What Is CoffeeScript?

So, what is CoffeeScript? Simply put, CoffeeScript is a lightweight programming language that transpiles into JavaScript. In 2023, there are many lanuages that transpile down to JavaScript, such as TypeScript, PureScript and ElmScript! CoffeeScript isn’t exactly the most popular transpiled JavaScript language but it’s still an important part of JavaScript’s history!

Let’s explore a bit more about the history of CoffeeScript and why it was such a big deal a few years ago.

Why Did CoffeeScript Exist?

CoffeeScript was created in order to make writing JavaScript more concise and elegant by providing a syntax closer to that of Ruby and Python. Some of the features of CoffeeScript include python style list comprehensions, ruby-styled string interpolation, class-based systems, destructuring assignments, and fat arrow functions.

Here is an example of CoffeeScript code transpiled down to JavaScript code. As you can see, the language took a lot of inspiration from Ruby and Python.

# [CoffeeScript] Assignments 
num = 10
boolean = true

// [JavaScript] Assignments 
var num = 10
var boolean = true
--------------------------------
# [CoffeeScript] Functions
cubed = (x) -> x * x * x

// [JavaScript] Functions
var cubed = function(x) {
  return x * x * x;
};
--------------------------------
# [CoffeeScript] Objects:
math =
  root:   Math.sqrt
  square: square
  cube:   (x) -> x * square x

// [JavaScript] Objects:
var math = {
  root: Math.sqrt,
  square: square,
  cube: function(x) {
    return x * square(x);
  }
};

The language really took off when programmers started to hear that CoffeeScript was faster and better than writing plain old JavaScript. Which, let’s face it, was a pretty terrible language before ES6!

Is CoffeeScript Dead?

CoffeeScript isn’t completely “dead”, but it obviously never caught on as the “new JavaScript” and has declined in popularity. Why?

Well, simply because CoffeeScript was never that much better than JavaScript. It made some improvements, but nothing revolutionary. Most of the better improvements were also included in ES6, such as the arrow functions.

Additionally, the rise of other languages that transpile to JavaScript, such as TypeScript and Dart, have also contributed to CoffeeScript’s decline in usage.

TypeScript, by the way, might actually take over JavaScript.

The important thing to remember is that it is almost impossible for any technology to take over an old one if it doesn’t have major improvements over the past technology.

Although CoffeeScript may have had some neat improvements over JavaScript, it obviously wasn’t enough for every developer to make the change. As JavaScript continued to improve, it made CoffeeScript less and less appealing to use.

In 2023, it is now at the point that almost nobody uses CoffeeScript unless working on a legacy projects. Most of which were probably transpiled and converted into JavaScript projects long ago anyways.

Should I Learn CoffeeScript?

No, it definitely isn’t worth your time to learn CoffeeScript in 2023. For the same reason it is not worth it to learn PureScript or ElmScript. It just isn’t popular enough to be useful in the vast majority of job settings and it very likely never will be.

CoffeeScript also stopped being maintained back in 2018, five whole years ago! If the developers of CoffeeScript no longer believe in the language, it means you shouldn’t either.

If you want to become a front-end web developer, you should focus on learning JavaScript, then a framework like React or Angular.

Summary: CoffeeScript

In summary, CoffeeScript is a lightweight transpiled language that was created to improve JavaScript. Although the language was popular years ago, it wasn’t revolutionary enough to replace JavaScript. As newer versions of JavaScript came out, it made CoffeeScript less and less relevant. Which makes it a pretty insiginficant language in 2023.

For that reason, I highly suggest you do not waste your time learning CoffeeScript. The only transpiled JavaScript language you should be focused on is TypeScript. As it includes a static type system that would likely never be included in the original JavaScript language. Meaning it will likely maintain its usefulness for years to come.

So that’s about it! Everything you need to know about CoffeeScript.

If you are looking for additional reading, check out my article on PureScript, an interesting functional JavaScript alternative.

As always, happy coding!