Can You Make an Impact With Free JavaScript?

Using free JavaScript

Many websites on the “modern” web use JavaScript to create a more interactive experience. However, this extra interactivity can cause performance issues not only for the website but for your personal computer as well. But beyond the performance issues, non-free JavaScript (that is, proprietary JavaScript with obfuscated code) can create security and privacy concerns for users. Many web users (and developers) would prefer to use free, open source JavaScript, so that they know what the code is doing, and can have the code independently reviewed — if desired. For many, it’s always better to have options.

Web users are getting more savvy about the usage of intrusive JavaScript, and have even set up their browsers to block it. Is your website able to run properly without these kinds of JavaScript? This article will help you find out.

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A Choice of Free JavaScript

There is some confusion as to the meaning of “free” JavaScript. Free, in this sense, refers to the license attached to the software rather than the cost.

Some websites and software products take pride in using only free software. This means the user is welcome to see the code, understand how it works, and, if desired, modify the code.

Free software guru Richard Stallman refers to this as the “JavaScript Trap.” As he says, you may be running non-free programs on your computer without knowing it.

Because of the unique nature of JavaScript, this can be triggered automatically simply by your visiting a website. Non-free JavaScript can be highly intrusive, running locally using your computer’s resources. Have you ever noticed your computer’s fan kicking on into high gear when you visit certain websites? These websites load JavaScript, sometimes without your knowledge or approval.

Now, there are many web browsers that can alert you of such things. You can even disable many kinds of JavaScript in your browser. However, this can greatly inhibit your usage of the web, as many sites rely upon expensive non-free JavaScript to deliver a more intuitive user experience. But that experience can come at a cost in using your limited hardware resources or collecting data about your usage habits.

How to Know if You’re Using Non-Free JavaScript

For a good resource about the GPL, check out this article from Drupal.

For website owners and maintainers, the question is “Are you using free JavaScript, and, if not, are you properly alerting your visitors of the kind of JavaScript you’re using?”

Some of your visitors may trade a more interactive web experience for increased privacy and security. You can provide this peace of mind by assuring your visitors you only use free JavaScript.

If you use WordPress, or another popular content management system, you can view the source code on the project website. Without having to interpret the code yourself, you can view the software license. For example, WordPress is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). This means the source code should be safe enough for you to ensure your users of software freedom. The code is available for independent review, without obfuscation, and therefore hides nothing from its users.

However, if you add additional themes or plugins to your site, as is likely, you will want to check those software license agreements as well. Derivative works associated with free software, depending on the license, are not required to use the same license or be bound by the same restrictions.

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