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Google's JavaScript-slaying-improving Dart lets fly with version 1.0

Alternative web language delivers first production release

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Google has reached a significant milestone in the development of Dart, its JavaScript replacement language, with the release of the first production-ready version.

Dart is designed to make it easier to develop complex web applications by avoiding some of the language shortcomings that make large JavaScript applications difficult to write and maintain. Version 1.0 was announced on Thursday at the Devoxx conference, taking place in Antwerp, Belgium this week.

According to a blog post by "chief Dartisan" Lars Bak, the new version is ready to be used as a JavaScript alternative in production web applications, and companies including Adobe, drone.io, and JetBrains are already working to integrate the language into their own web development tools.

The 1.0 release comes roughly one year after the Dart team shipped its first milestone release last October. Internally, that build was known as version 0.1, and the language has undergone multiple, significant changes since then. Bak says the current version is stable and that any changes to core technologies in future Dart versions will be backward compatible "for the foreseeable future."

One of the key components of the Dart SDK is dart2js, a tool Google describes as a "translator" (some might call it a compiler) that converts Dart source code into JavaScript for production deployment. Bak says the performance of the code output by dart2js 1.0 has improved significantly since previous releases, and in many cases, translated Dart now runs faster than the equivalent hand-coded JavaScript.

Google has also built a virtual machine (VM) that runs Dart code natively, and its performance has similarly been beefed up in version 1.0, to where benchmarks written in Dart run as much as 130 per cent faster in the Dart VM than the equivalent benchmarks do when running in Google's own V8 JavaScript engine.

Dart VM still isn't built into the mainstream Chrome browser, however, and there are no signs yet that it will be soon. But the Dart SDK does include a custom Chrome build called Dartium that integrates Dart VM for use as a rapid testing and debugging tool, and Dart VM can also be run in standalone mode to execute code on a server, much like Node.js.

Rounding out the Dart toolset is the Dart Editor, a light, language-specific IDE that includes such features as code completion, refactoring, a debugger, and code hints and warnings.

Mind you, Google's Dart team aren't the only ones looking to address JavaScript's deficiencies. Perhaps most notably, Microsoft has been working on TypeScript, its own JavaScript alternative that's more a superset of the language than an outright replacement.

Microsoft and others have criticized Google for attempting to fragment the web development community by introducing a new client-side language that competes with JavaScript, rather than improving it. But Bak insists that Dart is not about killing off JavaScript; rather, it's merely an attempt to innovate web browsers, particularly for applications running on mobile browsers.

"I have no problems with JavaScript," Bak told The Reg earlier this year.

As Dart development continues, Bak says, the focus will be on polishing Dartium and improving the performance and stability of the Dart language and its related package libraries.

The Dart SDK 1.0 is available for download immediately from the Dart community website, along with documentation, tutorials, and related tools. ®

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