How front-end development evolved into something amazing in 10 years

What did it even mean to be a ‘front-end dev’ in 2007? Did they even exist? You may be able to imagine what one does today even if you aren’t one: they know JavaScript, probably a framework like Angular or React and at least 10 or so complicated libraries; but back then?

The first steps towards changing the web came from Apple, with a revolutionary new technology that everyone is familiar with today.

The iPhone (2007)

Surprisingly enough, all the research I’ve done points to the iPhone as the turning point for the web of the 2000s. I’m not a big Apple fan, but their decision to not support Flash on mobile browsers was a big incentive to rethink how websites were made: If you drop Flash, your page will be able to reach a huge audience.

When Android launched a year later, one of their selling points was their Flash support, but with the community consensus on deprecating it, Google dropped support in 2012. This signaled the end of the Flash era, with a bunch of other options for animating and reproducing media (God, do you remember that?) we’ll talk about later.

Node.JS (2009)

While it was not as much a big deal when it first came out, Node certainly made big strides in front-end development in general. Being able to make backend applications in JS meant that you could now be a full-stack dev knowing only one language, and that libraries in that language would be usable by a wider audience.

But Node also made running JS outside the browser window easy. Installing dependencies, building code, running tasks, testing, deploying… Everyone started automating stuff, making development more enjoyable and less cumbersome.

Google Chrome/Mozilla Firefox Adoption (2009~2013)

There were some widely used browsers before 2009 that were painfully slow in their development and also very laid back with forcing updates, so a lot of people had older versions for quite a bit. The blame isn’t purely one-sided, browsers guilty of this were IE6, IE7, IE8 and IE9. Huh, I guess Microsoft did make all of them, so maybe it is one-sided.

Anyway, Chrome and Firefox made web look good. Not only that, but they actually made it easier (and kind of fun) to develop for web. I’ve recently had to go back to IE9 to fix a browser-specific bug and, man, are those dev tools a pain in the ass.

But the main point is that Chrome and Firefox are updated constantly, automatically, and support most modern JS features. So you can safely assume most of your public is up-to-date with whatever cutting-edge feature you want to implement.

JS Framework Boom (2010–2015)

Angular.JS, Backbone.JS, Ember.JS and Knockout (not Noun.JS, thank God) were all released in this period. This is also the period were the term “web application” started to get tossed around. It really was when front-end got big.

The community started experimenting with new ways to rethink the web, until the one true indisputable Best Framework(ish), React, came along. Or maybe Vue now, who even knows anymore.

In all seriousness, though, a lot of interesting concepts were being discussed all around the internet at this time, and whether you like the objectively best framework(ish) better than the others, the important thing is that the community as a whole grew a lot during this time.

HTML5 and CSS3 (2014)

These technologies made Static Web Great Again… by making it less static. The new CSS3 animations made it so that you didn’t need YetAnotherAnimationLibrary.JS, and HTML5 made markup way easier to read.

While they were definite improvements overall, these technologies were mostly buzzwords used as a signal to tell the world that front-end development was very much alive, and still updating.

Speaking of cool marketing moves…

ECMAScript 2015 (Guess)

ECMAScript (The standard which JS is implemented from) released their third version in 1999, and that version lasted for almost 10 years. ES5 released in 2009 with some minor improvements, but things really shifted gears with the release of the 6th version, or ES2015.

Alongside a bunch of improvements to the language, this marked the moment when new versions started being developed every year, and you could (and still can) even use unreleased features by compiling your code with something like Babel.

Libraries are nice, but straight up updates to the language of the browsers are something powerful, both for developers and marketing. ECMAScript is talked about a lot nowadays, even though it’s always been the standard for the JS language. It gives developers something to quickly research and get up to date with.

A Library For Everything (2015 — Present)

When I first wrote this clickbaity article title, the most important part was how to keep the amazing part ambiguous. Is it amazingly good or amazingly bad? Well, are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Who’s to say?

With over 350.000 packages, there truly is a library for everything. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you. The so-called “Javascript fatigue” is very real, but it’s also great that most problems already have an answer.

The State of JS survey can give you a pretty good idea of how the community feels about javascript as a whole, and what stood out the most to me is that even after thousands of horrible comments about the language as a whole, there’s only a 5% negative response to ‘I enjoy building Javascript apps’.

THAT is amazing.

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