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7 programming languages we love to hate -- but can’t live without

Peter Wayner | May 24, 2016
Tools masquerading as languages, maddening syntax, dusty code that won’t die -- here's what has us shaking our fists.

Language we love to hate: JavaScript

JavaScript’s creators tried to make something modern. It’s too bad that in their cleverness they’ve forever doomed us to a life of counting curly brackets, square brackets, and parentheses -- while ensuring that they’re properly nested. Between the anonymous functions, the closures, and the JSON data structures, our pinkies get a real workout hitting those keys.

Then there are the weird details. If x is a string that holds the character for 1, then x+1 will produce the string 11 and x-1 will produce the number zero. Does anyone remember the difference between false, null, NaN, and undefined? They sound similar, but why does JavaScript have all four of them? And why don’t they behave consistently?

It doesn’t matter how much we complain. The Internet, the World Wide Web, and a bazillion browsers aren’t going anywhere. Then the clever Node.js team came along and forced us to write JavaScript on the server. Holding out on principle will last a few seconds until we need to check our email or buy something. We’ll run JavaScript for a long time.

Language we love to hate: PHP

It’s not really a computer language. It’s more of a tool for adding a bit of smarts to static HTML. You can store information in a database and concatenate it with static tags. There might be a few more features, but it seems like all we do with PHP is glue together strings we grab from a database.

Arguing about toyish code or baby syntax isn’t worth the trouble. Most of the Web is built with PHP. Between WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, most of the content on the Web is delivered through PHP code. Then there’s a little thing known as Facebook that was written in PHP and continues to suck up a larger and larger percentage of the time of people “on the Web.” We should be happy that Facebook built the HipHop Virtual Machine, inspiring Zend to create PHP 7.0. These new PHP engines are often twice as fast, an irresistible speed bump that will save millions in electricity and ensure we’ll write PHP long into the future.

Language we love to hate: Cobol

Cobol began in 1959, long before most of us were born. It should be obsolete with its complex syntax filled with hundreds of restricted words. Yet the Cobol lovers keep generating new versions, borrowing ideas from other languages, and bolting them onto a frame that’s almost 60 years old. Did you know there’s something called Cobol 2014? It includes dynamic tables, an idea that people have been trying to get into the language since 2002. That’s not all that’s new. Did you think it died in the ’70s? You are so wrong.


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