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Why Use Node.js?

Nena Vuckovic
node-js

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about Node.js. It can be a great development tool if you use it correctly. Like any programming language or tool, it shines in some aspects and underperforms in others.

Here, we will provide the Node overview and answer some of the most common questions about it. Is Node.js frontend or backend? How can you use it? How does it work? What are the Node.js advantages?

What Is Node.js?

Node.js is an open-source runtime environment based on JavaScript. The platform was designed by Ryan Dahl and released in 2009. Initially, it was available only for macOS and Linux, but the Windows version arrived a couple of years later too.

The reason why Node.js became instantly popular is because you can use the same solution for both backend and frontend. Interestingly, Node.js started small, and over the years, it has gotten an MIT license, hundreds of add-ons, and an incredible community.

Today, it is the most popular tool in its category, and it keeps getting new updates. The current or latest version (Node.js 14) was released in April, and it will be available for the next four years. People often ask: “Is Node.js a framework?” The answer is — no. It is not a framework but a development platform for running JavaScript code server-side.

What Is Node.js Used For?

Since Node is not a framework, this means that there are numerous things you can do with it that are impossible with JavaScript. So let’s take a look at what this platform has to offer and what it is used for.

  • Real-time applications — One of the things that proved to be important is the fact that Node offers incredible speed and performance. This means that the framework is an excellent choice for an app that works in real-time. Probably the best examples of apps that utilize Node.js are chat apps. Users share numerous messages, and they are often displayed to multiple users at the same time. The platform can support the traffic, and it can allow us to use the messenger in real-time.
  • Streaming apps — Streaming has become rather popular in the last couple of years, and there are numerous apps that allow us to view content almost instantaneously. Whether you are streaming audio or video, the app will send small batches of data or packages. Using Node allows developers to design an app or a streaming platform that allows users to access content without delay.
  • Collaborative tools — Another great example are collaborative tools. By this, we mean all types of tools meant for businesses or teams, which several users can update at the same time. This way, every user can see the change in the app without having to wait for their turn or refresh the page. Each change or update shows immediately on every account, and they can work together smoothly, regardless of their location. It is like attending a team meeting but from your own PC or phone.
  • Apps relying on scalability — Any type of app that needs to withstand high peak loads is perfect for Node. So if you have an idea for an app that might have a lot of traffic, Node might be the right way to go.

How Does It Work?

Here’s how Node.js works. It is designed for a specific type of problems, and it solves it perfectly. However, there are cases where Node might not be the best solution. We will talk more about that later.

Traditional web techniques work in a simple way — each request creates a new thread, which takes a certain amount of RAM. Eventually, the RAM memory runs out, which is not something you want to happen. Node operates using a single thread and non-blocking input/output calls. This process allows it to support thousands of connections held in the event loop.

What does it mean in numbers? Michael Abernathy has done an interesting calculation in his paper, “Just what is Node.js?” If we assume that each thread takes 2 MB of memory, it will allow a maximum of 4,000 connections on a system with 8 GB of RAM, in theory at least. With Node, a single thread can have over one million concurrent connections!

Node.js Popular Frameworks

One of the most exciting things about Node is the built-in support for NPM or Node Package Manager. It is a tool that comes with the program installation, and it follows a similar principle to Ruby Gems.

It is a set of reusable components that are available to the public. You can find a full list of modules on the NPM website. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular frameworks you can find.

  • Express — Express.js is a web-development framework inspired by Sinatra. It is one of the most popular modules for Node.js, and it is almost a standard for apps based on this platform.
  • Connect — Connect is an HTTP server framework that provides numerous plugins. This module acts as a foundation for Express.
  • Hapi — Hapi is a framework for services and web applications. It’s easy to use; it’s simple and highly modular.
  • Pug — Pug is a default in Express, and it is a templating engine. The module was previously called Jade, and HAML inspired it.
  • Socket.io — Socket.io and sockjs are the two most popular WebSockets you can find today.
  • MongoDB — It provides API for object databases.
  • Forever — Utility for ensuring that node scripts run continuously.
  • Bluebird — Promises/A+ implementation.
  • Moment — JS date library for validating, parsing, formatting, and manipulating dates.
  • Redis — Client library.

Benefits of Node.js

There are numerous reasons why Node.js might be the perfect choice for your project. We have already mentioned that not every project is suitable for this platform. Here are just a few of the most apparent Note.js benefits that you might reap.

We have already mentioned that there are numerous modules, and this might be its primary benefit. There are over sixty thousand modules you can try out, and it will save you a lot of time. There is no reason to try to reinvent the wheel when you can use the NRM repository.

Of course, the lightweight nature of the platform means incredible scalability. You can scale your app horizontally by deploying multiple instances to different servers. Furthermore, there are built-in modules that will allow you to fork the app process across all cores on the CPU.

If you are already familiar with JavaScript, it means you can use it both during frontend and backend development. While JS is often a primary choice for the frontend, now, you can use it across the entire production. This also means that you can reuse the same code between different components. It is simpler, convenient, and easy to apply.

There are millions of other reasons why Node.js might be beneficial for you, but the last thing we’ll mention is its popularity. Countless developers, companies, and businesses opt for Node.js, which just makes it clear how potent the platform is.

Which Big Companies Use Node.js?

You can try Node in many exciting ways. Let’s take a look at some of the examples and famous companies that have used this platform.

We have mentioned streaming platforms and collaborative tools as some examples of Node.js. Did you know that Netflix uses Node for its streaming platform? Yes, you read it correctly. The most popular streaming service uses Node.js. The same thing applies to Trello, which is an excellent tool for business.

Other companies we should mention are Uber, PayPal, LinkedIn, GoDaddy, Yahoo, eBay, and even NASA. These examples just show that it is an excellent tool for building an incredible web app.

When Not to Use Node.js

One of the main flaws of Node is that it doesn’t support multi-threading, at least not yet. This means that if you plan to design a heavy-computing app, you might be better off elsewhere. Similarly, you should avoid this platform for relational databases. It doesn’t perform to expected levels. There are many other programming languages that will do a better job.

Moreover, if you want to design a simple HTML or CRUD app, there is no reason to rely on Node. There is a chance that the end result will be slightly more scalable, and just because it is in Node, it doesn’t mean that there will be heavy traffic. It’s simply overdoing it. Ruby on Rails might be a better option.

Summary

Node is an excellent tool for software development, and it is based on JavaScript. Node.js applications are fast. They work on a single-thread and can be perfect for real-time programs, such as chats or streaming platforms. There are numerous Node.js examples among popular companies such as Netflix and Uber, and it is a great tool if you use it properly. We at The BlockBox are huge fans of this framework and have used it for most of our projects, including Casi and Apego, and many more which you can check out here.

However, there is a chance that this platform might not be a perfect choice for you. Any heavy-computing app will underperform if you opt for Node, and there are better options for you in that department.

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