Node.js: An Introduction for Decision Makers
December 8, 2020 / in Computer Science, Education, Tech Advice,

Summary: Learn more about Node.js, the free open-source, cross-platform server environment! Discover if it could be the right choice for your next web application. ​

The JavaScript Backstory


JavaScript is a popular web programming language most often associated with client side or front-end development. Simply put, JavaScript is the language that interacts with the web page’s elements directly through the HTML DOM and is responsible for binding events to DOM elements. Other responsibilities include adding, editing, and deleting DOM elements, and most importantly, the firing of web service calls (often via AJAX) to the back-end. Most developers have experience with JavaScript, because it's everywhere.

Node.js runs the V8 JavaScript engine, the core of Google Chrome, outside of the browser. Continue reading to learn more about why Node.js a popular environment ideal for a wide variety of projects.

Node.js Structure

Node.js is software that allows JavaScript to run on the server. Before deciding whether or not Node.js is a good option for your next web application, it is important to understand how it works.

Node.js can be installed on any platform. It can run on Windows, Linux or Mac. This can save a lot of headaches when configuring and coding the application and prevent your application from being tied to any particular server architecture.

Other platforms and applications normally have an application starting point event, function, or file, where code is run linearly with a well-defined beginning and end. Node.js is different. Events are defined and attached to a server port, where they wait to run code until an event is triggered.

Node.js runs single-threaded, non-blocking, and asynchronously, meaning it's both incredibly fast and memory efficient due to the way that the server handles a new request. A new thread is not created, instead Node.js starts running at the same time and is always ready to handle the next request. This consumes less memory and makes the server fast, but it is important to understand when this is useful and when it may not be the best approach for a given set of business needs. This approach does not work as well as other options when the application needs to perform a big, long, and complexed calculation. However, it's ideal when it's required to perform several actions at the same time or handle a high traffic load (horizontal scaling).

Apart from being fast and asynchronous, Node.js is also lightweight thanks to its modular approach. Node.js code can be seen as defined modules on ports. Common frameworks are heavy and contain all the references possible to use within that framework even if they aren’t used in a particular implementation. On the other hand, since Node.js defines modules, the references are only loaded when they are deliberately included (they need to be included with the ‘require’ keyword).

Front-End + Back-End

Taking into consideration that Node.js is cross platform, asynchronous and lightweight, it’s often a good option for many API’s or other back-end projects where each operation requested is comparatively lightweight in scope. JavaScript has historically been limited to the front-end, but now, in many cases it's a legitimate back-end technology as well.

This is another great advantage. Now, both the front-end and back-end for an application can be done within the same language.

For the front-end, JavaScript alone is not sufficient. The developer also needs HTML, CSS, and knowledge in frameworks such as Angular, React, etc. This has always been the way for JavaScript. The same can be said for using JavaScript on the back-end, where familiarity with new modalities and different libraries and frameworks can round out a back-end JavaScript developer’s skillset. However, you can imagine the great potential efficiencies and savings unlocked by having the same pool of developers familiar with a language equally powerful on both! This is the ultimate promise of Node.js.

Popularity & Community

After exploring some of Node.js’s characteristics, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that even big companies are choosing to use Node.js in production environments. Some examples include: Netflix, LinkedIn, Walmart, Uber, PayPal and many more. Being popular and active in various production environments and companies makes Node.js a technology that has one of the biggest advantages for any technology under evaluation, the community. Node.js has a very large and fast-growing community, thanks to its efficiency and its unique abilities. This helps because if an environment running Node.js presents an issue or needs diagnostics or maintenance, it is highly probable that someone else has already encountered the same issue, and the solution can be easily found and digested.

A big community for a given technology means that there is a lot of support and documentation on the web, which can drastically shorten the time-to-resolution. A big community gives rise to another advantage, Node.js has a package manager (NPM) available to facilitate downloading and using third party libraries. There are countless extensions in these libraries that offer solutions to most problems that a developer might face, reducing the learning curve or development time of the project.

Conclusions

Node.js is an exciting option for many web applications when its high efficiency and lightweight, modular design are taken into consideration. It can handle high traffic loads and high concurrency with sometimes game-changing performance compared to many other platforms. Running a back-end project on Node.js is comparatively simple, and since the majority of developers are already skilled to some degree with JavaScript, synergies and efficiencies on your team could be very advantageous.

Finally, Node.js has become so popular in the last few years that it now has a large community that have created thousands of solutions and extensions for tackling all sorts of common problems. If your next project will be highly concurrent, and your team has a lot of existing experience with JavaScript, considering Node.js makes a lot of sense.

Interested in using Node.js in your next project, but need a highly skilled Node.js developer to round out your team? 

number8 can help with that. Connect with us today or continue exploring all of our custom software development and remote staff augmentation services here.

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