we will explore in the next sections.

The Benefits of an Open Standard

The freedom offered by the open standard has driven remarkable innovation in JavaScript. Developers are able to propose and implement changes that they feel would improve the language, promoting diversity of thought and rapid advancement. This democratic process ensures that the language constantly evolves to meet the needs of its extensive user base.

The language features introduced, such as arrow functions, the spread operator, and async/await, have been significant improvements to the language, enhancing readability and making complex operations more manageable. The async/await syntax, for example, was proposed by a developer from the community who wanted to simplify the handling of Promises, which can become complex when chained or nested. After going through multiple stages of feedback, refinement, and testing, this syntax was officially added to JavaScript, greatly enhancing the language's handling of asynchronous operations.

At its essence, this demonstrates how JavaScript differs from many other languages. Because JavaScript is so community-driven, many of the language features that exist in it today are a direct result of real problems surfaced by real users. Unlike languages controlled by corporations, JavaScript is not a profit-driven product offered as part of a larger suite. Therefore the features and innovations are a direct result of real user need and real users trying to solve those needs.

Beyond Language Syntax: Innovation and Consensus in the JavaScript Ecosystem

Up to this point, we've focused primarily on the innovations and advancements within JavaScript as a language. However, it's important to acknowledge that JavaScript's status as an open standard has also fostered numerous innovations beyond the language itself. These external advancements often lead to a community consensus, illustrating the broader impact of the JavaScript ecosystem.

The text-book example of this is the development of Node.js itself. Today, Node.js is so ubiquitous that we forget that JavaScript was initially conceived purely as a browser-only scripting language. The inception of Node.js enabled JavaScript to be used on the server side.

However, Node.js did more than that.

Node.js, along with npm, revolutionized JavaScript package management. npm was so groundbreaking and user-friendly that it created an ecosystem for installing and consuming JavaScript packages that it's now broadly accepted as "the norm". This transformation was only made possible due to JavaScript's open nature, which encourages exploration and growth well beyond its initial purpose.

The pattern of "innovation" leading to "community consensus" is a hallmark of the JavaScript ecosystem. The development of various JavaScript technologies often involves iterative innovations built by the community, which can eventually progress into a broadly accepted standard. A good example of this process can be seen in the evolution of JavaScript module systems:

  1. Node.js revolutionized JavaScript development by bringing it to the server-side and introduced the "CommonJS" module system. This provided a way to import and export code, enabling more complex and modular applications. It was a significant innovation that set a precedent for future development, yet was not initially available for client-side (browser) JavaScript.
  2. Browserify capitalized on this innovation by allowing the use of the CommonJS module system in the browser. It accomplished this by bundling all the required modules into a single JavaScript file that could be run in the browser. This significantly improved the structure and organization of client-side JavaScript, marking a crucial step forward for JavaScript development.
  3. Webpack took this idea further by not only supporting the bundling of JavaScript modules but also allowing the bundling of other resources like CSS and images. It introduced the concept of "loaders" which could transform these resources into JavaScript modules. This meant developers could import CSS, images, or any other assets directly into their JavaScript files, greatly enhancing the modularity and cohesion of their code.
  4. In parallel to these community-led developments, the official ECMAScript (the standard upon which JavaScript is based) specification introduced ES Modules. This standardized a system for importing and exporting modules in JavaScript, reflecting the need that had been identified and addressed by the JavaScript community through CommonJS, Browserify, and Webpack.
  5. Finally, Node.js adopted ES Modules while also introducing "conditional exports." This innovation allows the creation of package entry points dependent on the environment (like CommonJS, ES module, browser, etc.), making modules more adaptable for different build targets. This not only formalized the module concept but also made it more versatile across various JavaScript environments.

Through this iterative process of innovation and consensus, the JavaScript community continually pushes the boundaries of what is possible in the language, while also working towards more robust, standardized solutions.

This demonstrates the power of community-driven development in shaping the evolution of a programming language but this doesn't come without its challenges.

Addressing the Disadvantages of the Open Standard

However, as much as JavaScript's open standard nature drives innovation, it also brings its share of disadvantages. The most palpable of these are fragmentation and developer fatigue.

With the ease of creating and implementing new features and frameworks, the JavaScript ecosystem can often feel fragmented. This contributes to the frequent emergence of new frameworks, as enthusiastic developers attempt to solve problems they've encountered in their unique contexts. Developers may create libraries or frameworks that overlap with existing ones, or that are so niche that they complicate the landscape rather than simplifying it.

An example of this is the multitude of state management libraries in the React ecosystem - Redux, MobX, and the Context API, among others. Each of these tools can be used to accomplish similar goals, but their coexistence can lead to confusion for developers deciding on the most suitable tool for their projects. This fragmentation makes it challenging for developers to choose the right tools for their projects, and can even lead to compatibility issues.

Additionally, the rapid pace of change can lead to developer fatigue. With new frameworks and features emerging frequently, developers may feel an unending pressure to learn and keep up with the latest trends. This can be exhausting and often unsustainable in the long term. To combat this, it's crucial to remember that new does not always mean better. Mastery of fundamental JavaScript and a deep understanding of a few key frameworks can be far more beneficial than a shallow understanding of many.


Despite its challenges, the open standard nature of JavaScript has undoubtedly propelled it to become one of the most popular and influential languages of our time. It’s a language that is of the developers, by the developers, and for the developers. And while the swift pace of innovation can sometimes feel overwhelming, it also offers a rich landscape of tools and opportunities to build and innovate upon.

The JavaScript community has demonstrated a remarkable ability to drive the language's development and innovation. With an open standard, the boundaries of what is possible are continually being pushed, with the community at the heart of these advancements. As we look to the future, the pace of change may not slow, but the advantages of this dynamic and community-driven approach will continue to outweigh the challenges.

Yes, there's a new JavaScript framework seemingly every week, but this is a testament to the language's open standard nature and the community's capacity for innovation. It's up to us, as developers, to navigate this exciting landscape, leveraging the rapid innovation while also acknowledging, and combating, the accompanying fatigue. After all, isn't that what being part of a dynamic, global community is all about?

With the lessons we learn and the knowledge we gain from past and current challenges, we're in a prime position to build a future for JavaScript that is as innovative and inclusive as its history.