What is Node.js?
Its unquestionable advantage is the ability to manage libraries and developer dependencies through NPM efficiently (Node Package Manager) software which includes, among others: Gulp, Express, Grunt, jQuery or React, and more.
It is not without reason that many brands recognizable around the world, e.g., Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Linked or PayPal, use Node.js. What is particularly important, the solution can be successfully used in building serverless applications when developing projects in the cloud.
The history of Node.js
Node.js is a relatively new technology created in 2009 by Ryan Dahl, and its first version only supported macOS and Linux. Dahl initially developed and maintained the technology himself but soon received support from Joyent, which became the official sponsor of Node.js.
The idea for Node.js came about due to the limitations of the then-most popular web server, Apache HTTP Server. Dahl criticized the server's ability to handle multiple connections (10,000 or more) simultaneously. He noted that when one blocked code or an alleged stack of multiple executions occurs, the server creates problems that can only be solved with sequential code. He wanted to develop a technology that would significantly improve the work of a web server.
In June 2011, thanks to the cooperation of Joyent with Microsoft, a native version of Node.js supporting Windows was created. A year later, Dahl quit working on the further development of the technology, and his place was taken by the creator of the altitude, Isaac Schlueter. In 2014, Fedor Indutny launched io.js, a compatible Node.js platform. In 2019, the nonprofit Node.js and io.js joined forces to create the OpenJS Foundation.
When to use Node.js?
Like any other platform, Node.js has its advantages and disadvantages, which can only be revealed when we know the problem we are trying to solve. Although, in theory, Node.js can replace any other platform, there are situations when it won’t be the best possible choice for a given task.
It’s a perfect solution for network applications that don't require extensive computing resources. Therefore, if we perform a relatively “light” task for each connected client, for example downloading data from the database and sending it back in JSON format, Node will bring its competitors to their knees. This will be especially true when the server receives a huge number of requests per second. It turns out that Node is not only great at it but also uses little server resources (mainly RAM).
The platform will be great for all kinds of real-time network applications, i.e., those that transfer data in two directions without reconnecting to the server. An ideal example is a chat application. After connecting to the server for the first time, the user can forward his messages and receive messages from others simultaneously. Another example would be a multiplayer network game or a live stock charting application.
The uses mentioned above are areas where Node is doing exceptionally well. However, these are only some of the tasks that can be entrusted to this platform. So, if you’d like to create a website with an administration panel that will allow, for example, adding entries and a frontend layer that will display these entries - you can use Node.js without fear.
Node.js - pros and cons
Some of the undoubtful Node.js advantages are:
It’s the only language with an extensive database of free packages/libraries/modules. NPM (Node Package Manager) currently includes over 1.3 million libraries! It means that you can create projects much faster because most of the functionality you need is probably already written.
It’s one of the fastest-growing web technologies in the world. There are about 20 million pages made with Node, which is about 1.5% of all sites on the Internet, while two years ago, it was merely 0.7%.
It’s asynchronous, which allows for millions of connections at the same time. When PayPal migrated to Node, it improved its page speed by 35%!
It has a great community - 51.9% of professional developers use Node.js, which means it will be much easier for you to find any information, answer a question, tutorial, course, or anything else you may need.
Node.js can be used literally everywhere. You can build backend applications, use them on the front end (e.g., with bundlers such as webpack or gulp), or even create desktop apps (using, for example, electron).
But Node.js has its downsides, too:
The environment runs in a single-threaded event-based mode. The application will become unresponsive or slow significantly during CPU-intensive operations such as processing large files, large amounts of data, or image editing.
The module ecosystem is still immature. It is difficult to judge the quality of the selected module before installing it in the application.
Thanks to the ease of publishing your packages and the need for a reliable module approval mechanism, we should pay more attention when selecting modules and verifying their recent activities, such as bug fixes or updates.
Node.js elements characteristics
The most important functions of the environment are its asynchronicity and event control. The events’ timing and sequence are not specified in the event-driven programming architecture. The emerging events are handled only when there are free resources. This approach results in better use of resources, greater code separation, and loose coupling of components.
NPM - Node Package Manager
The default package manager for Node.js can be used to manage the frontend layer of a web application. NPM is also a package repository (called the NPM registry) and the company’s name (NPM, Inc.) that manages it.
Asynchronous Input / Output (AIO) allows an application (even one application thread) to overlap I / O and data processing. The event loop runs on a single thread, and each long-term task is executed asynchronously as working threads.
The event loop is based on LibUV, responsible for the so-called queuing and asynchronous repetition.
Operation on one thread allows for avoiding unnecessary switching between processor contexts.
During compilation, the execution is optimized by removing "dead" code or predicting the branching of loop execution. An efficient garbage collector handles memory management.
How to choose a good Node.js specialist?
Choosing a specialist in Node.js is the basis of your project’s success. It is essential that the company you choose can match the best possible technology and be able to apply it. The essence of success is, therefore: a professional Node.js developer and optimal technology, guaranteed only by a software house experienced in the Node.js environment.
When choosing a contractor, it is worth paying attention to their achievements, as well as the opinions of their clients. It is also vital to analyze and be willing to obtain information about your vision in the phase preceding the project kickstart and even the appraisal.
An MVP made with the use of Node.js allows you to assess the value of an idea on the market, on a group of real customers. So, if a software house suggests a selection of the essential functionalities and basing the MVP on NodeJS, it is not about narrowing down your vision. The aim is its factual verification while minimizing costs. Such methodology often means a gradual development process and increasing the project’s attractiveness.
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