Dart, Google's controversial Web language, turns 1.0

Google releases the JavaScript alternative, saying it's ready for use on the real-world Web, even if the company hasn't won over browser rivals.

Dart leader Lars Bak speaking at Google I/O 2013
Dart leader Lars Bak speaking at Google I/O 2013 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Dart is done.

Well, not completely done -- anything not actually cancelled at Google is a constant work in progress -- but the company on Thursday announced version 1.0 of its controversial Web programming language. Dart is designed to improve on JavaScript when it comes to programmer efficiency and software performance for Web sites and Web apps.

Google Dart logo

The 1.0 release means Dart is now ready for real-world Web sites, not just for testing, said Dart project leader Lars Bak in a blog post. And even though lots of roadblocks mean it's not possible to use Dart directly on the Web, Google offers indirect mechanisms that could make it useful while Google tries to convince other browser makers Dart is worthwhile.

Google debuted Dart two years ago , and it announced version 1.0 at the Devoxx conference in Belgium. It consists of a new programming language that Google hopes will be easy for JavaScript coders to learn but faster for them to use, a software developer kit (SDK) to help people write programs, the Dartium version of the Chrome browser that can directly run Dart programs, and the dart2js utility that can convert Dart programs into JavaScript for browsers that lack support.

Dart difficulties
Like another browser app overhaul from Google called Native Client, Dart hasn't won fans among other browser makers . JavaScript is well understood, accompanied by countless helpful pre-written libraries of software, steadily improving in performance, and expected to improve with the forthcoming EcmaScript 6 version.

More Dart difficulties include educating programmers, building libraries, hiring browser programmers to improve its performance and fix its security problems. JavaScript may have its shortcomings, but adding a second, entirely new software foundation to the Web increases complexity dramatically. With countless Web pages using JavaScript, there's no way support for it could be removed even if Dart did catch on, and Google also is pushing hard to advance JavaScript.

On Google's DeltaBlue benchmark, Dart software running in the Dart virtual machine and Dart software converted to JavaScript with Dart2JS both outperform JavaScript that's running in Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine. The dates across the bottom are in European format running from July 16 to a few days beyond Nov. 9.
On Google's DeltaBlue benchmark, Dart software running in the Dart virtual machine and Dart software converted to JavaScript with Dart2JS both outperform JavaScript that's running in Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine. The dates across the bottom are in European format running from July 16 to a few days beyond Nov. 9. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

But also as with Native Client, Google is showing a lot of patience with Dart. It's made significant changes to the SDK in the last two years, it argues Dart can significantly boost performance, and it's betting that programmers will like it it even if they just convert their Dart software into JavaScript when it's time to actually put it on the Web.

Eventually, that programmer interest will be the strongest argument that other browser makers should support Dart.

Google argues Dart is better that JavaScript when it comes to large-scale projects, something that's increasingly common with Web programming. One of the best examples is Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, which are made of very complex JavaScript software. Making those projects easier to maintain and faster to run is the kind of thing a Web company like Google is powerfully interested in.

On Thursday, it directed attention to Dart performance. With the three benchmarks Google uses, Dart is 42 percent to 130 percent faster than JavaScript, and Dart2JS versions outpace the JavaScript equivalents for two of the three tests.

Google uses Dart internally for its own customer relationship management system and for its Google Elections site, the company said, but it's also got external allies, including Blossom for collaboration and organization among employees; the Soundtrap music recording site, the Mandrill e-mail delivery company, and the Montage photo book company.

Google also pointed to progress in supporting libraries of Dart code. In addition to those it ships with the Dart SDK itself, there are Dart versions of two higher-level libraries, AngularDart and Polymer.dart, that came from JavaScript.

That's a start, to be sure. But even though Dart 1.0 is finished, the Dart project overall still has a long way to go.

On Google's Tracer benchmark, Dart software running in the Dart virtual machine and Dart software converted to JavaScript with Dart2JS both outperform JavaScript that's running in Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine.
On Google's Tracer benchmark, Dart software running in the Dart virtual machine and Dart software converted to JavaScript with Dart2JS both outperform JavaScript that's running in Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET
On Google's DeltaBlue benchmark, the Dart version of the speed-test software out performs the JavaScript version, but the Dart2JS version comes in third.
On Google's DeltaBlue benchmark, the Dart version of the speed-test software out performs the JavaScript version, but the Dart2JS version comes in third. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET
About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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