Why Use Node.js – Everything You Need to Know

Deciding which tech stack is best for your newest project can be difficult.

Your decisions on the programming language, backend and frontend frameworks, runtime environment, and the server will shape the entire development process. Should you use Python or Ruby? Does Angular work better than React?

Now, if you've thought about using JavaScript for the application's backend, you've probably run into something called Node.js. It's only natural if you're a bit confused over what Node.js is, what it is used for, and why use Node.js.

We're here to answer all those questions, along with some popular examples of Node.js uses.

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What Does Node.js Do?

To explain what does Node.js do, as well as its features, we need to understand what it is in the first place.

Many developers find themselves confused when trying to explain what Node.js is. Even those that have experience with Node.js projects are sometimes boggled. We'll first try to explain what it isn't.

It's not a programming language, nor a framework. It's not a library, either. It's a runtime environment that is based on Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine. But what does this mean?

Imagine a developer creating a web application, such as a social media platform, using JavaScript for the backend. They will stick to all of the app development best practices. Once they're done with writing, they will compile the code and deploy it to the server.

Now imagine a user wanting to open that web application. To do that, the user's computer will send a request to the server, and the server will respond by executing the desired part of the code – send a message, upload a file, etc. Chrome's V8 is used to execute that JavaScript code.

Node.js, on the other hand, extends Chrome's V8. It uses Chrome's JavaScript runtime engine to execute JS code outside of a browser and allows JavaScript to run on the server side. Node.js has numerous libraries, frameworks, and tools that are essential to app developers.

The most important thing Node.js brings to the table is the ability to create two-way connections between client and server, where both can initiate communication and exchange data. Typically, the user is the one the makes the request, while the server simply responds.

Thanks to Node.js, JavaScript is now widely used in backend development.

Why Node.js is So Popular

There are numerous advantages to using Node.js. Let's see what makes it so popular and why use Node.js.

Non-blocking I/O

All the APIs of the Node.js library are non-blocking and asynchronous. This means that Node.js uses single threads, which do not block the execution of the program. It allows code to create new threads and run in parallel.

This is important when users are trying to access the database, as it allows them to process multiple requests simultaneously. We all know time is of great essence nowadays, right?

Shorter Development Time

As you know, reducing time-to-market is essential for the development process. The competition in web development is increasing, so you need to deliver a high-quality solution in a shorter period of time.

As Node.js has a ton of libraries, ready-to-use codes, and similar resources, it allows you to save a lot of coding time and effort. You can speed up the development process even more with the following tips:

  • Use TypeScript. It will save you time by catching errors before you run the code, so you won't have to waste your time debugging later.
  • Create Automation Tests. This will allow you to run the test each time you add a new feature, without worrying if you're too tired to do this manually at the end of the day.
  • Have Predefined Classes For Errors. By extending the BaseError class with error classes for possible types of errors, your error handler will be able to notice and fix all mistakes you make in the development process.

Fast-processing

Node.js is asynchronous and single-threaded.

This means that one I/O operation won't block other operations. As the web application can multitask, its users can send emails, read files, and query the database all at the same time. Also, as Node.js is single-threaded, it can easily handle a lot of concurrent client requests. Creating fewer threads also allows it to reduce memory or resource usage.

Scalable

One of the main reasons why use Node.js is its scalability, especially for microservices.

Basically, instead of creating a single, large monolithic core, the application is built as a suite of small services, each running in its own process and communicating with lightweight mechanisms. These smaller modules offer greater flexibility.

Using Node.js for microservices is especially useful for startups because it allows them to build a good foundation through microservices and easily add new features once ready.

Large Community

Developers across the world have created a sizeable community. This community is very supportive, not just when you're starting to use Node.js, but also later.

NPM or Node Package Manager is currently the biggest package manager registry in the world. It contains numerous tools and libraries you can use whenever you want to for your projects. This will save you a lot of time.

Also, developers have created many modules, ready-to-use solutions, codes, libraries, and registries that are available on GitHub.

Why Node.js is Not Always the Best Solution

Of course, Node.js also has some disadvantages. Let's see when you'll be better off using other technologies.

Difficulty Handling Heavy Computing Tasks

Despite its ability to deliver high-speed performance, Node.js is not good at handling heavy computing tasks.

When there's a large CPU-driven task in its event loop, Node.js will engage all of its available CPU strength to accomplish what's needed. This will slow the event loop down and affect the app even more.

Maintenance Problems

One of the biggest reasons why use Node.js in the first place is its asynchronous approach. This, however, has some drawbacks in terms of maintenance.

As we've explained, Node.js can handle the execution of multiple operations at the same time. However, some of these operations might be dependent on each other. They have to be extra careful and not allow them to run simultaneously.

For that reason, they may encounter maintenance problems, as changing one part of the code means they'll have to change other parts as well.

Lack of Experienced Developers

Node.js has become very popular in the last couple of years. According to Indeed's Hiring Lab, job searches for Node.js have risen by 57% in the past couple of years.

Funny enough, the biggest knowledge gaps appear to be in AngularJS, React, Node.js, and Spring, according to the research conducted by Hacker Rank.

Sure, students from universities are definitely interested in Node.js. But, many of them are hired early on by the big players, such as Netflix. This leaves little room for startups and companies that aren't corporations.

Why Use Node.js With ReactJS?

At the beginning of this blog, we mentioned the word "backend," but didn't get into more detail until this point.

Every web application has two parts: frontend and backend. A frontend is a visible part of the website, the interface. A backend is a part of the website responsible for storing and organizing data, and this part is invisible to the user.

Node.js, as a runtime environment, is used for backend development. It stores the app's data in the backend, on the server.

ReactJS, on the other hand, is a library used in frontend development, to build user interfaces. It was first used in 2011, for the Facebook Newsfeed feature. Eleven years later, it is widely used for frontend web development.

So, why use Node.js with React JS, instead of some other framework or programming language?

Well, combining these two technologies allows you to cut down on your web application development time, which is of the essence in terms of business impact. It is also way more convenient because you can hire full-stack developers, instead of having backend and frontend developers working separately.

Of course, you'll still need to implement some kind of software configuration management system, but it's much easier when there are full-stack JavaScript developers involved.

Examples of When to Use Node.js

Explaining why use Node.js is much easier when you know what kind of web apps it's best for.

Real-time Applications

We've already talked about how Node.js is fast-processing. Now, what better way to take advantage of that than to use it for real-time apps, such as one that has a chat or messaging feature?

Chat apps are typically lightweight, data-intensive (but low processing) applications with high traffic. Users rely on them to deliver the message the moment they hit the send button and expect to receive the message just as quickly.

Take Slack, for example. This messaging app for businesses is a great example of Node.js uses.

Fintech Applications

While Node.js is known for having difficulties dealing with processing a large amount of data, it's still used for the development of fintech apps. Some developers state that at least some parts of these apps should be developed in C# or Java, but look at PayPal.

This popular online payment platform has been developed in both Node.js and Java. PayPal stated that the version built in Node.js was built almost twice as fast with fewer people. At the same time, it was written in 33% fewer lines of code and built with 40% fewer files.

Considering that Node.js is suitable for cognitive robotics process automation, imagine what PayPal will look like in the next couple of years. It'll probably involve a chatbot that automates most of the process of opening a new account.

Social Media Platforms

Probably the most well-known example of Node.js in the development of social media platforms is Twitter, with its Twitter Lite app.

This app is designed for users with expensive data plans, a lack of storage, or an unreliable connection. It can load even on slower connections and is optimized for a 30% faster launch time.

While it was initially developed using Ruby on Rails, they moved all of the traffic to Node.js back in 2017.

Data-streaming Applications

Data-streaming apps send large amounts of data in small packages instead of a single batch, which is what Node.js is perfect for. With Node.js, it's even possible to process files while they're being uploaded (non-blocking I/O, remember?).

One of the most popular apps that use Node.js for data streaming is Netflix. You probably know what Netflix is, and so does the rest of the world, because of its rising popularity.

The entire app is built using JavaScript for both the frontend and backend parts. In the beginning, they were using Java for the backend, but they moved to Node.js because of the frequent errors and the need for debugging.

Once they moved to Node.js, these problems became way less frequent and easier to handle. Is there a better way to explain why use Node.js than through this example?

Applications in Need of Scalability

Since Node.js can handle a lot of traffic, it's a great option for apps that require scalability, such as Uber.

This platform can handle both the traffic on a regular Monday morning and New Year's Eve when the number of people using the app is much greater than usual. Obviously, this is exactly why they used Node.js for their backend.

Why Use Node.js Sum Up

Clearly, there are numerous reasons why use Node.js. It is extremely good at handling multiple tasks at the same time, it's scalable, and it creates a two-way connection between the client and the server. Its benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

Of course, there are cases when you'll be better off using some other tech stack, but this is something you'll discuss with the experts.

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