Javascript – Is using an obfuscator enough to secure the JavaScript code


I'm working on building a development tool that is written in JavaScript.

This will not be an open source project and will be sold (hopefully) as a commercial product.

I'm looking for the best way to protect my investment. Is using an obfuscator (code mangler) enough to reasonably secure the code?

Are there other alternatives that I am not aware of?

(I'm not sure if obfuscator is the right word, it's one of the apps that takes your code and makes it very unreadable.)

Best Solution

I'm going to tell you a secret. Once you understand it, you'll feel a lot better about the fact that Javascript obfuscation is only really useful for saving bandwidth when sending scripts over the wire.

Your source-code is not worth stealing.

I know this comes as a shock to the ego, but I can say this confidently without ever having seen a line of code you've written because outside the very few realms of development where serious magic happens, it's true of all source-code.

Say, tomorrow, someone dumped a pile of DVDs on your doorstep containing the source code for Windows Vista. What would you be able to do with it? Sure, you could compile it and give away copies, but that's just one step more effort than copying the retail version. You could painstakingly find and remove the license-checking code, but that's something some bright kid has already done to the binaries. Replace the logo and graphics, pretend you wrote it yourself and market it as "Vicrosoft Mista"? You'll get caught.

You could spend an enormous amount of time reading the code, trying to understand it and truly "stealing the intellectual property" that Microsoft invested in developing the product. But you'd be disappointed. You'd find the code was a long series of mundane decisions, made one after the other. Some would be smarter than you could think of. Some would leave you shaking your head wondering what kind of monkeys they're hiring over there. Most would just make you shrug and say "yeah, that's how you do that."

In the process you'll learn a lot about writing operating systems, but that's not going to hurt Microsoft.

Replace "Vista" with "Leopard" and the above paragraphs don't change one bit. It's not Microsoft, it's software. Half the people on this site could probably develop a Stack Overflow clone, with or without looking at the source of this site. They just haven't. The source-code of Firefox and WebKit are out there for anyone to read. Now go write your own browser from scratch. See you in a few years.

Software development is an investment of time. It's utter hubris to imagine that what you're doing is so special that nobody could clone it without looking at your source, or even that it would make their job that much easier without an actionable (and easily detectable) amount of cut and paste.