TypeScript & CoffeeScript: Two Tools to Write Faster, Cleaner JavaScript

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JavaScript is front-end development. It’s spawned an entire catalog of technologies that have streamlined and powered the way developers use the language: robust front-end frameworks, middleware frameworks, build tools, typeahead tools, task runners, and the development environment Node.js that allows it to be used in back-end development as well.

Naturally, a few ways to make writing JavaScript itself faster (and easier) have also evolved on the landscape–two popular ones are TypeScript and CoffeeScript.

You’ve probably seen these skills listed when browsing front-end developers, so what are these two tools, how are they different from JavaScript itself, and why do front-end developers use them?

Why do front-end developers use TypeScript & CoffeeScript?

TypeScript and CoffeeScript are alternatives to coding in “pure” JavaScript. Like many scripting languages, JavaScript has its quirks, and it can get verbose. The more code you write, the greater the chance that it can get tangled, repetitive, or buggy. These two tools make writing JavaScript quicker, easier to read, cleaner, and scalable.

While they are not the same kinds of technology–TypeScript is a superset of JavaScript, and CoffeeScript is essentially JavaScript, just streamlined–both make big improvements to the way developers write JavaScript. Read on for a look at each.

TypeScript: Writing JavaScript That Scales

TypeScript is a typed, strict superset of the JavaScript language–meaning, at its core, it’s a backwards-compatible version of JavaScript that will compile into 100%, pure JavaScript. It was developed and is maintained by Microsoft, and is used for both Node.js-powered back-end applications, and front-end JavaScript applications. TypeScript is JavaScript (vs. Dart, Google’s scripting language that is more like a replacement for writing JavaScript, but compiles to JavaScript). Just like JavaScript, TypeScript code will run on any browser and any operating system.

TypeScript is also compatible with Java build tools like Maven and Gradle, and the JavaScript task runner, Grunt.

Why TypeScript writes cleaner JavaScript

The key to TypeScript is that it’s a static typed script. Programming languages can either be statically typed or dynamically typed, the difference is when type checking occurs. Static languages’ variables are type checked at compile time, with the added benefit that the compiler will spot any errors or bugs at this phase and reject the program. Dynamic languages (like JavaScript) are type checked later, at runtime. While it can be more flexible to code, dynamically typed software doesn’t enforce bug-free code before compilation. Instead, they rely on unit testing to spot bugs prior to runtime.

For smaller, dynamically typed scripts, this isn’t as much of an issue. Most scripting languages are dynamically typed, but spotting errors is less of a concern because scripts are often shorter pieces of code. When you need to scale up a JavaScript project, however, TypeScript allows you to ensure a cleaner code base by being statically typed.

Scaling up JavaScript projects with TypeScript

Writing large-scale JavaScript programs is becoming more common practice—including cloud software, hybrid and cross-platform apps, and back-end architecture–but it’s not without its challenges. Because JavaScript was originally written to be a scripting language for websites, it has limitations when it comes to bigger projects and support of object-oriented programming practices.

TypeScript solves for some of these limitations by enforcing better standards earlier on, in addition to type checking. TypeScript’s compiler takes the code and runs it for errors, making it cleaner code from the start. If you’re building a larger JavaScript project, TypeScript is a great, conservative measure for writing a tidy JavaScript codebase–and a sturdy foundation for your project.

Using TypeScript

Getting started with TypeScript is easy: either install it as a package in the Node.js environment, or if you’re using Microsoft’s Visual Studio with the .NET framework, TypeScript comes built-in.

Code and libraries of code that are already written in JavaScript can be run through TypeScript, as well. (Essentially, they are the same language, but the output from the TypeScript compiler will have some minor differences and be a bit cleaner.)

In summary, TypeScript is going to help you write better JavaScript that is more readable by machines.

Now, let’s look at CoffeeScript.

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is not a different language than JavaScript. It’s not even a different dialect of JavaScript. Think of it more like a faster, cleaner, and better way to write JavaScript–like using abbreviations.

CoffeeScript lets you write cleaner JavaScript with less code

Any developer will tell you that CoffeeScript is not a shortcut to better JavaScript code. The “garbage in, garbage out” mantra stands, and poorly written CoffeeScript will not miraculously become well-written JavaScript. But it does manage to solve for a few trickier aspects of JavaScript, not to mention it allows developers to write ⅓ to ½ as much code as they would if they were writing in “pure” JavaScript.

The simplicity of CoffeeScript-to-JavaScript comes from CoffeeScript’s ability to weed out JavaScript’s more complicated aspects, and that the code it generates doesn’t have to jump through hoops to be compiled to JavaScript, plus there’s no runtime interpretation. There are some slight syntactical differences, but generally if you look at a piece of CoffeeScript code, you can already “see” what the JavaScript code would be.

Writes more readable JavaScript

Using the CoffeeScript tool helps you generate JavaScript that is more easily readable by anyone on a team, by providing a set of standard programming idioms (how code implements an action), classes, and loops. This way, the code is more uniform and anyone on a team can decipher each other’s code with no problem–no nuances or bad habits to sift through.

Using CoffeeScript

Like TypeScript, CoffeeScript lets you use your existing JavaScript libraries. The resulting output of CoffeeScript can run even faster than hand-coded JavaScript, and is compatible with every JavaScript runtime environment. Use CoffeeScript’s command-line version through Node.js, or download and install CoffeeScript locally. Grab the code from GitHub as a download or cloned repository and get started.

In summary, CoffeeScript is going to help you write cleaner JavaScript faster that is more readable by people.

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Carey Wodehouse

by - Freelance Content Marketer and Writer

Carey Wodehouse is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Richmond, VA who’s worked for clients ranging from online retailers and global market research… more