October 2, 2016

Learning JavaScript

I want to become fluent in JavaScript.

Not that I am fluent in Java yet, mind you. I found out the hard way that knowing how to use Selenium WebDriver with Java and being able to sketch out Java code on a whiteboard are two different things. But I have been getting better.

Why tackle JavaScript before solidifying what a Software Development Engineer in Test working with Java might need to learn?

Web application development is shifting from heavy-weight or "high ceremony" languages like Java, to Node.js style JavaScript frameworks. Automation development is racing to catch up.

Back when I spent my 2014 Christmas break taking Alan Richardson's famous online course on Selenium WebDriver with Java and dreaming about switching from being a manual to an automated tester, the rule of thumb was to pair the automated test framework (what used to be called a "test harness" ten years ago) with the web application.

You see, Coding and QA are two different disciplines, even though in the past two years the lines between them have been severely blurred with the triple threat of Agile Software Development, Selenium WebDriver, and Continuous Integration.

The people writing the automated tests have a concentration on writing good quality and robust tests, not writing code. It helps having senior people nearby who know the nuance of the programming language to help them write the automated test framework.
  • Ruby applications were paired with the Ruby bindings of Selenium WebDriver or Watir for setting up automated browser tests to check the web-based user interface.
  • Java applications were paired with the Java bindings of Selenium WebDriver.
  • C# applications were paired with C# bindings for Selenium WebDriver.
  • Using Selenium WebDriver with Python was also a logical choice. Manual testers without a history of coding seem to find Ruby or Python easier to pick up than Java or C#. 

With the popularity of Node.js, AngularJS and other JavaScript frameworks, there have been a push to pair Selenium WebDriver, an automated browser testing library, with JavaScript. Out of the twelve companies I obtained on-site interviews within the past three months:

  • Almost half paired Selenium WebDriver with Java 8.
  • Two paired Geb with the Java based scripting language, Groovy
  • One paired testing their AngularJS / PHP application with Composer. I was attempting to see if I could come up with a Protractor / JavaScript / Jasmine solution for them. Protractor connects to Selenium WebDriver's API directly.
  • Four used Nightwatch.js, which also connects with Selenium WebDriver's API. 
  • Absolutely Zero mentioned just using Selenium HQ's official JavaScript bindings... they always Selenium with a wrapper... I was wondering, why? Are the official JavaScript bindings too new? Why weren't they getting adopted? ... It could be that they are, but I just had a very small sample size. 

So, the next thing I need to tackle: Learning JavaScript. Two problems though:
  • I haven't coded in JavaScript since I took a grad school course in it ten years ago.
  • JavaScript sure has changed quite a bit since then, with ECMAScript 6, or ES6. 
Luckily, Alex Rauschmayer, a JavaScript expert, has published two books on the subject, Speaking JavaScript, and Exploring ES6, negotiating with O'Reilly publishing that the HTML versions are completely free.
Thank you, Alex Rauschmayer!

Alex Rauschmayer's free HTML version of his book Speaking JavaScript (3/12/2014) found at http://speakingjs.com/es5/ can help answer some questions we might be asking ourselves...

Why is JavaScript Called ECMAScript? 

"ECMAScript is the official name for JavaScript. A new name became necessary because there is a trademark on JavaScript (held originally by Sun, now by Oracle). At the moment, Mozilla is one of the few companies allowed to officially use the name JavaScript because it received a license long ago. For common usage, these rules apply: [...] JavaScript means the programming language. [...] ECMAScript is the name used by the language specification. Therefore, whenever referring to versions of the language, people say ECMAScript". - Speaking JavaScript, Chapter 01.

Note: Speaking JavaScript, a good introductory book for coders who know Java, PHP, C++, Ruby, etc is ECMAScript 5.


If I really love the work of an author, even though online free versions may be available, I prefer to purchase a copy of the softcover book. I now own a copy of Speaking JavaScript.

ECMAScript 6, which came out last year is covered by his next book, Exploring ES6. Technically, this brand new version of JavaScript has been redubbed "ECMAScript 2015".

Yes, Alex provides a free HTML version of Exploring ES6 online, at http://exploringjs.com/es6/ ... but if you want to support his work, you can purchase a copy at LeanPub. As of this blog article, the book is 98% complete! Purchase it at https://leanpub.com/exploring-es6/.

Who Created JavaScript?

"JavaScript’s creator, Brendan Eich, had no choice but to create the language very quickly (or other, worse technologies would have been adopted by Netscape). He borrowed from several programming languages: Java (syntax, primitive values versus objects), Scheme and AWK (first-class functions), Self (prototypal inheritance), and Perl and Python (strings, arrays, and regular expressions).

"JavaScript did not have exception handling until ECMAScript 3, which explains why the language so often automatically converts values and so often fails silently: it initially couldn’t throw exceptions. On one hand, JavaScript has quirks and is missing quite a bit of functionality (block-scoped variables, modules, support for subclassing, etc.). On the other hand, it has several powerful features that allow you to work around these problems. In other languages, you learn language features. In JavaScript, you often learn patterns instead". - Speaking JavaScript, Chapter 1.
Brendan Eich, Official Mozilla photo

You can read a lot more about how and why Netscape and Sun Microsystems back in 1995 created JavaScript in Alex Rauschmayer's Speaking JavaScript, Chapter 4, and how ECMAScript versions 1 thru 6 came about in Chapter 5 of the book.

How Has JavaScript Evolved?

I never really knew JavaScript back in the mid 1990s.

We were never formally introduced until grad school around 2001 or so. It was a whirlwind introduction. We talked about JavaScript in the same breath as Perl and CGI Programming when talking about Dynamic HTML.

Sure, I bumped into JavaScript on the job, every now and then, mostly used to sniff out what type of browser a person was using, and displaying the appropriate page. But it really didn't hit the big time until much later.

Alex Rauschmayer goes into much more detail, in Speaking JavaScript, Chapter 6 about JavaScript's rise to fame, from Dynamic HTML in 1997 to:

  • 2001: Douglas Crockford invents JSON, JavaScript Object Notation, a lightweight alternative to passing data through XML. 
  • 2005: Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), debuted in Google Maps, where pages can be dynamically changed on-the-fly. Sometimes slowly... Which then fails my Selenium WebDriver / Java browser tests.
    ... Yes, I put in a wait statement.
    ... Yes, I made sure that the wait statement isn't just Thread.sleep().
    ... Yes, the wait statement I put in is polling the DOM every 10 seconds, waiting for that slow-loading component to load up.
    ... No, I can't set the wait more than 10 or so seconds... if I do that then Sauce Labs automatically fails the test due to timeouts after 90 seconds.
    ... No, it's not the test that is flaky. The test is compensating for a web app component being slow.

    ... Be right back. I need to go lie down. It's been a long day at work.
  • 2008: V8: "When Google introduced its Chrome web browser, one of its highlights was a fast JavaScript engine called V8. It changed the perception of JavaScript as being slow and led to a speed race with other browser vendors from which we are still profiting. V8 is open source and can be used as a standalone component whenever you need a fast embedded language that is widely known".
  • 2009: Node.js: "Node.js lets you implement servers that perform well under load. To do so, it uses event-driven, nonblocking I/O and JavaScript (via V8)". Created by Ryan Dahl.
Get Started With NPM

Other changes that happened:
  • 2009: ECMAScript 5 standardized.
  • 2010: AngularJS, a web application framework built by Google released. To test and measure Angular apps, Google releases Protractor.
  • 2010: The Node Package Manager (npm) appeared. A Must Read: "What is NPM?". Developers submit their Node.js applications to https://www.npmjs.com/. If you wish to use their application, to install it, you can run from the command line (Mac Terminal or Windows Command Prompt) the command: npm install -g (or --global), and add whatever program you want to install, whether it is: 

  • 2011: New version of JavaScript, in beta, to be version 6, code named "Harmony". ( Read about it in Alex Rauschmayer's Exploring ES6, Chapter 1, to be released soon )
  • 2011: Mocha, a JavaScript Test Runner released. 
  • 2013: Vojtěch Jína writes about the complexities of testing JavaScript frameworks, introducing the Karma Test Runner in his Masters thesis. 
  • 2015: ECMAScript 6 is standardized. Maybe it should be called ECMA 2015? And have yearly releases? Darn, ECMAScript 6 stuck.
  • 2016? ... ECMAScript2016, formerly ECMA 7, should come out? 

So, Should We Not Learn ECMAScript 5? 

Alex Rauschmayer says, no, ECMAScript 5 is still useful:
  • "ECMAScript 6 is a superset of ECMAScript 5 – new JavaScript versions must never break existing code. Thus, nothing you learn about ECMAScript 5 is learned in vain.
  • "There are several ECMAScript 6 features that kind of replace ECMAScript 5 features, but still use them as their foundations. It is important to understand those foundations. Two examples: classes are internally translated to constructors and methods are still functions (as they have always been).
  • "As long as ECMAScript 6 is compiled to ECMAScript 5, it is useful to understand the output of the compilation process. And you’ll have to compile to ES5 for a while (probably years), until you can rely on ES6 being available in all relevant browsers.
  • "It’s important to be able to understand legacy code". -Exploring ES6, Chapter 2
I don't yet own a copy of this. I want to wait until it is absolutely finished before buying a softcover copy.

What Spurred JavaScript Updates Such As ECMAScript 2015?

For that answer, we can go to Nicholas Zakas and his brand new book Understanding ECMAScript 6, which was just published September 3, 2016. The free version, as the book was being developed, is still on LeanPub, at https://leanpub.com/understandinges6/

From Understanding ECMAScript 6: Introduction: The Road to ECMAScript 6:
"In 2007, JavaScript was at a crossroads. The popularity of Ajax was ushering in a new age of dynamic web applications, while JavaScript hadn’t changed since the third edition of ECMA-262 was published in 1999. TC-39, the committee responsible for driving the ECMAScript development process, put together a large draft specification for ECMAScript 4. ECMAScript 4 was massive in scope, introducing changes both small and large to the language. Updated features included new syntax, modules, classes, classical inheritance, private object members, optional type annotations, and more.

"The scope of the ECMAScript 4 changes caused a rift to form in TC-39, with some members feeling that the fourth edition was trying to accomplish too much. A group of leaders from Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft created an alternate proposal for the next version of ECMAScript that they initially called ECMAScript 3.1. The '3.1' was intended to show that this was an incremental change to the existing standard.

"ECMAScript 3.1 introduced very few syntax changes, instead focusing on property attributes, native JSON support, and adding methods to already-existing objects. Although there was an early attempt to reconcile ECMAScript 3.1 and ECMAScript 4, this ultimately failed as the two camps had difficulty with the very different perspectives on how the language should grow.

"In 2008, Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript, announced that TC-39 would focus its efforts on standardizing ECMAScript 3.1. They would table the major syntax and feature changes of ECMAScript 4 until after the next version of ECMAScript was standardized, and all members of the committee would work to bring the best pieces of ECMAScript 3.1 and 4 together after that point into an effort initially nicknamed ECMAScript Harmony.

"ECMAScript 3.1 was eventually standardized as the fifth edition of ECMA-262, also described as ECMAScript 5. The committee never released an ECMAScript 4 standard to avoid confusion with the now-defunct effort of the same name. Work then began on ECMAScript Harmony, with ECMAScript 6 being the first standard released in this new 'harmonious' spirit.

"ECMAScript 6 reached feature complete status in 2015 and was formally dubbed “ECMAScript 2015.” (But this text still refers to it as ECMAScript 6, the name most familiar to developers.) The features vary widely from completely new objects and patterns to syntax changes to new methods on existing objects. The exciting thing about ECMAScript 6 is that all of its changes are geared toward solving problems that developers actually face".
Can't wait to read the rest of the book!

How Does JavaScript and Selenium WebDriver Intersect?

To talk about how JavaScript and Selenium WebDriver intersect, let's jump to a different source, Dave Haeffner and his Selenium Guidebook.

The Selenium Guidebook

I wrote about Dave last year, covering his free blog Elemental Selenium and its Archive of Tips ( see the sourcecode), his countless numbers of free instructional videos on YouTube, his wonderful site, The-Internet, which I used when I was demoing the first automation test framework in Java that I had encountered, and his guidebook, now written for Java, Ruby, Python, C#, and JavaScript.
I purchased his Selenium Guidebook - JavaScript Version. The current price of just the Handbook alone seems a bit expensive at $59.00 for an e-Book, but since I am using his free material all the time, I might as well finally pay for some of his work. The e-Book is published in many different types, includes JavaScript code examples, and a copy of the Automated Visual Checker guide.

Dave Haeffner's target audience seems to be for us Quality Assurance Engineers, who may or may not really be familiar with coding. Alex Rauschmayer's work in Speaking JavaScript might be just slightly over our heads? Dave's walkthrough for manual testers covers:
Officially Supported Selenium JavaScript bindingsAPI documentation.

... I've always wondered about The Selenium GuidebookThe Complete Package and what it was like...

I've only ever looked at just the books, first the Java version last year, and the JavaScript version this year. To get around the fact that I didn't purchase the pre-packaged videos, I subscribe to free Sauce Labs Webinars that feature him, then see if he has anything new on YouTube.

Most of all, I wonder about the Selenium Guidebook: The Complete Package and the 10 seat license, currently $799. ($80 per person for a group, rather than $299 per person)

I've run meetings, such as bug tracking triage sessions. I've hosted very informal training sessions. I've given many an end-of-sprint product demo session.

What I would really love to do is join a team of software testers -- a good mixture of mostly manual testers, a few automated testers, and maybe a Sr. JavaScript coder since I only know Java -- and see if we can break the material down into separate sessions for self-study, where I can act more as a moderator trying to find the answers out with the team, than a lead with all of the answers.

If the group gets stuck on something, we could just email or send a tweet to Dave Haeffner for help.

Dave Haeffner also allows people to contact him for help, personally, in 30 minute increments, with his Office Hours at https://www.sohelpful.me/tourdedave ...

I had been looking for Lead positions... I need to make sure to pitch this as an idea...

What To Use To Write JavaScript Code?

Dave Haeffner writes in his Selenium Guidebook, about what Text Editor to use when coding in JavaScript.  
"In order to write Node.js code, you will need to use a text editor. Some popular ones are VimEmacs, and Sublime Text.

"There's also the option of going for an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) like WebStorm. It's not free, but there is a free 30-day trial.

"It's important to pick an editor that works for you and makes you productive. So if you're new to programming and text editors then it's probably best to go with something more intuitive like Sublime Text or WebStorm. If you end up using WebStorm be sure to check out the documentation on using it with Mocha (link)". - Dave Haeffner, Selenium Guidebook, JavaScript Edition
Personally, I like Sublime Text, which is now up to version 3.

Want to build and run your JavaScript programs inside Sublime Text 3? Here is a walkthrough of what I have found:

  • Check to see if you have Node already installed. Open a Command Prompt on a Windows machine or the Terminal on the Mac, and type: node --version. Doesn't work? Go to https://nodejs.org/ ... current version is 4.6.0. I like installing it globally so I can use node commands from any directory. 
  • Take a look at Pawel Grzybek's article JavaScript console in Sublime Text 3. It shows how to create a new Sublime Text build system you can call "JavaScript". On my Windows 10 system at home I used "cmd" : ["node", "$file"] and "selector": "source.js" to the new file, which I called "JavaScript.sublime-build".  
  • Need to find exactly where Node has been installed? Try from the command line: which node or where node
  • Not familiar with the Command Line? Need help? See my post last year.

What Thought Leaders Could We Follow?

Read the new TechBeacon article written by Mitchell Long, 41 JavaScript Experts to Follow on Twitter published 9/30/2016.

What If We Need More Hands-On Instruction on JavaScript?

I am still attempting to find good (and free) online starter courses in JavaScript that are not woefully outdated. The mission of this blog is to help fellow software testers to be able to switch from manual to automated testing, so I would love to find courses where previous coding experience isn't required.


Check to see if your local library or local university have free subscriptions to Lynda.com, an online learning site. If you are a member of the Boston Public Library, you can sign up for a free subscription. Lynda has one course on ES6, but most of their courses are years and years out of date.


From AngularClass, there is a free JavaScript course called ModernJavaScript. Good information. Some typos on the slides. Good video walkthrough of the language.


NodeSchool.io provides open-source tutorials leading from JavaScript all the way up to Node. You need to have Node.js installed on your machine, so you can used the Node Package Manager.

... There are many other tutorials!


JavaScript Basics is part of Udacity's Front-End Web Developer nanodegree program put together by AT&T, Google, GitHub, and Hack Reactor. Udacity has many a free course! Go to https://www.udacity.com/courses/all and check off "Free Courses" and "JavaScript" to see what they have.

Each course does not teach you in a vacuum. You work towards building your own application, such as with the JavaScript Promises course, you can build a Public Transportation app.


Although W3Schools appears to have a bad reputation, I have always enjoyed their free courses. They do have one on JavaScript that may be promising.

You Don't Know JS
Kyle Simpson's book series You Don't Know JS started off as a Kickstarter Campaign back in 2013. Recently, it is being updated with the ES6 functionality.

The Kickstarter Campaign!
With each book, it drills down into the specifics. This information is also offered for free, on Kyle Simpson's GitHub site at https://github.com/getify/You-Dont-Know-JS. The books cover:

... Please note, the entire e-Book series is being sold for $37.60. The entire print series is $68.

Know of any free started JavaScript courses? Feel free to list them in the comments!

Need some side-by-side comparison of E6 with older versions of JavaScript?

If you already know JavaScript, and you want to see the exact differences, side-by-side, go to E6 Features.Org


Want to See What New Stuff Happened In the JavaScript World, Summer of 2016?

Are you completely drowning in information?

Less than a month ago, someone posted the following question to Reddit's /r/JavaScript room:

"Could someone give me a quick synopsis of the last 3 months in the JS world?"
... You could spend days attempting to footnote the responses!


Want Even More?

Read "How it Feels To Learn JavaScript in 2016" by Jose Aguinaga.

Happy Testing!

-T.J. Maher
Twitter | LinkedIn | GitHub

// Sr. QA Engineer since 1996, Automation Developer
// Contributing Writer for TechBeacon.
// "Looking to move away from manual QA? Follow Adventures in Automation on Facebook!"

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