If you’re considering a career as a Back-End Developer, you might’ve heard about Node.js. Node.js is an open-source, server-side runtime built on Google Chrome’s V8 JavaScript Engine.

Before Node.js, the programming language JavaScript could only be executed in the browser. Developers had to rely on other languages for server-side development, including Apache HTTP Server, Python, PHP, and Java. After it was developed in 2009 by Ryan Dahl, Node.js allowed developers to run JavaScript on a server or locally on their computer.

This quickly made Node.js an extremely popular platform because it gave Front-End Developers the ability to write back-end code for their applications in the same language — and it’s still popular today, ranking first in Stack Overflow’s list of the top web frameworks and technologies. Ahead, we’ll explore how Node.js is used to build different types of applications and the pros and cons of using it.

What is Node.js used for?

Node.js can be used for all types of applications, but it’s commonly found in back-end, real-time, and IoT (Internet of Things) applications.

Back-end applications

As we explained earlier, Node.js enables developers to use JavaScript in both the back end and the front end. This makes it popular with companies who would prefer to work with one programming language across their tech stack.

It’s also well-suited for microservices architecture, which involves breaking up a large monolithic service into smaller services that can scale easily. Many companies — both large and small — have switched from back-end services written in other programming languages to Node.js. Studies show that it’s currently used in over 30 million websites.

Real-time applications

Another common use-case for Node.js is real-time applications. Node.js is event-driven and asynchronous, meaning it handles heavy input/output operations quickly and efficiently.

This makes it perfect for real-time applications like chat apps and chatbots. Socket.IO is a Node.js library used in chat and other real-time applications because it allows bidirectional  communication between a browser and a server. And when more processing power is needed, Node.js microservices can scale more quickly.

Node.js’ utility in real-time applications also allows it to be used in streaming services. Ever wondered how platforms like Netflix manage to stream videos to millions of users all over the world? In 2018, Netflix switched many of its APIs to Node.js to make streaming more efficient. Its asynchronous, non-blocking input/output abilities make it the perfect choice to stream videos and music without buffering or slowing down.

IoT applications

Node.js is also a great platform for IoT development, which has been growing in recent years. IoT devices are constantly sending data back to a server for processing. Node.js can process the billions of concurrent requests created by IoT devices and process event data seamlessly without bogging down.

If more processing power is needed, scaling is available. Its event-driven server architecture is especially suited to processing all these requests asynchronously. Tessel 2 is a popular robotics and IoT development platform written for Node.js that makes developing IoT devices simple.

What are the advantages of Node.js?

It didn’t take long for Node.js to become a popular language with developers and enterprises. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Relatively low learning curve: Most Front-End Developers are already familiar with JavaScript, so learning Node.js feels natural.
  • Full-stack development: Using JavaScript in both the front end and the back end means that the same developers can work on both parts of the app and better grasp how the two ends work together. (To learn more about how the two interact, check out our Connecting Front-End to Back-End course.)
  • Community support: There is a huge online community of Node.js developers that will lend a helping hand when you get stuck. Many tech giants — like Amazon, Google, and Facebook — contribute some of the third-party libraries in the Node.js ecosystem.
  • Scalable architecture: Node.js features allow microservices architecture to break an application into multiple services to scale up.
  • High-performance for real-time applications: The single-threaded, event-driven architecture of Node.js allows it to process many concurrent requests without slowing down the application.
  • Saves development time and money: When you use Node.js for your server-side code, you only need JavaScript developers to work on both the front-end code and the back-end code instead of hiring two separate teams.

What are the disadvantages of Node.js?

Like any other technology, Node.js also has some disadvantages. They include:

  • Lowered performance for heavy computing tasks: The single-threaded, event-driven features of Node.js aren’t well-suited to heavy processing tasks. Node.js added “worker threads” in 2018, but it still falls short of other programming languages when it comes to CPU-bound tasks.
  • Frequent API changes: The API for Node.js changes frequently when there are updates to the runtime. This often means that code written for one version of Node.js may not work for a new version and will have to be updated.
  • Inconsistent NPM libraries: NPM is a package manager that Node.js uses for third-party libraries. While many of these libraries are top-notch, some can be of poor quality and not documented well.
  • More demand than developers available: The demand for Node.js developers is growing faster than the pool of developers who know the technology. This means it can be hard for businesses to find the right developers, but it’s also a good thing if you’re considering becoming a Node.js developer because your skills will be in demand.

Learn more about Node.js

Ready to jump into Node.js? Your first step is to learn JavaScript — and it also helps to know a little HTML. Once you’ve gotten the basics of those two languages down, try our Learn Node.js course.

You can also check out our Back-End Engineer career path. We’ll show you how to use Node.js and frameworks like Express.js to build complete back-end applications, and you’ll also use tools like SQL and PostgreSQL to build and manage databases. Plus, you can use the projects you build in this course to create a portfolio that’ll help you land a job.

Ready to get started? Sign up now!

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JavaScript is a fun and flexible programming language. It’s one of the core technologies of web development and can be used on both the front-end and the back-end.

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