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We're into lap 21 and Node.js features have again overtaken those attempting to teach it

Community races to keep docs current

Node Summit 2017, Day 2
Node Summit on Thursday, in San Francisco

Node Summit The popularity of Node.js has caught its community by surprise and left its stewards scrambling to find a way to keep developers up to date with the rapidly changing technology.

Node.js, a JavaScript runtime environment that allows developers to write JavaScript code for both client and server applications, has been thriving.

Node.js isn't the answer to every problem, but it meets many current needs, explained Mark Hinkle, executive director at the Node.js Foundation, in an interview with The Register at the Node Summit.

"Fifteen or twenty years ago, everyone was about performance, stability, and feature sets," said Hinkle. "Now utility is a key theme."

That doesn't invalidate the need for more established programming languages, which may be better suited to certain kinds of workloads.

"If you are doing an ecommerce transaction for a high dollar amount, you may want to make sure that transaction completes with a high degree of fidelity," said Hinkle, in reference to Java. "If you want to make sure if that last tweet came in ... well, just hit refresh."

Hinkle said Node.js fills a need for a performant, lightweight development framework tailored to the web, a technology stack that he said has the largest developer base in the world.

"It's the perfect storm of all these people who want to do things involving the exchange of little bits of data over mobile devices and connected appliances," he said. "It's a very good framework for that."

But interest in Node has outpaced its educational resources. The technologies upon which Node.js is based – JavaScript, Google's Chrome V8 JavaScript engine, and related developer tools – have been evolving so quickly that developers and companies have trouble keeping up.

In January, the Node.js Foundation announced plans to develop a Node.js certification program to establish a standard level of competency among developers. At the moment, there is no standard and that's an issue for companies needing to make hiring decisions.

"More than fifty per cent of programmers are self-taught," said Tracy Hinds, education community manager at the Node.js Foundation. "They have to establish some baseline of knowledge."

The foundation's plan was originally to introduce its certification program this summer, but now the target date is October.

"In other languages that have had corporate stewards from the beginning and continued, or that were closed source then open source like .NET, or Java even, you have incredibly well-documented guides..." said Hinds. "And that same level of support, from a documentation side and an IDE, is not in Node."

Hinds said other languages like Python and Ruby have found traction without educational resources from a corporate patron. "But in terms of people being able to pick it up and run very quickly, that is a struggle with Node and we need to improve that quite a bit."

Hinds said it's incredibly difficult to keep documentation and tutorials up to date. "We've seen that to such an extent that people are not writing ES6 for production," she said, referring to the JavaScript standard published in June 2015.

"You can. It's shipped. But people don't know how. So people are still writing ES5. They're still using Babel. They have not had the time, nor can they find the materials."

Meanwhile, the ES8 standard was published in June. ®

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