Introduction

This Ecma Standard defines the ECMAScript 2021 Language. It is the twelfth 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.

ECMAScript 2020, the 11th edition, introduces the matchAll method for Strings, to produce an iterator for all match objects generated by a global regular expression; import(), a syntax to asynchronously import Modules with a dynamic specifier; BigInt, a new number primitive for working with arbitrary precision integers; Promise.allSettled, a new Promise combinator that does not short-circuit; globalThis, a universal way to access the global this value; dedicated export * as ns from 'module' syntax for use within modules; increased standardization of for-in enumeration order; import.meta, a host-populated object available in Modules that may contain contextual information about the Module; as well as adding two new syntax features to improve working with “nullish” values (null or undefined): nullish coalescing, a value selection operator; and optional chaining, a property access and function invocation operator that short-circuits if the value to access/invoke is nullish.

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

Jordan Harband
ECMA-262, Project Editor, 10th through 12th Editions