Programming languages: Why JavaScript developers are choosing TypeScript

TypeScript is exploding, say analysts.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft might have taken a friendlier approach to Linux under CEO Satya Nadella, but one thing that hasn't changed since the days of ex-CEO Steve Ballmer is the company's focus on "developers, developers, developers".     

This week Microsoft revealed at its Build developer conference a Microsoft-made Linux kernel for Windows 10 for the Windows Subsystem for Linux version 2.0, giving programmers faster boot times for Linux distributions running on Windows 10. 

Meanwhile, Visual Studio Code or VS Code, Microsoft's lightweight cross-platform code editor has become a hit with developers at Google and now has 4.5 million users. 

Microsoft of course now owns GitHub, the go-to code hosting repository for developers, while the popularity of Microsoft's programming language TypeScript is going off the charts, according to developer analyst firm RedMonk. 

TypeScript is a superset of JavaScript -- the world's most popular programming language -- that compiles to JavaScript and is aimed at large coding projects.

RedMonk recently ranked TypeScript as the 12th most popular language based on GitHub projects and conversations on developer knowledge-sharing site, Stack Overflow.  

Additionally, nearly half of developers who use the popular Node.js JavaScript package manager, npm, report using TypeScript. 

RedMonk co-founder James Governor has now offered his theories as to why TypeScript is "exploding". 

While TypeScript isn't a replacement for JavaScript, it can dramatically improve a language that's become essential for building applications for the web. 

"There is no doubt that developers with JavaScript skills looking for some type safety in their code are gravitating towards TypeScript," he said.

Microsoft's TypeScript benefits from the hardiness of JavaScript, which has proved flexible enough to adapt to multiple niches and leaves a wide space to attract developers to it, according to Governor.  

In most programming language popularity indexes, such as Tiobe, IEEE Spectrum, and PYPL, JavaScript, Java, and Python are the most popular languages.    

One of the main advantages of TypeScript is a growing interest in so-called "strongly typed" languages, a term that refers to data types. C++ and Java are strongly typed languages while JavaScript is forgiving of code that doesn't specify data types. 

That was one of the main reasons developers of the popular JavaScript framework Angular chose TypeScript to built it

"TypeScript takes 95% of the usefulness of a good statically-typed language and brings it to the JavaScript ecosystem," wrote Victor Savkin, a core contributor to the Angular project and former Googler.

The other main driver is support from developer tools and here again Microsoft is hugely relevant because of Visual Studio Code, which has become the "code editor of choice for many language communities including JavaScript and Go", according to Governor.   

Governor entertains the idea that TypeScript's benefits could even attract "the legions of Java developers" out there, pointing to a post by William Saar, a developer who has been writing Java applications since 1996. Saar asked whether TypeScript is the only language a company needs. 

"While frameworks like React provide a nice experience for UI development, I remained skeptical of JavaScript code's quality and maintainability until discovering how robust the development experience became with TypeScript," wrote Saar. 

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