Node.js's characteristics, including its non-blocking, asynchronous I/O and event-driven architecture, allow it to excel in a variety of application types.
Its versatility and a rich ecosystem of packages and libraries enable developers to create everything from real-time applications to web APIs, microservices, and IoT solutions. Node.js is a popular choice for developers looking to build efficient, scalable, and responsive applications across a broad spectrum of use cases.
It's particularly advantageous in scenarios where real-time capabilities, scalability, and asynchronous operations are essential, and it can be paired with frontend frameworks and libraries to create full-stack web applications.
- Server creation: Node.js allows developers to easily create web servers. Popular libraries and frameworks like Express.js streamline the process further. With Express.js, developers can define routes, handle HTTP requests, and set up server-side logic efficiently.
- Asynchronous operations: Node.js is known for its non-blocking, event-driven architecture. This is particularly advantageous in web applications where multiple tasks are executed simultaneously. For example, handling multiple user requests, performing I/O operations (such as reading from a database), and making external API calls can be managed asynchronously without blocking the entire application.
- API development: Building APIs is a common requirement for web applications. Node.js, in combination with Express.js or other frameworks, makes it easy to design and implement robust APIs that can serve data to frontend applications, mobile apps, or third-party services.
- Database connectivity: Node.js supports various database systems, and it's equipped with libraries like Mongoose (for MongoDB) and Sequelize (for SQL databases) that simplify database interactions. This is essential for web applications to store, retrieve, and manipulate data.
While Node.js is predominantly used for the backend, it can also play a role in frontend development, mainly through build tools and development environments. Here's how it is integrated with the frontend:
- Development environments: Node.js can be used to create development environments for the frontend. Tools like webpack-dev-server or create-react-app use Node.js to run a local development server. This server serves the frontend application and provides features like hot module reloading, making the development process more efficient.
- Server-side rendering (SSR): In certain cases, Node.js is employed for server-side rendering, allowing the server to render web pages before sending them to the client. Libraries like Next.js (for React) and Nuxt.js (for Vue) leverage Node.js to facilitate SSR. This enhances performance and SEO for web applications.
2. Internet of Things systems
Since 2012, when the popularity of IoT rose dramatically, Node.js has become one of the preferred solutions for enterprises and organizations seeking to develop their private and public IoT systems.
The most obvious advantage of Node.js as a back-end for such networks is its ability to process multiple concurrent requests and events emitted by thousands or even millions of devices on the network.
The avalanche of requests and data coming from IoT devices does not block Node.js web servers thanks to their event-driven architecture and asynchronous processing suitable for I/O-heavy operations on the IoT network. This makes Node.js fast as an application layer between these devices and databases used to store data originating from them.
In addition, IoT developers working in data-intensive scenarios can leverage the low resource requirements of Node.js. Low memory requirements allow for the easy integration of Node.js as software into single-board controllers such as Arduino, widely used for building digital devices that make up IoT systems.
Finally, the Node community has been an early adopter of the IoT technology, creating over 80 packages for Arduino controllers and multiple packages for the Pebble and Fitbit wearable devices widely used in IoT systems.
The maturity of the Node.js ecosystem for IoT explains why the environment has been used successfully in many IoT products. For example, Skycatch used Node.js in its specialized drones that take photos of construction sites and turn them into 3D models and data needed to kickstart construction projects.
Node.js is also used successfully in commercial products such as Siemens Smart Grid (Monet), a power management solution designed to save energy resources and detect energy use anomalies and potential hazards. Monet uses Node.js as an application layer and MongoDB for data storage, both hosted in the Microsoft Azure Cloud.
Many organizations use Node.js to build APIs for their web and mobile applications. Node.js is efficient at handling HTTP requests and can be combined with libraries like Express.js to create robust and scalable APIs.
Node.js is highly proficient at handling HTTP requests. Its asynchronous, non-blocking I/O model allows it to manage multiple concurrent requests without tying up system resources. This is particularly important for APIs, which frequently face numerous incoming requests from various clients, including web browsers, mobile apps, and other services.
Node.js is known for its efficiency in terms of response time and resource usage. Because of its non-blocking architecture, it can process requests quickly and doesn't keep clients waiting. This makes it a preferred choice for building APIs that need to provide fast responses, enhancing the overall user experience.
Express.js is a popular web framework for Node.js, which simplifies the creation of APIs. It provides a set of tools and features for defining routes, handling request and response objects, and structuring your API endpoints.
Node.js, in combination with Express.js, can be easily scaled to handle growing traffic and increasing API usage. The non-blocking architecture ensures that additional requests can be accommodated without compromising performance. This scalability is vital for APIs that need to serve a growing user base.
Finally, the Node.js ecosystem, especially the npm (Node Package Manager) repository, provides a vast selection of packages and modules. This is advantageous when you need to add specific features to your API, such as authentication, authorization, or data validation. You can find and integrate existing packages to expedite development.
4. Real-time chats
Real-time chat is any online communication tool that enables the live transmission of text, video, or audio messages from a sender to a receiver. Real-time chats can take the form of one-to-one or one-to-many group chats built on instant messaging (IM) or Internet Relay Chat (IRC) technologies.
These days, real-time chats are widely used in social networks, commercial sites, and pretty much everywhere on the Web.
Node.js provides all basic functionalities for building real-time chats of any complexity. In particular, Node has a powerful Event API that facilitates creating certain kinds of objects (“emitters”) that periodically emit named events “listened” by event handlers.
Thanks to this functionality, Node.js makes it easy to implement server-side events and push notifications widely used in instant messaging and other real-time applications.
Node’s event-based architecture also works well with the WebSockets protocol that facilitates a fast two-way exchange of messages between the client and the server via one open connection.
By installing WebSockets libraries on the server and the client side, you can implement real-time messaging that has lower overheads and latency, and faster data transfer than most other, more conventional, solutions.
In Node, you have excellent support for WebSockets via such libraries as socket.io, ws, or websocket-node, thanks to which you can easily deploy efficient real-time chats and applications.
With socket.io, for example, all you have to do to create a basic live chat is to install the socket.io library on the web server and the client, and create event emitters and broadcasters that will push messages across the WebSockets open connection. This basic functionality can be achieved with just a few lines of code.
5. Complex single-page applications
Single-Page Applications (SPAs) are a popular approach to web development in which an entire application fits on a single page with the goal of providing a user experience similar to a desktop app.
In SPAs, all client-side scripts are loaded into a single HTML page that works as the main entry point of the application, while all partial views are loaded into this central template on demand.
At the same time, background AJAX requests ensure that the application updates without the need for a full page reload, which makes it feel as if you were using a desktop application.
These days, SPAs are widely used to create social networking apps, online drawing and text tools, and many more. The classic example of a SPA is Gmail, with its AJAX-powered seamless updates of newly arrived messages.
Node.js is a great fit for SPAs thanks to its efficient handling of asynchronous calls and heavy I/O workloads characteristic of these applications.
Node.js’s event loop allows multiple concurrent requests from the client, which ensures smooth transitions between views and seamless data updates. Also, Node.js works well with data-driven SPAs, where the server acts as a backend that provides data to the client whereas the client does all the HTML rendering.
With such a web framework as Express available via the NPM repository, you can turn Node.js into a REST API streaming data and services from specific routes. Such an approach helps reduce the server’s load while ensuring API sharing across different applications and environments.
In this scenario, Node.js would only return the index page (index.html) while data would be sent via REST interfaces and controllers implemented server-side.
From the design point of view, such an approach will ensure the clear separation of concerns (SoC) between models, controllers, and views with all data-related services implemented server-side.
This results in faster development and better maintainability of your SPAs. The above advantages of Node.js have been leveraged by such famous SPAs as Netflix, LinkedIn, and Medium, to name a few.
6. Real-time collaboration tools
Real-time collaboration applications offer a wide variety of software solutions for co-browsing, project management, video and audio conferencing, application sharing, collaborative editing of documents, and more.
Among the most famous collaboration applications, one should mention Slack for group chats and management of remote teams, Trello for project management, and Google Docs for collective editing of documents.
As in the case of the real-time chats, Node’s asynchronous and event-based architecture is a great fit for collaboration apps. In these applications, many events and I/O requests occur concurrently.
For example, several users can edit the same paragraph, comment, post messages, and attach media. Changes to one piece of content might be applied only after a cascade of events, where each step depends on the previous one.
Node’s WebSockets and Event API will ensure that heavy I/O operations performed by many users do not make the server hang and that all server-side events and data are sent back to the client on time.
By emitting push notifications to the client, Node.js will also instantly update the collaboration environment so that all users have a single and coherent representation of the application.
This is precisely the reason why the team of the project management application Trello uses the Node.js technology stack. The engineering team of Trello decided that Node.js would be great to instantly propagate a lot of updates and hold a lot of open connections, thanks to its event-driven and non-blocking architecture.
Among other real-time collaboration apps built on Node.js, we should also mention Yammer, a freemium social networking service facilitating private communication in enterprises.
7. Streaming apps
Another type of applications you can build with Node.js are streaming apps. Unlike remote server apps, in application streaming, the program is executed on the end user’s local machine.
Application streaming allows for downloading parts of the application on demand without overloading the server and the local computer.
Initially, only certain parts of the application needed for bootstrap are downloaded, whereas the remainder can be downloaded in the background if needed. When the application is completely downloaded, it can function without any network connection at all.
In case you want to save some data in your account, the streaming apps can initiate server requests. Similarly, server events can update your local application without too much network traffic overhead.
Node.js is excellent for the development of such streaming applications thanks to its native Stream API.
In particular, Node.js has an interface of readable and writable streams that can be processed and monitored very efficiently. Stream instances are basically Unix pipes that allow transmitting parts of the app’s executable code to the local machine while keeping a connection open for new components to download on demand.
Streams allow users to pipe requests to each other, and stream data directly to its final destination.
As a bonus, streams do not require caching and temporary data – just an open connection to stream application data from one place to another.
8. Microservices architecture
Microservices architecture is a way of developing an application as a group of independent, small, and modular services each of which runs a unique single process and plays a specific role in the business logic.
Normally, microservices communicate via the HTTP/REST protocol with JSON or other data structure. In recent years, microservices architecture has become extremely popular with many major applications such as Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, and eBay, which have evolved from monolithic applications to a suite of microservices.
Node.js is an excellent solution for developing microservices and creating easy-to-use APIs to connect them. In particular, the Node.js repository features Express and Koa frameworks, which make it easy to mount several server instances for each microservice and design routing addresses for them.
Node.js with Express allows for creating highly flexible modules responsible for specific parts of your application.
In addition, Node.js can be easily integrated with Docker and will thus allow you to encapsulate microservices in hermetic containers to avoid any conflicts between the application development environments used in each of them. Using Node.js for microservices also benefits from Node’s lightweight requirements.
Microservices architecture also helps manage the division of labor in your engineering teams efficiently, enabling them to work on specific tasks without affecting other parts of your application.
These benefits have been successfully leveraged by PayPal, world’s leading online payment system, which has used Node.js to power its microservices architecture since 2013.
PayPal modularized its application stack and split the development process into many microservices, and thus organized their teams to work on them more efficiently. PayPal was able to scale Node.js so that multiple teams could work on the same project.
The results of this transition were stunning. PayPal’s Node.js app could be built twice as fast and with fewer people. The company has managed to reduce its code base and better performance, where a single core Node app could handle twice as many rps (requests per second) than 5 Java apps used by PayPal before.
Node.js apps are known for their speed, scalability, versatility, and ability to handle real-time and asynchronous tasks efficiently. These characteristics make Node.js a popular choice for a wide range of application types across web and server-side development.
- Node.js is great for building applications with heavy client-side rendering, multiple concurrent requests, and frequent shuffling of data from a client to a server.
- Whenever you think about building heavy I/O and data-driven applications, Node.js should definitely be the first option on your list.
- That said, Node.js is not so good for developing CPU-intensive applications that involve the generation and processing of images, audio, or video.
- Being a single-threaded solution, Node.js may become unresponsive and slow in processing large files. In this case, conventional multi-threaded solutions will be your best bet.