The Ultimate List of JavaScript Tools

Introduction  

In January 2017 the Stack Overflow community has interviewed 64,000 software developers for the annual developer survey. While the results remain unchanged, JavaScript continues to be the most commonly used programming language for the 5th year in a row.

javascript_popularity_stackoverflow_report_2017[Image source: Stack Overflow]

Today JavaScript serves as a powerful and stable basis for lots of advanced web applications and websites. In capable hands of experienced JS developer, it can take user experience to the next level and provide with rich features and highly-functional components. Its ecosystem accounts dozens of JavaScript tools. It seems that new libraries or frameworks take the dev community by assault nearly every week. So how to choose necessary tools for JavaScript development?

Selecting front end tools based on their popularity isn’t a bad idea. Widely used JavaScript development tools are more stable, supported by a larger community and eventually more reliable. Rating is another key factor that should be taken into account. We’ve already shared our research on the best JavaScript libraries and frameworks; however, advanced JavaScript programming is a difficult task and requires complex approach, especially talking about cross-browser compatibility and further scaling.

Below you’ll find the ultimate list of JavaScript tools for web developers to help you with various coding tasks. You’ll discover helpful instruments to boost the development flow, reduce risks, optimize code, enhance security, and even more. It is a useful guide for business owners to understand their dev teams better.

JavaScript build tools & automation systems

Build tools for cross-platform languages like .Net or Java are a usual thing; however, using such capabilities with JavaScript can seem ridiculous. Though, times change. As soon as developers have started to use JS for large-scale projects, they’ve faced the issues with scalability, maintenance, security and general performance. This is where build tools can prove to be useful.

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  • Webpack is one of the latest front-end dev tools. It is a module bundler that creates a dependency graph with all the modules needed by your JavaScript application. Webpack packages them into one or several small bundles to be loaded by a browser. Beyond that, it is often used as a task runner, because it analyzes dependencies between modules and generates assets. 
  • Task runners like Grunt are used for one major purpose – automation of repetitive and time-consuming tasks. It comes with a huge ecosystem (over 6010 plugins), though, currently, JavaScript developers tend to apply more advanced tools.
  • Gulp has been released after Grunt and, despite the fact that it is another task runner, it takes the absolutely different approach, defining tasks as JavaScript functions. It automates painful tasks, offering large ecosystem (over 2770 plugins), and provides better transparency and control over the processes. 
  • Browserify allows software developers to employ node.js style modules in a browser. You define the dependencies and it bundles it all into a neat JS file. As a result, JavaScript files can be included using “require” statements and enable modules’ import from npm. 
  • The main idea behind Brunch.io is simplicity and speed. It comes with light and simple configuration and detailed documentation for a quick start. Brunch automatically creates a source map for your JavaScript files, together with CSS stylesheets, simplifying the debugging process on the client side.
  • Yeoman is a multi-operated tool since it can be used with any programming language (JavaScript, Python, C#, Java, etc.). It is a basic scaffolding system for web app development with the rich ecosystem (6213 plugins) and ability to create the new generators. Yeoman allows developers to quickly create new projects and to enhance the maintenance of existing ones. 

JavaScript IDE & editors

JavaScript IDEs and editors can become unparalleled assistants with code completion, debugging and crafting quality apps. They quickly configure the working environment and ensure better productivity. IDE or Integrated Development Environment comes with rich functionality and support for AML systems. While editors include only the essential features, ensuring quick start with smooth responsive performance.  

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  • WebStorm is a powerful IDE for advanced JavaScript development. It offers support for various frameworks and stylesheet languages, both web and server, mobile and desktop. WebStorm can be seamlessly integrated with additional tools like test runners, linters, builder, etc. It comes with such functions as code completion, immediate error detection, navigation, embedded terminal, rich plugin ecosystem, and much more.
  • Atom from GitHub team is the number 1 choice for lots of people. It’s an easily customizable text editor that comes with multiple features right out of the box. Atom includes embedded package manager, smart auto-completion, file system browser, cross-platform support, and some other useful functions.  
  • Visual Studio Code is backed by Microsoft and complete with the ultimate support for TypeScript right out of the box. It offers smart completions and syntax highlighting with IntelliSense, debugging right from the editor, built-in Git commands, version control, and so on. Moreover, the functionality of VS Code can enriched with a wide range of extensions.
  • Brackets is a lightweight open-source text editor. It is mainly focused on visual tools and preprocessor support, to make it easier for you to design in the browser. Brackets comes with convenient real-time preview and powerful inline editors. 

JavaScript documentation tools

Documentation turns your application into a glass box, making the inner processes understandable and obvious. It explains how the software operates and how it should be used. Automated documentation tools describe functions and their purposes, thus saving time on analysis and understanding of each in the future.

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  • Swagger is generally a set of rules and tools for describing APIs. And here’s the thing, it is a language-agnostic utility for getting everyone (both developers and non-developers) on the same page. Swagger creates clear documentation that is both machine and human readable, allowing for automation of API-dependent processes. 
  • JSDoc Toolkit automatically generates template-formatted, multi-page text-based documentation (HTML, JSON, XML, etc.) from comments in the JavaScript source code. Written in JavaScript, this application can come in handy for managing large-scale projects.   
  • jGrouseDoc (jGD) is a flexible open source tool that allows developers to generate API documentation from the comments in the JS source code. It documents not only variables and functions, but namespaces, interfaces, packages, and some other elements as well. 
  • YUIDoc is a Node.js app that follows the same principles of generating API documentation from comments in source code. It uses syntax similar to Javadoc and Doxygen tools and offers live previews, extensive language support, and advanced markup.
  • Docco is a free documentation tool written in Literate CoffeeScript. It generates HTML doc to display your comments interlaced with your code. It is not restricted to JavaScript only, since there are versions for Python, Ruby, Clojure, and so others.  

JavaScript testing tools

JavaScript testing tools or testing frameworks ensure software stability by discovering more errors before software reaches the end users. With the growing complexity of custom applications, automated tests not just enhance the productivity of the development house, but also help companies to keep the budget and avoid excess costs.

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  • Jasmine is a behavior-driven development (BDD) framework for testing your JavaScript code. There are no external dependencies and it doesn’t require DOM to kick-start. To make test writing easier and faster, it has a clean and understandable syntax. It can be also used for testing Node.js, Python and Ruby code.
  • Mocha is a functional test framework that runs on Node.js and in a browser. Being a “go-to” solution for many developers, it conducts tests in series to provide accurate and flexible reporting, while making asynchronous tests fun and easy. Mocha is often paired with Chai for verifying the test results.
  • PhantomJS is often used for front-end and unit tests. Due to the fact that it is a headless WebKit, scripts run much faster, compared to common browser-based approach. It also includes native support for different web standards, like JSON, Canvas, DOM handling, SVG, and CSS selector.
  • Protractor is a Node.js end-to-end test framework for AngularJS and Angular applications. Built on the top of WebDriverJS, it tests your apps like end users would, using browser-specific drivers and native events.

JavaScript debugging tools

Debugging code is a time-consuming and laborious task for JS developers. Debuggers can come in handy while debugging thousands of code lines, offering better convenience and ensuring more accurate results.

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  • JavaScript Debugger from Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) can be used as a stand-alone web app for debugging code in other browsers and in Node.js. Firefox offers local and remote functionality, as well as the ability to debug code running on Android device with Firefox for Android.
  • Chrome Dev Tools kit includes multiple utilities for debugging JavaScript code, editing CSS and testing apps’ performance.
  • ng-inspector is an extension for Firefox, Chrome and Safari browsers to help developers with developing, understanding, and debugging AngularJS applications. This utility comes with real-time updates, DOM highlighting, immediate access to scopes, models, and other apps’ elements.
  • Augury is a Chrome extension for visualizing and debugging Angular 2 applications. It allows Angular 2 developers to get direct insight into app structure, operating characteristics, and change detection.

Security tools

Open source ready-made components are a gift for most companies since they help to speed up custom software development process at no cost. However, such solutions involve some risks as well. At the average, there are 105 open source components in every application, while 67 percent of apps include security vulnerabilities.  

Open source is powerful, but it is essential to track the dependencies and to mitigate the security risks. 

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  • Snyk is a commercial tool for discovering, fixing, and preventing known vulnerabilities in JavaScript, Java, and Ruby applications. The service has its own database of vulnerabilities and takes the data from the NSP and the NIST NVD. It allows developers to cure the security risks using patches and upgrades offered by the company.
  • Node Security Project offers useful tools for scanning dependencies and detecting vulnerabilities. NSP uses its own database, built from npm modules scans, as well as data from public bases like NIST National Vulnerability Database (NVD). On the top of that, NSP provides integration with GitHub Pull Request and CI software, real-time checks, alerts, and recommendations on how to handle vulnerabilities within your Node.js apps.
  • RetireJS is an open-source dependency checker. It includes various components, like a command-line scanner, Grunt plugin, Firefox and Chrome extensions, Burp and OWASP ZAP plugins. Retirejs collects the vulnerability information from the NIST NVD and other sources, like bug-tracking systems, blogs, and mailing lists.
  • Gemnasium is a commercial tool with a free trial option. It supports various technologies and packagers, including Ruby, PHP, Bower (JavaScript), Python, and npm (JavaScript). Gemnasium security tool comes with helpful features, like auto-update, real-time alerts, security notifications, and Slack integration.
  • OSSIndex supports various ecosystems (Java, JavaScript, and .NET/C#) and multiple platforms, like NuGet, npm, Bower, Chocolatey, Maven, Composer, Drupal, and MSI. It gathers the information about vulnerabilities from National Vulnerability Database, various security feeds, and contributions, made by the community.

Code optimization & analysis tools

To verify JavaScript code quality dev houses usually turn to common activities of functional and unit testing. However, there is another approach that allows developers to check the code quality and its compliance with the coding standards, namely static code analysis.

Modern software development houses integrate static code analysis tools in the delivery process to prevent poor code from reaching the production stage.   

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  • JSLint is a web-based analytical tool for verifying JavaScript code quality. As soon as it detects a problem in the source, it returns a message with the problem description and its approximate location in the code. JSLint is capable of analyzing some style conventions and disclosing syntax errors and structural problems.
  • JSHint is a flexible community-driven tool to discover errors and potential issues in your JS code. The main goal of this static code analysis tool is to help JavaScript engineers with complex programs. It is able to detect syntax errors, implicit data type conversion, or leaking variable, though it can’t define whether your software is fast, correct, or includes some memory leaks. JSHint is the fork of JSLint.
  • ESLint is an open source linting tool for JSX and JavaScript web applications. It helps to discover doubtful patterns or find code that doesn’t comply with specific style guidelines. It allows developers to detect errors in the JS code without executing it, thus saving time. Being written in Node.js is offers a prompt runtime environment and smooth installation through npm.
  • Flow is a static code checker for JavaScript source developed by Facebook. To inspect the source for errors it uses static type annotations. In fact, types are the parameters set by developers and Flow makes sure that your software meets the requirements.  

Version control tools

JavaScript version control systems are essential for smooth collaboration within a team since they ensure better maintenance of various versions and help to keep track of changes. With versioning tools, developers can work on the same project simultaneously, without conflicts and misunderstandings. Moreover, these utilities archive each version with all changes, deletions, and appendices. 

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  • In recent years Git has become a widely-used version control system for both small and large-scale projects. This free utility offers outstanding operating speed and efficiency. Its popularity can be easily explained by the highly-distributed system and different type of controls, as well as a staging area, where commits can be reviewed and formatted right before completing the commit.   
  • Subversion or SVN has gained a huge popularity and it is still widely employed by open source projects and top platforms like Python Apache or Ruby. This CVS comes with lots of functions, enabling versioning of directories as first-class files, atomic commits, versioning or various operations (renaming, copying, deleting, etc.), merge tracking, file locking, and many others. 

Package & dependency management tools

Modern software is stored in the form of packages and retained in repositories. Such packages provide the initial components of an operating system, like applications, libraries, services, and docs. Whereas, package management systems take care of various operations, like installation and upgrades, and ensure that the installed software has been approved by package maintainers and developers.

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  • Bower helps to manage assets, frameworks, libraries, and other utilities. Developed by the Twitter team, it offers access to a great number of packages, helping JavaScript developers to streamline the development process and improve the deliverables.  
  • npm stands for node package manager, though its packages can be used for both front-end and back-end. It is a package management system for JavaScript and the largest software registry in the world, numbering over 475,000 modules.  
  • Yarn is the new kid on the block, though it has already stolen the scene thanks to its promoters: Google, Facebook, Tilde, and Exponent. It’s gained a reputation of a smart improvement, as compared with npm. The main focus in brought on security, speed and consistency. This tool enables code sharing via packages or modules, together with a file that describes the package.
  • Duo takes the best practices from Browserify, Component, and Go turning front-end development into a fast and easy process. The main idea behind Duo is to simplify writing of modular components and making large web apps’ building painless and fast.

The list of best JavaScript tools for custom web app development can go on and on, though we’ve just mentioned the major categories that serve as the basis for quality products.

  • Some companies also use JavaScript obfuscator tool to protect the code. The utility makes the source harder to understand, reuse, or modify without authorization, thus keeping the JS code original.
  • JavaScript code coverage tools allow you to track how accurately your source code is tested. Such utilities as Istanbul help developers make sure that core components are covered, and they haven’t missed the edge cases, zero states, etc.
  • There is a huge range of JavaScript animation tools to make web projects unique and eye-catching. These utilities create smooth animations and take user experience to the next level.

That being said, each team, project, and skill-set are different. Every tool, system, framework, or library is optional, thus JavaScript development has been reshaped with the last years and it still undergoes sweeping changes. It is very easy to fall into a trap of ever-augmenting complexity or move towards the latest builder every month or two. However, knowledge and experience won’t become outdated.

We’ve definitely missed something really interesting, so you are welcome to share your thoughts through emails

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