Best Practices for Node.js Development

Deborah Cohen

Since its initial release over a decade ago, Node.js has become one of the most popular platforms for developers. Node.js revolutionized the development world by allowing JavaScript to be used on desktop, bringing a wide range of features, benefits, and efficiencies to developers.

However, once you've started with Node.js, it can be complicated to know how to structure and format your code in the best way possible to reduce errors and create clean code. Here, we've compiled a few Node.js best practices to help.

We delve into a brief history and explanation to answer questions like 'what is Node.js?' and 'why & how to learn Node.js.' We also cover some best practices and some node.js tools to help you write code cleaner and more efficiently. Without further ado, let's jump in!


What is Node.js?

What is Node.js? Perhaps you've been using PHP for many years; Node.js can seem confusing. Afterall, Node.JS can mean different things to different people, based on their application of the software. If you've been scouring the internet for a definition – you've probably found several. Simply put, the creators of Node.js took JavaScript, a language which at that point could only be used inside a browser and created a program so developers could run it directly on their computers. This is also known as a runtime environment enabling developers to execute JavaScript code.

Before Node.js, JavaScript could only access your webpage inside your browser. One of the best Node.js tools is that it allows JavaScript to access all the files on your computer. Node.js is built on Google Chrome's JavaScript V8 engine – which is excellent. V8 is quick and powerful, and now it runs on your computer, allowing you to use JavaScript directly on your machine. This means you can listen to network traffic on your machine, HTTP requests you get, and send back files amongst much, much more.

One of the best parts of Node.js that have likely contributed to its massive popularity since its initial release over a decade ago is that it's free and open source. It has one of the largest ecosystems of open-source libraries of any programming dialect. Being open-source means as you build your application, there's likely a free, already developed solution.

Node.js also continues to evolve and develop. Now, whatever you could do with PHP or Ruby, you can do with JavaScript inside Node.js. However, there are some critical differences between how Node.js uses asynchronous programming compared to PHP or ASP. A significant difference is that Node.js is significantly quicker. PHP or ASP can be painfully slow when handling a file request.

It goes something like this: a task is sent to your computer's file system; it waits while the file system opens and reads said file; you have time to brew a cup of tea; then finally it returns the content to you before it's ready to handle the next request. It's not the end of the world, especially if you like tea, but Node.js cruises through file requests much quicker. For example, you send a task to the computer's file system, and voila, Node.js is now ready to handle its next request. Once the folder system has opened and read the file, the server returns content to the client. It's much more memory efficient and eliminates the waiting between requests.

So, why are there so many definitions of Node.js? Well, it depends on the application of the program. There are two main functions developers use Node.js for; web servers and utilities on your computer. Utilities on your computer would be the tools you use daily for development, such as gulp, the tools you'll use to build JavaScript. Typically, this would be a use case for a front-end developer. Alternatively, back-end developers are likely going to use Node.js for a web server use case, in which case Node.js could be an alternative to Ruby on Rails, Python, and so forth to build a web application.


How to Learn Node.js

Several considerable tech powerhouses like LinkedIn, Netflix, PayPal, and Uber use Node.js. Being backed by these big brands inspires confidence in the innovation of the software. It also means learning Node.js can make you a more attractive hire for employers.

Thankfully for you, Node.js is extremely easy to learn. This is, of course, assuming that most developers already have a basis of familiarity with JavaScript, arguably one of the most common programming dialects.

Node.js is great for prototyping and agile development. It can also be used to create extensive, scalable services. Lastly, it follows the ideology of 'JavaScript everywhere.' JavaScript everywhere means if you're a front-end developer familiar with JavaScript, you can transition to being a full-stack developer – making you more attractive to hire in potentially better, higher-paying positions.

average salaries for coding dialects
Learning Node.js can help you land a potentially better, higher-paying position. Salary data from https://www.codementor.io/@codementorteam/beginner-programming-language-job-salary-community-7s26wmbm6


Additionally, since you'll be writing in JavaScript in both the front and back end, your code turns out cleaner and more consistent – which means fewer bugs and fewer headaches. We won't go into the specifics in this article on how to learn Node.js. However, we encourage you to learn Node.js to expand your resume and portfolio.


Node.js Best Practices

So, hopefully, at this point, you're past the preliminary wondering of 'what is node.js' and 'how to learn Node.js.' Once you've begun to dive into Node.js, knowing how to structure your code, deal with errors, and write secure code can help you avoid messy code nightmares that end in launch disasters.

We're here to share a few Node.js practices that will help you write robust production applications.


Start Projects With npm init

First, all your projects should start with npm init. You may already be familiar with npm init; many developers use it to install dependencies. However, one Node.js tip is to also start your project with it. Why? This will allow you to add a plethora of metadata. Again, you may be wondering why. Setting up your project with npm init at the beginning means anyone who jumps on your project with you will have the same set-up as you.

Node.js tips: add npm init to the start of all projects
Add npm init to the start of all your projects. Coding example from https://www.codementor.io/@mattgoldspink/nodejs-best-practices-du1086jja


Use The Same Node.js Version

In addition to each team member having the same set-up as you – it's equally important to ensure they have the same version as you. Sure, keeping your modules updated isn't exclusively one of the top Node.js best practices – it's a good practice for any coding dialect. If your team is all running slightly different versions, the behavior or availability of APIs can all be a bit different. Save yourself the headache – it's easy; simply run the command lines below in your terminal.

It's a Node.js best practice to have each developer on the same version of Node.js
Run the following lines to ensure everyone on your team is running the same version of Node.js. Coding example from https://www.codementor.io/@mattgoldspink/nodejs-best-practices-du1086jja


Use Promises

When promises arrived natively in JavaScript, the world rejoiced! Okay, maybe it was just JavaScript developers. Regardless, promises made writing in JavaScript cleaner and more straightforward.

You might be wondering when to use Node.js promises to make life as a developer easier. Using promises can help you create cleaner, simpler to read code. For example, take a look at the example below:

Node.js coding written without promises generated
Writing JavaScript without promises creates code that is more difficult to read. Coding example from https://blog.risingstack.com/node-js-best-practices-2017/


This example of code is reading a file, parsing it, and printing the package name. It's a bit long and difficult to read. Instead, if you wrote this with promises, it would look something like this:

Node.js code written with promises
Writing JavaScript with promises creates a more readable code. Coding example from https://blog.risingstack.com/node-js-best-practices-2017/

Doesn't that just make you want to breathe a sigh of relief? It's cleaner, more concise, and quite frankly more natural to read. However, keep in mind the fs API doesn't include ReadFileAsync, which would return a promise. Keep it wrapped with a module like promsifyAll to ensure it works properly.

However, this isn't the only use for promises in JavaScript. They can also help you handle errors. When using async structures, promises can provide a .catch() handler to catch all the errors that need to be fixed.


Use a Style Guide

One of the best Node.js tips you can use to write better code is to use a style guide. We can't stress this enough. If you've been developing for any amount of time, you can relate to the overwhelming frustration, fear, anxiety, and panic that can wash over you from opening a file from another developer. You take a deep breath, brew a nice cup of coffee, and proceed to spend the next chunk of your life on menial tasks like reformatting the braces on different lines and changing spaces to tabs.

While we'd never discourage you from drinking a nice cup of coffee, the rest can be avoided by simply following a style guide. Now, we get it. Developers can be opinionated, and we're not going to dive into which style guide is perceived as the best – it's subjective. However, choosing one style and consistently sticking with it is arguably more quintessential to writing great code than which style you're using.

If the style is dictated, it becomes a whole lot easier to manage your codebase. As mentioned above, picking a style guide can be tricky. The 'best" is usually pretty subjective. Picking a pre-existing style guide can sometimes be easier. Here are a few examples proved by Matt Goldspink of Code Mentor:

Airbnb - https://github.com/airbnb/javascript

Google - https://google.github.io/styleguide/javascriptguide.xml

jQuery - https://contribute.jquery.org/style-guide/js/

Standard JS - http://standardjs.com/

Node.js Tools

As previously mentioned, Node.js is a free, open-source platform, meaning there are a lot of node.js tools already created to make your life easier when working with Node.js, including:

  • Express.js
  • Keystone
  • Koa.js
  • Webpack
  • CloudApp

Express.js:

Express.js is a powerful Node.js tool that can make creating mobile and web applications more straightforward and more efficient. Express.js offers features to help you develop web applications such as simplified multiple routing, template engines, and the ability to integrate databases.

Keystone:

Keystone is based on Express.js and allows you to jump quickly into creating applications with Node.js. It's a great option to help you create applications, APIs, and database-driven websites.

Koa.js

Koa.js is a self-described 'next-generation web framework for Node.js". Most developers love this node.js tool for its built-in plugin packages, and it's lack of dependencies on middleware.

Webpack

Webpack is one of the most commonly used Node.js tools. It allows developers to bundle assets quickly and simplifies the overall development process.

CloudApp

CloudApp is one of the most critical Node.js tools. This developer tool will help you and your team communicate and collaborate more efficiently with the aid of visuals like annotated screenshots, GIFs, and screen recordings.

Did you know nearly 100 percent of office workers list collaboration as a top priority? That means people recognize the need to work with others to accomplish goals. Office workers of all generations rely on one another.


Conclusion

Over the past decade, Node.js has understandably become one of the most popular platforms for developers. The open-source, free software has allowed many back-end developers to make the jump to full-stack development with relative ease. Learning Node.js is simple, and we hope these Node.js best practices and tools help you structure, format, and write cleaner, more efficient code.


Additionally, don't forget to pick up a free trial of CloudApp to help your team communicate and collaborate effortlessly.

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