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Learning JavaScript

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In the last couple weeks, I’ve had three different people ask “What’s the best way to learn JavaScript?”.

As all engineers know, if you do something more than twice you immediately want to automate it, so here’s a quick description of how I think the best way to learn JavaScript is.

First, get Crockford’s book: JavaScript: The Good Parts.

I think of it as filling the same place for JavaScript as the K&R book does for C – a baseline where you should start, as well as a clear, concise description of the language with only minimal degressions.

Next, I’d encourage you to read it, cover to cover… Then read it again. It’s good enough that I don’t think you’ll mind.

To try out your skills, you’ll probably want a command line interpreter that reads JavaScript. You could always use the “jrunscript” program that comes with Java – but I think an even better choice would be to pull up the console in Chrome, and start typing. Better still would be to create a small program on disk, and include it in a simple HTML web page, then use the Chrome console to add and subtract behaviors that way.

Once you understand why [1,2,13].sort() returns [1,13,2], you’re ready to move on…

Next, you’ll probably want to use JavaScript with HTML, on a web page. I strongly recommend you get Flanagan’s JavaScript: The Definitive Guide. At 1100 pages, it’s big. Real, real big. Don’t worry, you don’t have to read it right away – it’s just a great reference when you get stuck. It really can’t be beat for describing all the different JavaScript functions you can operate on in the DOM. There are other, free resources (notably at Microsoft and Mozilla) which do much the same thing, but nothing beats this monster of a manual for answering most of your questions.

But instead of going head-first into DOM API programming, I recommend that you instead also check out some of the wealth of libraries out there. Two in particular stand out: jQuery and underscore.

jQuery has tons of books out there, and I don’t have a favorite (I did read a few) – but before you get one, I’d recommend checking out the API Docs. They’re small, and the API is pretty well focused. There’s also a Learning Center, where they’ve gathered all the best information for getting started.

The underscore.js docs are so small, I think any book would be superfluous. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what most of the functions are for when you first look over them – it’ll (mostly) become obvious once you’ve used JavaScript to write a few simple programs. Just try to make yourself familiar with most of what it does, so you know that there’s a better way than writing hacky code yourself.

Master class stuff is mostly even more a matter of opinion than beginner work, but I rather like Addy Osmani’s Learning JavaScript Design Patterns, which is either available for free, or for purchase (and if you like it, do purchase a copy, to encourage that sort of behavior).

Similarly, both John Resig and Stoyan Stefanov are legends in the JavaScript community, and everyone thinks highly of their books (though I’m somewhat ashamed to say I haven’t cleared my schedule to do more than skim them).

That should be more than enough to get you started. I’d love to hear any suggestions anyone may have to improve this article.

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Written by jamesgdriscoll

January 31, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Posted in JavaScript

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