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What Is Node JS Used For?

A decade has passed since its initial release, and Node JS has already secured its place in the open source hall of fame. Used by everyone from Microsoft to PayPal to Netflix, the list of enterprise-level organizations that have implemented Node JS in recent years has grown considerably in size, and it is safe to say that it will continue growing at a similar pace even in the future judging by the popularity of Node JS among software developers.

You may already know that Node JS is a JavaScript runtime built on Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine that uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model to achieve efficiency while remaining lightweight. But what is Node JS used for? Are there any areas where Node JS has demonstrated itself to be the perfect solution?

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Designed to build scalable network applications

There are several features that make Node JS particularly well-suited for building scalable network applications:

  • V8: Initially built for Google Chrome, V8 is an open-source JavaScript engine developed by the Chromium Project for Google Chrome and Chromium web browsers. It compiles JavaScript directly to native machine code before executing it, allowing it to achieve fantastic runtime performance.
  • Asynchronous: When a PHP web server is asked to open a file and return its content, it can not handle other requests until it returns the content. Unlike PHP, Node JS is asynchronous, so requests can be handled without having any dependency on one another, which improves efficiency and throughput. This design pattern is known as non-blocking code execution.
  • Single-threaded: Using the single threaded event loop model, Node JS is able to handle multiple concurrent clients without creating multiple threads. This removes the performance cost of thread context switching and prevents errors arising from incorrect thread synchronization, which can be extremely hard to troubleshoot.
  • Unified API: Because Node JS adopted popular server-side development patterns, it can be readily combined with a browser or database that supports JSON for a unified JavaScript development stack.
  • Data streams: Node JS applications never buffer any data thanks to the Stream module, which is an abstract interface for working with streaming data that makes it easy to build objects that implement the stream interface. The ability to easily output data in chunks gives Node JS developers the power of composability in their code and makes the JavaScript runtime particularly suited for building scalable network applications.

What is Node JS used for? – Examples

Node JS has proved itself useful for developing applications that make use of the ability to run JavaScript both on the client as well as on the server side. According to a survey made by the Node.js Foundation, whose mission is to enable widespread adoption and help accelerate the development of Node JS, web applications are the top use case, with a share of 85%. But as the examples below illustrate, they are not the only one.

See what is Node JS used for and what can you build with it.

> Chat applications

Node JS is commonly used to develop real-time applications, also known as RTAs. Its asynchronous, event-driven nature, allows it to handle heavy input-output operations, which makes it much easier for Node JS developers to achieve the level of performance users have come to expect from modern real-time applications. When building chat applications with Node JS, it’s common to take advantage of the Socket.IO library, which enables real-time, bidirectional, and event-based communication between the browser and the server. With Socket.IO, it’s possible to build a group-chat application in less than 30 lines of code.

> Steaming applications

Being one of the largest media-services providers in the world is not easy, especially when your job is to offer streaming content over 150 million users around the world, which is why Netflix moved half of its API to Node JS in 2018. Thanks to Node JS, Netflix finally has a common language for both server-side and browser side, and it benefits from the asynchronous non-blocking I/O capabilities that make real-time and streaming operations with Node JS so easy and efficient.

> Command-line applications

In the world of JavaScript development, command-line applications don’t get much attention. However, the reality is that most larger organizations use at least some custom-made command-line tools. Thanks to libraries such as commander, yargs, and oclif, creating command-line applications with Node JS is simple, fast, and extremely cost-effective. As such, Node JS empowers developers who are not familiar with traditional backend languages to use JavaScript outside the web and develop various work automation solutions.

See what is Node JS used for and what can you build with it.

> Browser games

Node JS can also be used for game development in combination with technologies such as HTML5 and Socket.IO to create single and multiplayer games that work directly in the browser without the need to install any third-party plugins. Node JS provides game developers with several tools that make it easier to manage the complexity of multiplayer games, including EventEmitter, which can be used to raise and handle custom events. What’s more, Node JS allows developers to share a lot of code between the client and the server.

> Embedded systems

The idea of using JavaScript to program microcontrollers and prototype internet of things devices may sound strange, but hardware programming is quickly emerging as a major use case of Node JS. There is now even a port of Node JS with far lower system requirements, called low.js, which allows Node JS to run on cheap, power-efficient microcontroller boards based on the ESP32-WROVER module. And with robust IoT and robotics development platforms like Tessel 2, leveraging all the libraries of Node.JS to create useful devices in minutes has never been easier.

Conclusion

There are many answers to the question, “What is Node JS used for?” That’s because Node JS is an extremely versatile JavaScript run-time environment that executes JavaScript code outside of a browser. From chat applications that benefit from its asynchronous, event-driven nature to various embedded systems and internet-connected devices, the use cases of Node JS are just as numerous as the developers that love to work with it.

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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