Services & Software

Dart, Google's attempt to outdo JavaScript, passes first milestone

The Internet giant has issued the first stable release of the programming language for Web apps. Also: a host of tools to help it gain a foothold.

Google released its first stable version of Dart, a programming language for Web applications that it believes improves on the incumbent JavaScript language.

"I'm pleased to announce that the M1 release of Dart is ready...This release is a more stable and comprehensive version of Dart," said Lars Bak, a programmer and key figure in the project, in a mailing list message today about the milestone 1 release. "Moving forward, we'll mainly focus on performance and completeness without introducing breaking changes to the Dart programming language."

It's hard to get new programming languages to catch on -- especially a language that competes so directly with a widely used language with as many adherents as JavaScript has. But to improve Dart's chances, Google includes a lot more than just a programming language. The Dart project also offers Dartium, a special build of the open-source Chromium browser that can run Dart programs directly in its virtual machine; the Dart2JS compiler, which converts Dart software into JavaScript so it'll run on browsers without Dart virtual machine support; the Dart editor for programmers wanting to write and debug code; and accompanying libraries of pre-built code.

Dart's arrival raised hackles at Mozilla and Microsoft because the browser rivals aren't eager to add a huge new programming layer to the Web -- especially one that was initially developed in secret at Google. A new programming layer that caught on widely would mean all browsers would have to support the technology forever, a significant burden in engineering and security checks.

JavaScript also is being improved gradually through the EcmaScript standards process -- including enthusiastic help from JavaScript fans at Google. And there are plenty of higher-level programming projects such as CoffeeScript that give programmers a more polished language that is converted into native JavaScript when it's time to actually run it.

Google's Dart team thinks it's worth it, though. They see JavaScript as poorly suited to large, complicated Web apps such as Gmail or Google Docs, for example. And Google is fixated on Web performance.

The Dart M1 software developer kit (SDK) includes "a faster Dart virtual machine that on some Octane tests outperforms even V8," Bak said in a blog post announcing Dart M1. Octane is Google's new Web-app benchmark test, and V8 is the JavaScript engine in Chrome.

"We are certainly not done with the performance work on Dart yet, but from where I sit it's looking very, very promising," added Kasper Lund, another Dart programmer, in a Google+ post.

Lund also said the M1 version of Dart is version 0.1, so don't be surprised to see further changes even if Google is trying to stabilize the language.

Google also has updated the Dart language itself in response to feedback from the outside world in the year since the first public release of the Dart prototype. Also new is the pub package manager that's designed to ease the headaches of finding and using accompaning software libraries.

Updated at 1:54 p.m. to correct a release version error in the headline. Dart milestone 1 is version 0.1.

Google includes a lightweight editor for writing Dart software.
Google includes a lightweight editor for writing Dart software. Google