CoffeeScript vs JavaScript: Choose Your Flavor

November 3, 2022
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Life is about speed, and nowhere else does this become more evident than when talking about programming. Jeremy Ashkenas understood this back in 2009 when he was starting to envision a way to read JavaScript better: It’s no use having a helpful programming language at your disposal if the workload is way too large. 

CoffeeScript is the brainchild of those programming sessions, replacing complex structures with easier abbreviations. It’s a bit faster, it’s a bit better. It did not reinvent the wheel – the entire program compiles into JavaScript – but it ensures readability and promotes brevity and speed above all. Its compactness doesn’t come at a cost, however: it doesn’t sacrifice runtime performance. Looking at the results, Dropbox announced back in 2012 that it had successfully ported the entirety of its JavaScript code of its browser client to CoffeeScript. 

How Does CoffeeScript Work, Again?

CoffeeScript essentially overlays its code over the old one, offering many advantages. For a simple example, we can look at the following:

alert(“Hello World!”);

The above is written in JavaScript. It doesn’t seem too complicated, does it? Well, CoffeScript begs to differ:

alert “Hello World!”

It’s just a bit simpler, but that simplicity can make or break a website, a project, or an entire development process. By offering a more succinct syntax – it doesn’t support the for() loop – the number of coding is reduced by one-third. According to Ashkenas, it avoids slow statements and offers helpful features such as comprehensions over arrays and objects, bound function literals, and safe lexical variables. In other words, it can run as fast (or faster) than JavaScript.

It does have a disadvantage, though: CoffeScript code does not run in native browsers, necessitating a compiler that translates that code into the supported JavaScript. This leads users and developers to have to deal with yet another compile step, something that Ashkenar is well aware of. He and his team have tried to mitigate this, of course. By providing conveniences like –watch, which keeps the whole directory of CoffeeScript files always up to date.

The CoffeeScript Compiler

There are two versions of the CoffeeScript compiler: a core compiler, and a command-line compiler. Both of these can be easily obtained through the website.

Core Compiler

This one compiles CoffeeScript code before each run. Users can download the Core Compiler and access their local copy or even embed the link into an HTML file. For example:

coffeescript examples

Command-Line Compiler

Due to the above compiler’s previously mentioned quality of amassing CoffeScript code before each run, many users will instead want to use the Command-Line variant to precompile those source files into JavaScript files and then reference them from their HTMLs. It would essentially look like this:

coffeescript examples

Do You Want Coffee With That?

Ever since big players like Dropbox decided to invest in CoffeeScript, we’ve had enough assurance that this programming language keeps its promises of brevity, productivity, and efficiency. If you need further information, you can easily download their manual on their homepage – its language is just as brief.

You can always read our blog for other programming doubts, insights, and counsel. We have over 17 years of experience helping businesses and developers achieve their goals through perfectly good practices, and we aim to continue doing so. 

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