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JavaScript was not designed for speed. In recent years, a huge amount of effort has gone into making it faster, and a lot of this effort borrows from earlier work done on languages like Self (JavaScript's direct parent) and Smalltalk. The fact that so much is now done in web browsers is a testament to people who have worked on these languages. A great many of the techniques described here were first documented by Craig Chambers and David Ungar, working on Self back in 1991 (some even earlier).

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