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5 Facts to Know About Node.js Development

While the proliferation of JavaScript is growing, there has also been a demand for the server-side programming capability among developers for some time. With a callback concept and being event-driven, Node.js made a considerable step in that direction. That’s why we love Node.js and use it along with other JS frameworks and tools to create smooth user experiences in any operating system.

Services like PayPal, running 218 million user accounts (as of September 2017), Uber, Netflix or eBay are the real-life proof of Node’s efficiency. And for that reason, we’d like to share with you our thoughts about Node.js development.

Node.js is a server-side runtime environment used to build fast and scalable applications. It is light and lets you create a web server in just a few minutes.

Ryan Dahl, the inventor of Node.js, states that being inspired by Gmail, his goal was to devise a system for building websites with real-time push capability. So the event-driven paradigm became the heart of Node. Unlike the previous “request/response” paradigm, finally, developers gained the possibility to make 2-way connection websites (client and server) with free data exchange.

Myths and truths about Node.js

At the core, Node.js is a server engine that you can edit and adjust, and it will only work after you set it up. Requests to it are processed as a loop (event loop), and that’s why Node is essentially a runtime. Being a part of the JavaScript ecosystem, which is great for app development, you can manipulate it easily along with other JS tools, UIs and connectors. In other words, JavaScript and Node allow you create simple web servers with just a few lines of code.

But often people face certain misconceptions about Node.js development. Here are the most common myths busted.

Myths:

  • Node.js is a framework
  • Relies on Chrome V8 engine only
  • It does not support multi-threads
  • Beginner developers can’t work with Node

Actual facts:

  • Node.js is basically a server capable of executing JavaScript
  • It is an open source and cross-platform system for building web applications
  • It does, providing asynchronous and event-driven APIs
  • Any programmer familiar with JavaScript can learn Node quickly

Facts about Node.js development

Node.js is very distinctive in several ways. Probably, the most specific one is that it’s a server-side platform. With Node, JavaScript is not limited to the front-end only (working in the browser), but also allows work away from the browser. Running code on the server this way results in fast processing capability. There are also a few other facts about Node that don’t sound so complicated.

#1. JavaScript the Almighty

Did you know, that using JavaScript is the simplest and the most popular way to develop apps in the browser? You can do it with other programming languages, but it isn’t that easy. It either requires transpilation and dealing with much a smaller community (ex. TypeScript, CoffeeScript, Elm) that works only in some browsers (ex. JScript works only in IE), using a deprecated technology (ex. Adobe Flash, Java Applet, Silverlight, Moonlight) or having a significant overhead (GWT requires much memory and has a long compilation time). Moreover, JavaScript is just the most popular language on GitHub. The magic of the Node.js addition to JavaScript is that you can develop on the server too! JavaScript also runs across multiple operating systems and evens out their inconsistencies.

Compared to other languages and their event-loop systems, e.g. Python and Ruby, JavaScript proves to have better performance. Plus, there’s less room for human error, as programmers can avoid mental switching between browser and server.

javascript meme

#2. Powered by Google Chrome

Node.js operates in the back-end being powered by Google V8 engine, the same runtime as in Google Chrome to execute JavaScript in the front-end. What’s good about that? Developer teams competing to advance JavaScript have made it one of the fastest and most dynamic runtimes. Google itself proudly lists Node.js among other systems engine powers, so that’s something.

Besides that, with Google developer tools, you can also perform debugging tasks. In Chrome 57+, there is the Node.js debugging feature by default, and you can use it to eliminate errors both in front-end and back-end.

Google V8 engine for Node.js development

#3. Reinforced by JSON

Why go nuts and sleepless with XML markup, when there’s the more practical JSON? JavaScript object notation, thus the acronym, is a robust and popular data exchange format. It is simple and allows developers to build APIs quickly. It is one of the pillars of JavaScript, actually.

In early days of programming, dynamic data in a browser had to be carefully manipulated in JavaScript. Introduction of general purpose JSON gave birth to NoSQL databases, like MongoDB. It was intended for JS only, but now it is the international standard.

JSON data format for Node.js

#4. Sharing is caring

The Node.js community is open and friendly, ready to share any packages of code. Node ethics allows and welcomes this approach, making it simple to do so. Any author can publish code or create modules in a public repository. In legal terms, there’s the MIT open source license in play, taking care of all intellectual property issues.

You may find about 475K code packages in the NPM alone, which has grown from package manager to a repository. More on that in the next paragraph. Thus, it is very likely that when you face some challenge/task with Node.js development, there is already a solution.

Node.js meme

#5. NPM, modules & instrumentation

Speaking of Node Package Manager (NPM), it is included in Node by default. It actually is at the core of most deployment systems for Node.js, and with its help, the Node ecosystem has expanded significantly in recent years. NPM consists of a command line and a database of packages (the registry), and it manages packages that are both local to a project and public JavaScript tools.

This feature indicates that apps on Node.js consist of smaller modules that you can share. You can compose and manage each of them, as the nature of developing such modules with Node is care-free and facilitates experimentation. Each package usually takes care of one task, so it is highly effective.

One final fact is that Node.js comes with fine instrumentation, documentation and best practices. This is aimed at helping at every stage of app development, best performance, and readiness for production.

NPM for Node.js development

It would also be appropriate to list what pros and cons there are to Node, so let’s do that.

Pros of Node.js:

  • Easy to learn for any developer familiar with JavaScript
  • A runtime environment supporting the caching of modules
  • Event-driven input/output (I/O) ensures better request handling
  • Same code for both server-side and client-side = painless deployment of web applications
  • NPM – the biggest package manager in the software world
  • It is also possible to stream large files

Cons of Node.js:

  • Inconsistently enhancing API
  • Not an optimal solution for tasks intensive on CPU in comparison with low-level languages like C, C++, C# or Golang
  • Split opinion about the asynchronous approach

What is Node.js great for?

So while there is some debate about appropriate Node.js use, what are the areas where Node shines? Below are some examples.

Chat. A most typical real-time application, a messaging chat application shows all the best of Node.js. Multiple users, big traffic, intensive data and running across devices. Also good to learn Node while making a chat, as it covers almost all the paradigms of a typical Node.js app.

Server-side web apps. Not a typical use of Node due to HTML, though if you pair Node.js and Express.js, you can make classic web applications on the server-side. Again, this is subject to debate, but if your app is low on CPU computation, you’re surely able to build it fully in JavaScript. The idea behind it is to simplify the development.

Data streaming. Leveraging the fact that HTTP requests and responses are basically data streams, we can use Node.js to create some positive features. For instance, processing files while they are just being uploaded, e.g. for audio/video encoding.

Monitoring dashboards. To collect real-time data about website visitors and visualizations, you can use Node.js nicely to make system dashboards. User statistics and the ability to see what they are doing instantly, isn’t it great for business?

Final word

Node.js is not perfect, but it is a great tool for building server-side web applications in JavaScript. NodeJS is always evolving and expanding its use. It is relatively simple to get into while good enough to handle today’s web development tasks. It is a fine cost-efficient and resource-efficient system for building websites, APIs for web/mobile integration, and standalone software.

For more materials, see our posts about Node.js:

Resources:

  • https://moduscreate.com/blog/dynamic-memory-and-v8-with-javascript/ (image)
  • https://www.percona.com/resources/webinars/json-mysql-57 (image)

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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