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Deno 1.8: Node.js alternative gets 'out of the box GPU accelerated machine learning'

JavaScript could usurp Python for mathematical programming, claims Deno team

The Deno project has released version 1.8, including experimental support for the WebGPU API enabling "out-of-the-box GPU accelerated machine learning."

Deno, which runs JavaScript outside the browser, is a project co-founded by the creator of Node.js Ryan Dahl, in part to fix design mistakes in his earlier effort. Despite these flaws, Node.js is embedded in today’s web development stack as well as being used by server frameworks such as Express, so Deno has an uphill battle to win adoption. Deno is developed in Rust and includes built-in TypeScript support.

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The big news in Deno 1.8 is that the team hopes to attract Python developers for machine learning applications. “These days, most neural networks are defined in Python with the computation offloaded to GPUs. We believe JavaScript, instead of Python, could act as an ideal language for expressing mathematical ideas if the proper infrastructure existed,” the team said.

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The “proper infrastructure” includes the ability to do general-purpose GPU computing, using the multithreading capabilities of the GPU for purposes other than graphics.

For this, the Deno project has turned to WebGPU, an API for GPU programming, which is not a W3C standard but does have support from Google, Mozilla and Apple, and therefore is in development for Chromium, Firefox and Safari.

Integration of the WebGPU API into Deno has been no small task and required 15.5k lines of code, according to the post, as well as guidance from the WebGPU team.

Also in Deno 1.8 is full support for International Components for Unicode (ICU), which was apparently the second most requested feature in the Deno repository. Deno promises to match browser APIs for this, important for language localisation.

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This release also saw import maps marked as stable, following their enablement in Google’s just-released Chrome 89. The link between Deno and Chrome is that both use the V8 JavaScript engine. Import maps allow simplified code for importing JavaScript modules.

Other new features include support for downloading modules from servers that require authentication, stabilization of permission APIs for security web pages, and improved instrumentation support (for analysing performance).

There is also a new language server, used to support smart features in code editors, that works with both Visual Studio Code and other editors. The TypeScript version in Deno 1.8 has been upgraded to the latest 4.2.

Deno has progressed considerably since the release of version 1.0 in May 2020 and the project has considerable momentum, as evidenced by 73,000 stars and 170,000 watchers on its GitHub repository.

Its use of Rust, built-in TypeScript, and exclusive use of ECMAScript modules (as opposed to CommonJS modules still widely used in Node) ticks the boxes for web developers – though adoption remains relatively small. ®

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