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JavaScript: The Definitive GuideJavaScript: The Definitive GuideSearch this book

1.10. Exploring JavaScript

The way to really learn a new programming language is to write programs with it. As you read through this book, I encourage you to try out JavaScript features as you learn about them. There are a number of techniques that make it easy to experiment with JavaScript.

The most obvious way to explore JavaScript is to write simple scripts. One of the nice things about client-side JavaScript is that anyone with a web browser and a simple text editor has a complete development environment; there is no need to buy or download special-purpose software in order to begin writing JavaScript scripts. We saw an example that computed factorials at the beginning of this chapter. Suppose you wanted to modify it as follows to display Fibonacci numbers instead:

document.write("<h2>Table of Fibonacci Numbers</h2>");
for (i=0, j=1, k=0, fib =0; i<50; i++, fib=j+k, j=k, k=fib){
    document.write("Fibonacci ("  + i +  ") = " + fib);

This code may be convoluted (and don't worry if you don't yet understand it), but the point is that when you want to experiment with short programs like this, you can simply type them up and try them out in your web browser using a local file: URL. Note that the code uses the document.write( ) method to display its HTML output, so that you can see the results of its computations. This is an important technique for experimenting with JavaScript. As an alternative, you can also use the alert( ) method to display plain-text output in a dialog box:

alert("Fibonacci ("  + i +  ") = " + fib); 

Note also that for simple JavaScript experiments like this, you can usually omit the <html>, <head>, and <body> tags in your HTML file.

For even simpler experiments with JavaScript, you can sometimes use the javascript: URL pseudoprotocol to evaluate a JavaScript expression and return the result. A JavaScript URL consists of the javascript: protocol specifier followed by arbitrary JavaScript code (with statements separated from one another by semicolons). When the browser loads such a URL, it executes the JavaScript code. The value of the last expression in such a URL is converted to a string, and this string is displayed by the web browser as its new document. For example, you might type the following JavaScript URLs into the Location field of your web browser to test your understanding of some of JavaScript's operators and statements:

javascript:x = 3; (x < 5)? "x is less": "x is greater"
javascript:d = new Date( ); typeof d;
javascript:for(i=0,j=1,k=0,fib=1; i<10; i++,fib=j+k,k=j,j=fib) alert(fib);
javascript:s=""; for(i in document) s+=i+":"+document[i]+"\n"; alert(s);

While exploring JavaScript, you'll probably write code that doesn't work as you expect it to and want to debug it. The basic debugging technique for JavaScript is like that in many other languages: insert statements into your code to print out the values of relevant variables so that you can try to figure out what is actually happening. As we've seen, you can sometimes use the document.write( ) method to do this. This method doesn't work from within event handlers, however, and has some other shortcomings as well, so it's often easier to use the alert( ) function to display debugging messages in a separate dialog box.

The for/in loop (described in Chapter 6) is also useful for debugging. You can use it, along with the alert( ) method, to write a function that displays a list of the names and values of all properties of an object, for example. This kind of function can be handy when exploring the language or trying to debug code.

Good luck with JavaScript, and have fun exploring!

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