Glossary

absolute path:
a path that points to the same location in the filesystem regardless of where it’s evaluated. An absolute path is the equivalent of latitude and longitude in geography. See also relative path.
aggregation function:
a function that combines many values into one, such as sum or max.
anonymous function:
a function that is defined without giving it a name, such as a callback defined where it is used. Anonymous functions are sometimes called lambda functions because the Greek letter lambda is used for them in mathematics.
argument:
see parameter.
array:
a collection of values stored in a particular order and indexed numerically. Arrays are written as comma-separated values in square brackets, such as ['a', 'b', 'c']. The term list is often used synonymously.
ASCII:
a widely-used set of numeric codes for representing characters from the Latin alphabet and common punctuation symbols, now superseded by Unicode.
assertion:
a statement that something is true at a certain point in a program. Assertions are often used to define tests, but are also used in production code to check that software is behaving as it should.
attribute:
a named property attached to an HTML element.
backward-compatible:
able to work consistently with older systems.
body (of an HTTP message):
any optional data sent after the message’s headers.
bundler:
a tool that combines JavaScript files, web pages, images, and other assets into a single bundle for deployment.
cache:
a place where copies of recently-used values are stored for quicker access.
call stack:
a data structure that stores information about function calls that are currently in progress. Each function call adds another table of variable-value pairs to the top of the stack; when the function completes, that table is discarded. See also closure.
callback function:
a function A that is passed to another function B for B to call at a later time. Callback functions are used to implement delayed actions, such as what to do when data arrives in response to a network request.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS):
a way to describe how HTML should be rendered.
catch:
to take responsibility for handling an exception. Catch is the counterpart of throw.
character encoding:
a specification of how characters are stored as bytes. The most commonly-used encoding today is UTF-8.
child class:
a new class that extends an existing class (called the parent class).
child node:
a node in a tree that is below some other node (which is called the child node’s parent).
class:
a programming structure that defines the properties and behavior of a family of related objects. Classes can inherit from other classes to specify or change behavior incrementally.
client:
a program such as a browser that sends requests to a server and does something with the response. It is sometimes helpful to think of clients as sorcerors petitioning ancient gods for favors. Sometimes.
client-side page generation:
to create an HTML page within a client using data provided by a server. See also server-side page generation.
closure:
a set of variables defined in the same scope whose existence has been preserved after that scope has ended. Closures are one of the trickiest ideas in programming.
Comma-Separated Values (CSV):
a text format for tabular data in which each record is one row and fields are separated by commas. There are many minor variations, particularly around quoting of strings.
connection manager:
an object that maintains a connection to a database. When the code is finished working with the database, the connection manager ensures that the connection is closed gracefully, which helps to avoid the corruption of data.
Content Delivery Network (CDN):
a geographically distributed set of servers that store commonly-used or recently-used data such as web pages so that they can be served more quickly.
constant:
a variable whose value cannot be changed. Note that the value itself might be changed: for example, after the statement const v = ['a', 'b'], the name v will always refer to the same array, but the array’s contents can be changed.
Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS):
a way to control requests made for data and other resources that aren’t served by the site that gave the browser the original page.
declarative programming:
a style of programming in which the user specifies what they want, and the computer figures out how to deliver it.
destructuring:
a form of assignment that unpacks a data structure in one step, such as [a, b] = [1, 2] or {left, right} = {left: 1, right: 2}.
Domain Name System (DNS):
a decentralized naming system for computers that translates logical names such as third-bit.com into the addresses of particular computers.
document:
an entire HTML page.
Document Object Model (DOM):
a standard way to represent HTML in memory. The elements and attributes of the page, along with its text, are stored as nodes organized in a tree.
dotted notation:
a common way to refer to the parts of structures in programming languages. whole.part means “the thing called part belonging to whole”.
driver:
a program that provides a standard interface through which to communicate with another piece of hardware or software. Every graphics card has a driver that translates generic drawing commands into card-specific operations; every database comes with drivers that (theoretically) allow other programs to talk to them all in the same way.
element:
an individual component of a web page. In HTML, elements are enclosed in matching <tag> and </tag> pairs, or written as <tag/> if they contain no content. Elements are represented as nodes in the DOM.
entry point:
a function with a known name and signature that a framework requires every plugin or other dynamically-loaded content to have. The entry point is (as the name suggests) how the framework gets into the plugin.
escape sequence:
a sequence of characters used to represent some other character that would otherwise have a special meaning. For example, the escape sequence \" is used to represent a double-quote character inside a double-quoted string.
event handler:
a callback function that does something in response to a particular interaction with a browser, such as a key being pressed or a link being clicked.
event listener:
see event handler.
event loop:
the fundamental processing cycle in JavaScript that takes the next task from a list and runs it, possibly adding more tasks to the list as it does so.
event object:
an object that the system passes to an event handler that contains information about the event, such as which key was pressed.
exception:
an object that stores information about an error or other unusual event in a program. One part of a program will create and throw an exception to signal that something unexpected has happened; another part will catch it.
extend:
to create a new class from an existing class. We say that the new class inherits from the old one.
falsy:
a horrible neologism meaning “equivalent to false”. See also the equally horrible truthy.
fat arrow function:
a JavaScript function defined using the syntax (...parameters...) => {...body...}. Fat arrow functions treat the special value this in a less inconsistent way than their older equivalents.
field:
a named part of a record in a relational database. Fields are typically shown as columns in a table.
fixture:
the data on which a unit test is run.
functional programming:
a style of programming in which data is transformed through successive application of functions, rather than by using control structures such as loops. Functional programming in JavaScript relies heavily on callbacks and higher-order functions.
global installation:
a JavaScript library placed in a location where it can be accessed by all users and projects. See also local installation.
global variable:
a variable defined outside any particular function, which is therefore visible to all functions. See also local variable.
header row:
if present, the first of a CSV file that defines column names (but tragically, not their data types or units).
heterogeneous:
having mixed type. For example, an array is said to be heterogeneous if it contains a mix of numbers, character strings, and values of other types. See also homogeneous.
higher-order function:
a function that operates on other functions. For example, the higher-order function forEach executes a given function once on each value in an array. Higher-order functions are heavily used in functional programming.
homogeneous:
having a single type. For example, an array is said to be homogeneous if it contains only numbers or only character strings, but not a mix of the two.
hostname:
the part of a URL that specifies the computer to talk to. In http://example.com/something/, the hostname is example.com; in http://localhost:1234/, it is localhost.
HTTP:
the HyperText Transfer Protocol used to exchange information between browsers and websites, and more generally between other clients and servers. HTTP is a stateless protocol in which communication consists of requests and responses.
HTTP header:
a name-value pair at the start of an HTTP request or response. Headers are used to specify what data formats the sender can handle, the date and time the message was sent, and so on.
HTTP method:
the verb in an HTTP request that defines what the client wants to do. Common methods are GET (to get data) and POST (to submit data).
HTTP request:
a precisely-formatted block of text sent from a client (such as a browser) to a server that specifies what resource is being requested, what data formats the client will accept, and so on.
HTTP response:
a precisely-formatted block of text sent from a server back to a client in reply to a request.
HTTP status code:
a numerical code that indicates what happened when an HTTP request was processed, such as 200 (OK), 404 (not found), or 500 (internal server error).
in-memory database:
a database that is stored in memory rather than in permanent storage. In-memory databases are often used for testing.
inherit:
to acquire properties and methods from a parent class. See also extend.
internal style sheet:
a set of CSS definitions placed inside a web page rather than in an external file.
JSON:
a way to represent data by combining basic values like numbers and character strings in arrays and name/value structures. The acronym stands for “JavaScript Object Notation”; unlike better-defined standards like XML, it is unencumbered by a syntax for comments or ways to define schemas.
library:
see module.
list:
see array.
local installation:
a JavaScript library placed inside a particular project, and only accessible within that project. See also global installation.
local server:
a server run on the user’s own computer, usually for testing purposes during development.
local variable:
a variable defined inside a function which is only visible within that function. See also global variable and closure.
logging:
to record information about a program’s execution in a structured way.
logging transport:
a channel through which logging messages are sent, such as standard output (for the user’s screen) or a database connection.
member variable:
see property.
memory diagram:
a picture showing the variables a program contains and the data they refer to.
method:
a function attached to an object, typically called using dotted notation. In JavaScript and many other languages, a special variable called this is provided to methods to refer to the particular object for which the method is being called.
minimization:
to remove spaces and other extraneous characters from source files (and possibly even rename variables). This makes those files smaller and faster to deploy at the expense of readability.
module:
a set of variables, functions, and/or classes grouped together for easier management (typically but not always in a single file). Modules are sometimes also called libraries.
module variable:
a variable that is visible within a module but not outside it. See scope.
mutation:
changing data in place, such as modifying an element of an array or adding a record to a database.
name collision:
the ambiguity that arises when two or more things in a program that have the same name are active at the same time. The call stack was invented in part to address this problem.
Node:
an open source implementation of JavaScript for use outside the browser.
node:
an in-memory representation of an element in an HTML page. See also DOM. Not to be confused with Node.js.
NoSQL database:
any database that doesn’t use the relational model. The awkward name comes from the fact that such databases don’t use SQL as a query language.
object:
a clump of variables and/or methods grouped together in a program. In most languages, objects can only be created as instances of classes, but JavaScript calls anything created using {...} an object. Do not seek to walk in the footsteps of the sages; seek rather what they sought.
observer-observable:
a widely-used programming pattern in which some objects are notified and take action when other objects change state or take action.
override:
to replace a definition of a [method] in a parent-class with a new definition in a child class.
query parameter:
a placeholder in an SQL query that must be filled in with an actual value in order for the query to run.
package manager:
a program that does its best to keep track of the bits and bobs of software installed on a computer. The most widely used package manager for JavaScript is called NPM; it does its best, but really, without proper discipline on the part of programmers, it’s like Boromir trying to hold back the orcs or a kindergarten teacher trying to keep everyone’s shirt clean during finger-painting.
parameter:
a variable whose value is passed into a function when the function is called. Some writers distinguish parameters (the variables) from arguments (the values passed in), but others use the terms in the opposite sense. It’s all very confusing.
parent class:
an existing class that has been extended to create a new class. (The new class is called the child class.)
parent node:
the node in a tree that is above some other node. Every node has a parent except the [root]{#root-node}.
parse:
to translate the text of a program or web page into a data structure in memory that the program can then manipulate.
polymorphism:
literally, “having many forms”. The term refers to the way in which objects whose methods have the same names and parameters can be used interchangeably.
port:
a logical endpoint for communication, corresponding to a phone number in an office building. In a URL such as http://example.com:8081/something, the port is 8081. Only one program may use a port at any time.
production code:
software that is delivered to an end user. The term is used to distinguish such code from test code, deployment infrastructure, and everything else that programmers write along the way.
promise:
a way to handle delayed computations in JavaScript. Promises were supposed to make programmers’ lives simpler.
protocol:
a set of rules specifying how two things will interact. The HTTP protocol defines the format of requests, responses, and status codes; a protocol for application plugins defines how they will be referred to and what entry points they must contain.
prototype:
an idiosyncratic mechanism used in the original definition of JavaScript for sharing properties between objects that we unfortunately still have to cope with.
property:
a variable associated with an object. The term is used to distinguish an object’s passive data from its executable methods. Properties are sometimes called member variables.
pseudo-random number:
a value generated in a repeatable way that has the properties of being truly random.
pseudo-random number generator (PRNG):
a function that can generate a series of pseudo-random numbers after being initialized with a seed.
race condition:
a situation in which the result of a computation can vary due to operations being performed in different orders.
raise:
see throw.
read-evaluate-print loop (REPL):
an interactive program that reads a command typed in by a user, executes it, prints the result, and then waits patiently for the next command. REPLs are often used to explore new ideas or for debugging.
record:
a set of related values. In a relational database, a record is typically shown as a single row in a table. See also field.
regular expression:
a pattern for matching text, written as text itself. Regular expressions are sometimes called “regexp”, “regex”, or “RE”, and are as powerful as they are cryptic. See this documentation for more details.
relational database:
a database that organizes information into tables, each of which has a fixed set of named fields (shown as columns) and a variable number of records (shown as rows). See also SQL.
relative path:
a path whose destination is interpreted relative to some other location, such as the current directory. A relative path is the equivalent of giving directions using terms like “straight” and “left”. See also absolute path.
responsive design:
an approach to building web pages and other applications that resizes and reorganizes things smoothly for different sizes of screens.
RGB:
a way to represent colors as triples of red, green, and blue intensities, each of which ranges from 0 to 255. RGB is often augmented in modern systems to create RGBA, where the fourth component is the pixel’s transparency.
root:
the only node in a tree that doesn’t have a parent.
root directory:
the directory that contains everything else, directly or indirectly. The root directory is written / (a bare forward slash).
root element:
the element in a document that contains every other element. The root element of a web page is the html element.
schema:
a specification of the “shape” of data, such as the fields making up a database table or the ways in which structures can be nested in JSON.
scope:
the portion of a program within which a definition can be seen and used. See global-variable, local-variable, module-variable, and (if you are brave) closure.
seed:
a value used to initialize a pseudo-random number generator.
selector:
a way to identify elements within an HTML document. The selector h2#contents, for example, means “the h2 element with the ID contents”.
server:
a program that waits for requests from clients and sends them data in response. It is sometimes helpful to think of servers as harassed parents trying to babysit a room full of unruly children.
server-side page generation:
to create an HTML page on a server. That HTML is then delivered as-is to a browser for display. See also client-side page generation.
SQL:
the language used for writing queries for relational databases. The term was originally an acronym for Structured Query Language.
signature:
the ordered list of argument data types required by a function or method. If two functions or methods have the same signature, they can be called in the same way.
stateful:
to retain information from one operation to the next.
stateless:
to not retain information from one operation to the next.
string:
a block of text in a program. The term is short for “character string”.
string interpolation:
the process of inserting text corresponding to specified values into a string, usually to make output human-readable.
table:
a set of uniformly-formatted records in a relational database. Tables are usually drawn with rows (each of which represents one record) and columns (each of which represents a field).
tag:
a short textual label identifying a kind of element in an HTML page. Commonly-used tags include p (for a paragraph) and h1 (for a level-1 heading).
template:
a document with some placeholders that can be filled in with specific values. Templates are often used to create personalized email messages and web pages, though their efficacy is predicated upon relentless commercialization and devaluation of modern society’s sense of what constitutes “personal”.
test runner:
a program that finds and runs unit tests and reports their results.
test suite:
a set of unit tests, usually stored in files that follow a prescribed naming convention.
throw:
to signal that something unexpected or unusual has happened in a program by creating an exception and handing it to the error-handling system, which then tries to find a point in the program that will catch it. (Some languages call this raising an exception.)
tree:
a data structure containing strictly-nested nodes. Every node except the root node must have exactly one parent node, but each node may have zero or more children.
truthy:
a truly horrible neologism meaning “not equivalent to false”. See also falsy, but only if you are able to set aside your respect for the English language.
Unicode:
a standard that defines numeric codes for many thousands of characters and symbols. Unicode does not define how those numbers are stored; that is done by standards like UTF-8.
unit test:
a test that exercises one property or expected behavior of a system.
URL (Uniform Resource Locator):
a multi-part identifier that specifies something on a computer network. A URL may contain a protocol (such as http), a hostname (such as example.com), a port (such as 80), a path (such as /homepage.html), and query parameters
UTF-8:
a way to store the numeric codes representing Unicode characters in memory that is backward-compatible with the older ASCII standard.
variable:
a name in a program that has some data associated with it. A variable’s value can be changed after definition. See also constant.
XML:
a set of rules for defining HTML-like tags and using them to format documents (typically data). XML achieved license plate popularity in the early 2000s, but its complexity led many programmers to adopt JSON instead.