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How to learn JavaScript: A step-by-step starter guide

Do you want to learn JavaScript but feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of information online? Maybe you’ve tried a few online courses or self-paced tutorials but felt lost. With this step-by-step guide, we’ll help you get started with learning JavaScript so you can build a solid foundation and avoid common mistakes along the way. 

JavaScript is a powerful and versatile programming language that has become an essential tool for web development, interactive applications, and server-side scripting. By learning JavaScript, you’ll be able to build dynamic websites, create sophisticated web apps, and even develop mobile apps using frameworks like React Native. 

This guide is designed for anyone interested in mastering JavaScript. Whether you’re a student, a career changer, or an experienced developer looking to expand your skill set, you’ll find valuable insights and practical advice tailored to your needs. 

We’ll start by addressing common concerns and set realistic expectations for your learning journey.

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Is JavaScript hard to learn?

Learning any programming language can be challenging, especially if it’s your first one.  But JavaScript is often considered beginner-friendly for these reasons:

  1. Real-time feedback: When you write JavaScript code, you can see the results instantly in your browser. Modern browsers come with developer tools that allow you to inspect, debug, and modify your code without needing a compiler. This fast feedback loop is great for learning. You can see the direct impact of your code changes instantly.
  2. Built-in browser support: JavaScript is built into all modern web browsers, so you can start coding without installing additional software. This lowers the barrier to entry and allows you to begin coding and seeing results sooner. 
  3. Familiar programming concepts: Basic programming fundamentals like variables, loops, functions, and conditionals exist in JavaScript. If you have experience in another language, these concepts can make the learning curve less steep. 
  4. Widespread applicability: JavaScript is essential for web development but can also be used for mobile app development (React Native), server-side development (Node.js), game development, and more. Its versatility is another bonus for beginners.

What is a realistic timeframe to become proficient in JavaScript?

“Proficient” is a relative term, so setting an exact timeline to master JavaScript is difficult. Bootcamps teach the basics of JavaScript in about three months, but then bootcamp graduates continue learning the language during their first job and beyond. The time it takes to become skilled at JavaScript depends on your prior programming experience, desired learning pace, and dedication to practice.

As a rough estimate, expect it to take 3 to 12 months to get comfortable with the language fundamentals. However, proficiency is a continuous journey, and even experienced developers keep learning and improving their skills. Set realistic expectations, track your progress, and celebrate milestones along the way. Focus on consistent practice and work on side projects that challenge you. Everyone learns at their own pace, so don’t compare your progress to others. 

How does JavaScript learning difficulty compare to other programming languages like Python and C++?

Learning a new programming language is challenging, but the degree of challenge varies depending on the language’s syntax, paradigms, and concepts, as well as your previous experience. JavaScript and Python are generally considered more beginner-friendly than C++. 

It also depends on where you’re starting from. If you’re coming from a statically typed background (e.g., Java or C++), you might find the dynamically typed nature of JavaScript too loose and confusing at first. Compared to C++, JavaScript has a more flexible syntax and a gentler learning curve. 

Python is known for its simplicity, readability, and extensive standard library, which makes it an excellent choice for beginners. Starting with Python might be a better choice if your goal is data science, machine learning, or scientific computing. Check out this Python interview guide if you want to level up your skills.

On the other hand, if you’re primarily interested in web development, you should learn JavaScript because it’s the native language of the web. While Python can be used for web development with frameworks like Django and Flask, JavaScript’s seamless integration with web browsers makes it an indispensable skill for web developers today. 

Consider your goals, prior experience, and learning style when choosing a language to learn. JavaScript generally offers a gentler learning curve to C++ , but it still requires dedication to master its quirks. Learning Python makes sense if you’re aiming for the data science world. C++ requires you to deal with advanced concepts like pointers and memory management from the start, but that might be good if you aim to get into game development, digital signal processing, or low-latency finance applications. For those looking to practice their C++ skills, CodeSignal Learn offers a learning path designed to help you prepare for technical interviews in C++

What are the benefits of learning JavaScript?

Learning JavaScript opens up a world of opportunities in web development, full-stack engineering, and more. As the language of the web, JavaScript enables you to build dynamic, interactive websites, and web applications. Its versatility is a strong benefit—you can develop user interfaces and responsive designs with JavaScript. With the rise of Node.js (a JavaScript runtime), you can write server-side code, which means you can develop full-stack applications in the same language. 

JavaScript’s reach extends to mobile app development through frameworks like React Native, allowing you to build cross-platform mobile apps for iOS and Android. And, the demand for JavaScript skills in the job market is consistently high. According to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2023, JavaScript has been the most commonly used programming language for the eleventh consecutive year, cementing its position as a critical skill for developers. By learning JavaScript, you position yourself to take advantage of abundant career opportunities in web and cross-platform development. 

Benefits for students and recent graduates

Learning JavaScript is a natural way for students and recent graduates to kickstart their careers in web development. Demonstrating your proficiency in JavaScript will make you an attractive candidate for internships and entry-level positions. 

You can apply your JavaScript skills to various academic and personal projects—like building real-time chat applications or responsive e-commerce sites. Incorporating JavaScript into these applications will enhance their functionality and user experience, as well as showcase your practical problem-solving skills. 

Building a solid portfolio is key to catching the attention of potential employers. If you’re applying for web development positions, recruiters will look for evidence of your skills. Participate in JavaScript hackathons, contribute to open-source projects, or create your own libraries or extensions to showcase your skills in JavaScript.

Benefits for career changers 

Learning JavaScript can open up new career opportunities for professionals looking to transition into the tech industry. If you’re a data analyst, for example, your existing skills combined with JavaScript coding ability will enable you to build interactive data visualizations and create engaging reports. This can open doors for you as you change roles.

JavaScript’s versatility and high demand also provide a degree of flexibility and marketability for career changers. As you upskill and gain proficiency in this language, you’ll become better positioned to take on front-end developer, full-stack developer, or even product manager roles. 

Benefits for developers

Experienced developers can expand their skill set by learning JavaScript. Backend engineers can become full-stack engineers by using JavaScript to write client-side code. Even if you’re unlikely to spend most of your time developing user interfaces, gaining fluency in JavaScript can be helpful to your team. JavaScript skills can be helpful for solving bugs, remediating incidents, or collaborating with your front-end engineers more effectively. 

JavaScript boasts an extensive ecosystem of popular libraries and frameworks such as React, Angular, Node.js. Familiarity with these tools can open doors for seasoned developers to work on cutting-edge web development projects and advance their careers. 

What do I need to start learning JavaScript?

You don’t need much to get started learning JavaScript. There’s no need to install expensive software or buy fancy tools, and you don’t need a mathematical or computer science (CS) background. You only need an internet connection, a web browser, and commitment to learning. 

More important than a CS background are strong problem-solving skills. These skills can come from a wide range of experiences: solving puzzles, playing strategy games, playing sports, and managing projects. Writing code involves breaking down problems into smaller manageable parts and working to find solutions. So if you enjoy challenges and have a curious, analytical mindset from whatever background, you’ll be well-suited to learning JavaScript. 

A basic understanding of programming concepts such as variables, loops, and functions will be helpful. For example, knowing that functions are reusable blocks of code will give you a head start. But if you don’t know those yet, you can learn them along the way! Familiarity with HTML and CSS is beneficial because JavaScript is often used to manipulate web pages, such as responding to what users type on a website or fetching information from external websites.

For tools and software, you’ll need a text editor and a web browser. A host of popular text editors and modern browsers are free to download and easy to set up. Because JavaScript is very popular, there are plenty of excellent resources online to help you learn. Some examples include: 

  • This resource offers modern and extensive JavaScript documentation for introductory and advanced concepts.
  • MDN JavaScript Guide: This comprehensive guide covers JavaScript fundamentals, advanced concepts, and best practices. It’s used by both beginners and experienced developers. 
  • JavaScript Programming for Beginners on CodeSignal Learn: This series of courses develops learners’ mastery of JavaScript syntax and core programming concepts through realistic practice exercises.

Step 1: Set up your development environment

You’ll need a development environment to start learning JavaScript. This typically involves installing a code editor or an integrated development environment (IDE), which provides a streamlined interface for writing, debugging, and running your JavaScript code.

Visual Studio Code (VSCode) is one of the most popular code editors. It offers excellent syntax highlighting, intelligent code completion, debugging tools, and a vast library of extensions that enhance its functionality. Other editors like Atom, SublimeText, and WebStorm are good choices too. 

In addition to a code editor, you’ll need a web browser with a built-in JavaScript console. Modern browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, or Microsoft Edge come with developer tools that allow you to interact with JavaScript directly in the browser. To access the console, right-click on a web page, select “Inspect” or “Inspect Element,” and navigate to the “Console” tab. This is where you can test JavaScript code snippets, debug your scripts, and see the output of your programs. For an example of what you can do here, check out Google’s DevTools

When you’re ready to explore server-side JavaScript development, you’ll need to install Node.js, a JavaScript runtime built on Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine. Node.js allows you to run JavaScript on the server, enabling you to build scalable, high-performance web applications. To install Node.js, visit the official Node.js website and follow the installation guide for your operating system. Once installed, you’ll have access to the Node.js package manager (npm), which allows you to install and manage JavaScript libraries and tools.

Step 2: Learn the basics of HTML & CSS 

Before learning JavaScript, it’s helpful to have a solid foundation in HTML (which stands for Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (which stands for Cascading Style Sheets). HTML defines the structure and content of a webpage, while CSS controls its visual presentation and styling.

Learning HTML and CSS will help you understand how to create the basic building blocks of a website. The Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) offers comprehensive documentation on HTML and CSS

While it’s possible to create web pages using only HTML and CSS, integrating JavaScript adds interactivity and dynamic behavior to your website. To get started with HTML and CSS, you can follow online tutorials, take courses, or refer to the official documentation. 

Learning tip: CodeSignal’s Comprehensive Introduction to Front-End Engineering learning path takes you through the basics of HTML and CSS, as well as an introduction to developing responsive websites using JavaScript.

Step 3: Start with JavaScript fundamentals. 

Once you have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS, you can dive into the core concepts of JavaScript. If you are new to programming, you must learn the basic programming fundamentals—variables, data types, if/else statements, loops, and functions. These exist in nearly all languages, but each has its own implementation, syntax, and quirks. 

After learning those, you should progress to learning JavaScript-specific concepts such as how data structures like arrays and objects work in JavaScript, and how DOM manipulation and event handling work. Practice small coding challenges and exercises here to reinforce your learning. Don’t be discouraged if you run into difficulty–this is how everyone learns! Problem-solving is an essential part of the learning experience. 

Learning tip: Get started with our JavaScript Programming for Beginners path. It contains seven courses to help you improve your JavaScript skills. 

What’s the best way to start learning JavaScript in the age of AI?

The fundamentals of learning JavaScript remain the same in spite of recent AI developments. It’s best to learn and master the basic concepts so you have a solid foundation in the language’s syntax, data structures, and data types first. AI-based tools can complement and enhance your learning journey, but if your goal is to learn JavaScript, you shouldn’t skip learning the basics. 

There are many ways to learn JavaScript, including self-study, online courses, and bootcamps. You can use books, tutorials, and online documentation to learn on your own, or you can learn alongside others with structured curriculum in courses and bootcamp programs. 

Step 1: Understand JavaScript basics and choose a learning path

Before diving into a structured learning plan or choosing an online course, you may want to explore introductory material that provides an overview of JavaScript and its capabilities. Mozilla Developer Network’s What is JavaScript? guide is an excellent resource for understanding the fundamentals of this programming language and what it can do. 

Once you understand what JavaScript can do, you can design a structured learning plan. Self-study can be a practical option, combining resources like online tutorials, coding challenges, and practice exercises. Consider how you learn best (e.g., books, video tutorials, self-paced, or group-based online classes) but the most important thing is dedicating time to writing JavaScript code. Alternatively, you can enroll in an online course from platforms like CodeSignal Learn, which offers structured curricula tailored for beginners.

Step 2: Read books and listen to podcasts to keep learning JavaScript

Supplement your chosen learning path with additional materials like books, YouTube tutorials, podcasts, and blogs. Here are some examples to get you on your way:

Accelerate your learning with personalized learning pathways and AI-assisted tools

AI-powered code completion tools like GitHub Copilot and IDE-code completions can help you write code more efficiently. They can save you time and reduce the cognitive load of remembering syntax, so you focus more on problem-solving and logic. However, it’s crucial to understand the code suggestions and not blindly accept them. These tools are based on large language models (LLMs) and can generate incorrect code, so blindly accepting their suggestions can lead to bugs in your codebase. 

However, you can use LLMs to learn JavaScript if you take the time to understand the code. You can ask ChatGPT and Claude to explain code snippets at different levels of complexity (e.g., “Can you explain this code to me like I’m five?”) until you grasp the underlying concepts. You can keep doing this repeatedly until you gain a true understanding of code blocks. 

Another place AI can really help you learn JavaScript is through personalized learning pathways. At CodeSignal, we have an AI tutor called Cosmo who is integrated into our CodeSignal Learn platform. Cosmo adapts to your unique skills journey and meets you where you are. A few reasons why you might enjoy working with Cosmo:

  • 1-on-1 support: Cosmo provides refreshers on technical concepts and can help debug your code if you get stuck.
  • Personalized feedback: Cosmo gives you feedback based on your performance completing JavaScript exercises. This approach will help you focus on the most necessary parts of your JavaScript learning journey. 

Learning Tip: Want to learn the skills needed to pass technical coding interviews in JavaScript? The Mastering Algorithms and Data Structures in JavaScript learning path will help you understand tricky concepts and ace those interviews. 

Step 3: Practice, practice, practice 

Consistent, deliberate practice is the key to mastering JavaScript. As you progress through your chosen learning path, you should regularly solve coding challenges and work on small projects. Websites like CodeSignal and LeetCode offer a variety of programming problems for you to solve. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become with JavaScript.

As you gain more experience, you might consider exploring popular JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular or Vue.js. These tools can help you build more complex and interactive applications, but it’s essential to have a solid grasp of JavaScript fundamentals before diving into them. You can even experiment with building the same apps in Vanilla JS (without any frameworks) and with frameworks to deepen your learning. 

Step 4: Build a project portfolio

Building side projects and documenting your development journey is an excellent way to showcase your skills. You should consider building small applications that solve problems for you or projects that encourage you to learn new APIs, new design paradigms, or new UI patterns. Documenting your process and showing how you overcome your technical challenges will make you attractive to potential employers. 

Find open-source projects that are aligned with your interests. Contribute small fixes to those repositories and analyze how more experienced engineers write their code. Host your own code on GitHub and invite people to contribute to them. Over time, this process of building small apps, writing code, debugging, finding fixes on Stack Overflow, learning new techniques, and getting feedback will accelerate your growth. And by the end of it, you’ll have a portfolio of projects you can describe to potential recruiters to highlight your technical skills. 

What should I focus on for learning JavaScript for web development?

If your goal is to learn JavaScript for web development, it’s crucial to understand how JavaScript manipulates the elements of web pages. This is called DOM (which stands for Document Object Model) manipulation. You’ll want to learn how to select, create, modify, and remove HTML elements using native JavaScript methods like `getElementById()`, `querySelector()`, and `createElement()`. Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) provides great documentation for this, and onCodeSignal Learn, we offer a course on mastering the DOM. 

Once you’ve learned how to manipulate DOM elements, you should learn how to handle events. Events are actions that happen in the browser, such as a user submitting a form, or clicking a button, or scrolling the page. JavaScript allows you to respond to these events in custom ways you define. For example, when a user submits a form, you can use JavaScript to decide what happens next. If they scroll further down the page, you might want to fetch more information (e.g., images, videos, text) to show the user.

Event handling and DOM manipulation are two essential concepts to master if you want to use JavaScript for web development. While frameworks like React and Vue make these tasks easier, understanding the fundamental principles behind them will always give you an advantage and a better understanding of how things work under the hood. 

Learning tip: Comprehensive Introduction to Front-End Engineering, a learning path in CodeSignal Learn, includes a course on mastering the DOM API—plus, all you need to know to get started with web development using JavaScript.

The biggest mistakes people make learning JavaScript and how to avoid them

One common mistake when learning JavaScript is jumping into frameworks or libraries too soon without mastering the language fundamentals. While frameworks like React or Angular are powerful, they are built on top of JavaScript and abstract away key concepts. The JavaScript ecosystem is dynamic, so there will always be new frameworks and libraries emerging. Focusing on the fundamentals first will make it easier for you to learn new framework APIs or concepts in the future. You will also be more resilient and adaptable, enabling you to easily switch between different frameworks instead of being too locked down in one framework’s ecosystem.

Another mistake is focusing too much on isolated coding problems (e.g., Leetcode-style problem sets) without applying the knowledge to practical projects. Coding challenges are helpful for reinforcing concepts and preparing for interviews, but they don’t always translate to real-world development. Balance your learning by working on small applications or websites alongside coding exercises. This way, you’ll gain exposure to important development best practices like debugging an application, troubleshooting, working with external libraries, and maintaining a codebase.

Accelerate your JavaScript learning with CodeSignal Learn

Learning JavaScript can seem daunting at first, but with the right approach and resources, you can become proficient in this powerful language. In this guide, we suggest learning the basics of HTML and CSS, diving into JavaScript fundamentals, practicing consistently, building a portfolio of projects, and taking advantage of online resources—books, tutorials, podcasts, and AI-assisted tools—to supplement your learning. 

At CodeSignal, we’re committed to helping you learn JavaScript on our Learn platform. Our learning paths are designed to take you from beginner to proficient with real-world practice exercises, mastery-based learning,  and personalized feedback from Cosmo, our friendly AI tutor. Sign up for free and take the first step towards an exciting career in web development.