Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

17 JavaScript tools breathing new life into old code

Peter Wayner | May 5, 2015
Computer languages have a strange shelf life. The most popular among them experience explosive growth driven by herding behavior akin to that of the fashion industry. But when they fade from the spotlight, something odd happens. Instead of disappearing like a pop song or parachute pants, they live on and on and on and on. The impetus behind this quasi-immortality? It's often cheaper to maintain old code than to rewrite it in the latest, trendiest language.

Computer languages have a strange shelf life. The most popular among them experience explosive growth driven by herding behavior akin to that of the fashion industry. But when they fade from the spotlight, something odd happens. Instead of disappearing like a pop song or parachute pants, they live on and on and on and on. The impetus behind this quasi-immortality? It's often cheaper to maintain old code than to rewrite it in the latest, trendiest language.

In the past, tending to an old code base was a lonely experience, not unlike living on a desert island. The job was to keep everything running with virtual duct tape and baling wire. Old tools and old compilers were coddled and fussed over because they were essential to keeping the old code alive. Old libraries were treated like family heirlooms, especially if they came with source code.

That's changed in recent years with the emergence of new cross-compilers and interpreters. Suddenly the old can be brought into the present, not with perfect harmony but with enough integration that curators don't need to feel like they're living and working alone. The right tools can follow Ezra Pound's dictum to "make it new again."

Thanks to the ingenuity of an intrepid few, old code is receiving new life via a variety of JavaScript tools. Now, that brittle base can become part of the present, capable of running on modern machines. Suddenly the dusty deck that ran on only a mainframe can operate in the background whenever someone loads a Web page on their phone.

The tools are far from perfect, but they tantalize despite their flaws. Rewriting remains a challenge, as it usually means understanding code that was written when disk space was expensive and comments cost real money. While putting in the effort can yield great benefits and erase some technical debt, we often don't have that luxury. Instead, it might be simpler and faster to fiddle with these cross-compilers, translators, and emulators to modernize old code bases than it would be to collect a big team steeped in dying programming languages to pick through old code and rewrite everything.

Here is a look at some of the obscure programming languages that can be given new life, thanks to emerging JavaScript tools. Conversion tools like these may be the only way to keep some of these now obscure languages alive. Consider them a life-support system for your old code.

Pascal

Was it 20-odd years ago that TurboPascal ruled the desktop programming world? The folks at Elevate Software remember, and that's why they offer a tool that converts ObjectPascal into JavaScript. They even promise that you won't need to learn Pascal to produce something that runs on the Web. You simply type Pascal, and the tool comes back with code that looks and operates in the same way on all major browsers.

 

1  2  3  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.