Main Glossary ECMAScript



What is ECMAScript?

ECMAScript is a scripting-language specification standardized by Ecma International. It was created to standardize JavaScript to help foster multiple independent implementations. JavaScript has remained the most widely used implementation of ECMAScript since the standard was first published, with other implementations including JScript and ActionScript. ECMAScript is commonly used for client-side scripting on the World Wide Web, and it is increasingly being used for writing server applications and services using Node.js.


This Ecma Standard defines the ECMAScript 2020 Language. It is the eleventh edition of the ECMAScript Language Specification. Since publication of the first edition in 1997, ECMAScript has grown to be one of the world's most widely used general-purpose programming languages. It is best known as the language embedded in web browsers but has also been widely adopted for server and embedded applications.

ECMAScript is based on several originating technologies, the most well-known being JavaScript (Netscape) and JScript (Microsoft). The language was invented by Brendan Eich at (Netscape) and first appeared in that company's Navigator 2.0 browser. It has appeared in all subsequent browsers from (Netscape) and in all browsers from Microsoft starting with Internet Explorer 3.0.

The development of the ECMAScript Language Specification started in November 1996. The first edition of this Ecma Standard was adopted by the Ecma General Assembly of June 1997.

That Ecma Standard was submitted to ISO/IEC JTC 1 for adoption under the fast-track procedure, and approved as international standard ISO/IEC 16262, in April 1998. The Ecma General Assembly of June 1998 approved the second edition of ECMA-262 to keep it fully aligned with ISO/IEC 16262. Changes between the first and the second edition are editorial in nature.

The third edition of the Standard introduced powerful regular expressions, better string handling, new control statements, try/catch exception handling, tighter definition of errors, formatting for numeric output and minor changes in anticipation of future language growth. The third edition of the ECMAScript standard was adopted by the Ecma General Assembly of December 1999 and published as ISO/IEC 16262:2002 in June 2002.

After publication of the third edition, ECMAScript achieved massive adoption in conjunction with the World Wide Web where it has become the programming language that is supported by essentially all web browsers. Significant work was done to develop a fourth edition of ECMAScript. However, that work was not completed and not published as the fourth edition of ECMAScript but some of it was incorporated into the development of the sixth edition.

The fifth edition of ECMAScript (published as ECMA-262 5th edition) codified de facto interpretations of the language specification that have become common among browser implementations and added support for new features that had emerged since the publication of the third edition. Such features include accessor properties, reflective creation and inspection of objects, program control of property attributes, additional array manipulation functions, support for the JSON object encoding format, and a strict mode that provides enhanced error checking and program security. The fifth edition was adopted by the Ecma General Assembly of December 2009.

The fifth edition was submitted to ISO/IEC JTC 1 for adoption under the fast-track procedure, and approved as international standard ISO/IEC 16262:2011. Edition 5.1 of the ECMAScript Standard incorporated minor corrections and is the same text as ISO/IEC 16262:2011. The 5.1 Edition was adopted by the Ecma General Assembly of June 2011.

Focused development of the sixth edition started in 2009, as the fifth edition was being prepared for publication. However, this was preceded by significant experimentation and language enhancement design efforts dating to the publication of the third edition in 1999. In a very real sense, the completion of the sixth edition is the culmination of a fifteen year effort. The goals for this edition included providing better support for large applications, library creation, and for use of ECMAScript as a compilation target for other languages. Some of its major enhancements included modules, class declarations, lexical block scoping, iterators and generators, promises for asynchronous programming, destructuring patterns, and proper tail calls. The ECMAScript library of built-ins was expanded to support additional data abstractions including maps, sets, and arrays of binary numeric values as well as additional support for Unicode supplemental characters in strings and regular expressions. The built-ins were also made extensible via subclassing. The sixth edition provides the Foundation for regular, incremental language and library enhancements. The sixth edition was adopted by the General Assembly of June 2015.

ECMAScript 2016 was the first ECMAScript edition released under Ecma TC39's new yearly release cadence and open development process. A plain-text source document was built from the ECMAScript 2015 source document to serve as the base for further development entirely on GitHub. Over the year of this standard's development, hundreds of pull requests and issues were filed representing thousands of bug fixes, editorial fixes and other improvements. Additionally, numerous software tools were developed to aid in this effort including Ecmarkup, Ecmarkdown, and Grammarkdown. ES2016 also included support for a new exponentiation operator and adds a new method to Array.prototype called includes.

ECMAScript 2017 introduced Async Functions, Shared Memory, and Atomics along with smaller language and library enhancements, bug fixes, and editorial updates. Async functions improve the asynchronous programming experience by providing syntax for promise-returning functions. Shared Memory and Atomics introduce a new memory model that allows multi-agent programs to communicate using atomic operations that ensure a well-defined execution order even on parallel CPUs. It also included new static methods on Object: Object.values, Object.entries, and Object.getOwnPropertyDescriptors.

ECMAScript 2018 introduced support for asynchronous iteration via the AsyncIterator protocol and async generators. It also included four new regular expression features: the dotAll flag, named capture groups, Unicode property escapes, and look-behind assertions. Lastly it included object rest and spread properties.

ECMAScript 2019 introduced a few new built-in functions: flat and flatMap on Array.prototype for flattening arrays, Object.fromEntries for directly turning the return value of Object.entries into a new Object, and trimStart and trimEnd on String.prototype as better-named alternatives to the widely implemented but non-standard String.prototype.trimLeft and trimRight built-ins. In addition, it included a few minor updates to syntax and semantics. Updated syntax included optional catch binding parameters and allowing U+2028 (LINE SEPARATOR) and U+2029 (PARAGRAPH SEPARATOR) in string literals to align with JSON. Other updates included requiring that Array.prototype.sort be a stable sort, requiring that JSON.stringify return well-formed UTF-8 regardless of input, and clarifying Function.prototype.toString by requiring that it either return the corresponding original source text or a standard placeholder.

Dozens of individuals representing many organizations have made very significant contributions within Ecma TC39 to the development of this edition and to the prior editions. In addition, a vibrant community has emerged supporting TC39's ECMAScript efforts. This community has reviewed numerous drafts, filed thousands of bug reports, performed implementation experiments, contributed test suites, and educated the world-wide developer community about ECMAScript. Unfortunately, it is impossible to identify and acknowledge every person and organization who has contributed to this effort.

Allen Wirfs-Brock ECMA-262, Project Editor, 6th Edition

Brian Terlson ECMA-262, Project Editor, 7th through 10th Editions


This Standard defines the ECMAScript 2020 general-purpose programming language.


A conforming implementation of ECMAScript must provide and support all the types, values, objects, properties, functions, and program syntax and semantics described in this specification.

A conforming implementation of ECMAScript must interpret source text input in conformance with the latest version of the Unicode Standard and ISO/IEC 10646.

A conforming implementation of ECMAScript that provides an application programming interface (API) that supports programs that need to adapt to the linguistic and cultural conventions used by different human languages and countries must implement the interface defined by the most recent edition of ECMA-402 that is compatible with this specification.

A conforming implementation of ECMAScript may provide additional types, values, objects, properties, and functions beyond those described in this specification. In particular, a conforming implementation of ECMAScript may provide properties not described in this specification, and values for those properties, for objects that are described in this specification.

A conforming implementation of ECMAScript may support program and regular expression syntax not described in this specification. In particular, a conforming implementation of ECMAScript may support program syntax that makes use of any “future reserved words” noted in subclause 11.6.2 of this specification.

A conforming implementation of ECMAScript must not implement any extension that is listed as a Forbidden Extension in subclause 16.1.

Normative References

The following referenced documents are indispensable for the application of this document. For dated references, only the edition cited applies. For undated references, the latest edition of the referenced document (including any amendments) applies.

ISO/IEC 10646 Information Technology — Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set (UCS) plus Amendment 1:2005, Amendment 2:2006, Amendment 3:2008, and Amendment 4:2008, plus additional amendments and corrigenda, or successor

ECMA-402, ECMAScript 2015 Internationalization API Specification.

ECMA-404, The JSON Data Interchange Format.


This Section contains a non-normative overview of the ECMAScript language.

ECMAScript is an object-oriented programming language for performing computations and manipulating computational objects within a host environment. ECMAScript as defined here is not intended to be computationally self-sufficient; indeed, there are no provisions in this specification for input of external data or output of computed results. Instead, it is expected that the computational environment of an ECMAScript program will provide not only the objects and other facilities described in this specification but also certain environment-specific objects, whose description and behaviour are beyond the scope of this specification except to indicate that they may provide certain properties that can be accessed and certain functions that can be called from an ECMAScript program.

ECMAScript was originally designed to be used as a scripting language, but has become widely used as a general-purpose programming language. A scripting language is a programming language that is used to manipulate, customize, and automate the facilities of an existing system. In such systems, useful functionality is already available through a user interface, and the scripting language is a mechanism for exposing that functionality to program control. In this way, the existing system is said to provide a host environment of objects and facilities, which completes the capabilities of the scripting language. A scripting language is intended for use by both professional and non-professional programmers.

ECMAScript was originally designed to be a Web scripting language, providing a mechanism to enliven Web pages in browsers and to perform server computation as part of a Web-based client-server architecture. ECMAScript is now used to provide core scripting capabilities for a variety of host environments. Therefore the core language is specified in this document apart from any particular host environment.

ECMAScript usage has moved beyond simple scripting and it is now used for the full spectrum of programming tasks in many different environments and scales. As the usage of ECMAScript has expanded, so have the features and facilities it provides. ECMAScript is now a fully featured general-purpose programming language.

Some of the facilities of ECMAScript are similar to those used in other programming languages; in particular C, Java™, Self, and Scheme as described in:

ISO/IEC 9899:1996, Programming Languages — C.

Gosling, James, Bill Joy and Guy Steele. The Java™ Language Specification. Addison Wesley Publishing Co., 1996.

Ungar, David, and Smith, Randall B. Self: The Power of Simplicity. OOPSLA '87 Conference Proceedings, pp. 227-241, Orlando, FL, October 1987.

IEEE Standard for the Scheme Programming Language. IEEE Std 1178-1990.

Web Scripting

A web browser provides an ECMAScript host environment for client-side computation including, for instance, objects that represent windows, menus, pop-ups, dialog boxes, text areas, anchors, frames, history, cookies, and input/output. Further, the host environment provides a means to attach scripting code to events such as change of focus, page and image loading, unloading, error and abort, selection, form submission, and mouse actions. Scripting code appears within the HTML and the displayed page is a combination of user interface elements and fixed and computed text and images. The scripting code is reactive to user interaction, and there is no need for a main program.

A web server provides a different host environment for server-side computation including objects representing requests, clients, and files; and mechanisms to lock and share data. By using browser-side and server-side scripting together, it is possible to distribute computation between the client and server while providing a customized user interface for a Web-based application.

Each Web browser and server that supports ECMAScript supplies its own host environment, completing the ECMAScript execution environment.

ECMAScript Overview

The following is an informal overview of ECMAScript—not all parts of the language are described. This overview is not part of the standard proper.

ECMAScript is object-based: basic language and host facilities are provided by objects, and an ECMAScript program is a cluster of communicating objects. In ECMAScript, an object is a collection of zero or more properties each with attributes that determine how each property can be used—for example, when the Writable attribute for a property is set to false, any attempt by executed ECMAScript code to assign a different value to the property fails. Properties are containers that hold other objects, primitive values, or functions. A primitive value is a member of one of the following built-in types: Undefined, Null, Boolean, Number, BigInt, String, and Symbol; an object is a member of the built-in type Object; and a function is a callable object. A function that is associated with an object via a property is called a method.

ECMAScript defines a collection of built-in objects that round out the definition of ECMAScript entities. These built-in objects include the global object; objects that are fundamental to the runtime semantics of the language including Object, Function, Boolean, Symbol, and various Error objects; objects that represent and manipulate numeric values including Math, Number, and Date; the text processing objects String and RegExp; objects that are indexed collections of values including Array and nine different kinds of Typed Arrays whose elements all have a specific numeric data representation; keyed collections including Map and Set objects; objects supporting structured data including the JSON object, ArrayBuffer, SharedArrayBuffer, and DataView; objects supporting control abstractions including generator functions and Promise objects; and reflection objects including Proxy and Reflect.

ECMAScript also defines a set of built-in operators. ECMAScript operators include various unary operations, multiplicative operators, additive operators, bitwise shift operators, relational operators, equality operators, binary bitwise operators, binary logical operators, assignment operators, and the comma operator.

Large ECMAScript programs are supported by modules which allow a program to be divided into multiple sequences of statements and declarations. Each module explicitly identifies declarations it uses that need to be provided by other modules and which of its declarations are available for use by other modules.

ECMAScript syntax intentionally resembles Java syntax. ECMAScript syntax is relaxed to enable it to serve as an easy-to-use scripting language. For example, a variable is not required to have its type declared nor are types associated with properties, and defined functions are not required to have their declarations appear textually before calls to them.

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