What is Node.js?

The invention of Node.js by Ryan Dahl in 2009 made running JavaScript possible even while outside of a web browser. Spurred by the limited possibilities of the available web services at the time, Dahl strived to create a system that could handle concurrent connections more quickly. Today, Node.js is primarily used to build network programs such as web servers.

So, is Node.js the same thing as JavaScript? Not really. With the invention of Node.js, JavaScript can be run as a standalone application on any machine, but Node.js is strictly the runtime environment that makes it possible to run JavaScript outside of a browser. By explanation, a runtime environment is the hardware and software infrastructure that allows the code to run in real-time.

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Node.js can be used to run a background daemon, build software or execute a program from a terminal. Although the terms “front end” and “back end” are primarily used to refer to website development, the terminology can be applied to Node.js, which functions outside of a web browser, to describe either client-side or server-side processes respectively.

With this understanding, it can be noted that Node.js is neither a specific front-end nor back-end environment. Instead, it can be used almost anywhere, aside from a browser, to perform both front-end and back-end functions. For instance, Node.js is able to smoothly perform back-end functions such as requesting a database, while also frequently used for front-end purposes like creating command utilities and building processes.

Node.js is open-sourced, which means users can study, change and distribute it freely. Built on Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine and known for efficiency, Node.js is a popular choice for programmers. Although Node.js only supports JavaScript, applications can be translated using compile-to-JS languages like CoffeeScript, ClojureScript, Dart and TypeScript.

Node.js was explicitly invented to provide an event-driven, non-blocking input/output (I/O) model to allow for more efficient processing. To break it down, I/O refers to communication between various systems. For instance, another information system might make a request, known as an “input,” the response to which would be an “output.” Blocking occurs when other systems are halted to deal with I/O. Non-blocking, on the other hand, allows for other processes to continue working, increasing speed considerably. 

In Node.js, I/O is performed asynchronously, allowing for many connections to be handled concurrently. Basically, no function in Node.js directly performs I/O, so blocking does not happen. No blocking makes Node.js a great choice to support scalable systems that can expand to meet increasingly demanding workloads.

In simpler terms, Node.js is popular to use for many reasons, including the following:

  • It uses JavaScript, a language many developers already know.
  • It can process multiple requests without blocking to slow things down.
  • It is capable of supporting complex programming, allowing it to grow with a user’s needs. 

Node.js versus Thread-Based Networking

As mentioned above, Node.js is built to be fast and scalable through the use of an asynchronous, non-blocking I/O model. In contrast, most programming is created using a concurrency model that relies on threading. Threads exist as subsets of processes and are the smallest units of coded instructions. Thread-based programs can be single-threading or multi-threading, depending on whether or not they can handle multiple threads at the same time.

Thread-based networking is challenging to work with and can be very inefficient. Although Node.js is technically considered single-threading, it is prevented from blocking by its asynchronous programming, whereas multi-threading programs will block while an operation is occurring. Simply put, unlike multi-threading programs, the event loop in Node.js will continue running while the I/O is processing.

Node.js Modules

Node.js programming is completed using modules for various functions. Although it would be possible to code in one index, creating modules allows for an organized, more easily debugged code. Because each module is contained in its own space, there is less chance it will pollute the functions of other modules.

Creating content in modules serves to keep functions within the programming as streamlined as possible. Making coding even simpler for programmers, Node.js comes with built-in modules to help avoid and solve coding problems. Additionally, since Node.js is open-sourced, there is an extensive library of codes that can be easily accessed, allowing coders to write, share and swap codes that perform different functions.

Why Use Node.js

Node.js shines for use in I/O applications that require speed, scalability and concurrent connections. These applications include game apps, real-time apps, video and audio streaming, live chats, stock exchange software and collaboration tools.

Some popular programs built with Node.js include Netflix, PayPal, Trello, Linkedin, Yahoo and eBay. Through the use of Node.js, these tech giants have reduced startup time, increased performance, provided instant updates, upgraded to mobile service and improved speeds.

Node.js is simple to use and easy to scale, monitor and deploy. Its highly efficient programming works well for both front-end and back-end functions. For coders familiar with JavaScript, Node.js is the perfect choice as it can allow for coding to be managed by existing team members.

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