Why use Node.js? | The key to building scalable and fast web applications

In the world of web development, the emergence of Node.js, an open-source and cross-platform runtime environment, has transformed the entire server-side development process. This allowed corporations like Netflix and PayPal to build scalable, high-performance applications using a single programming language across the stack and enhance efficiency significantly. With JavaScript dominating the web, a need for simplicity emerged - thus, Node.js was born and changed the way to build web applications.

What makes Node.js special?

Let’s first have a look at what makes Node.js so popular. Just like JavaScript, it profits off all the different ways to use it in your application. The seamless integration with JavaScript makes it the go-to solution when it comes to web development.

Asynchronous and non-blocking

Efficiency by design - Node.js operates on a non-blocking, event-driven input/output model, making it lightweight and efficient. What does this mean? Node.js listens to events, sends the event “away” to get it done, and while that event is being finalized already looks at the next event coming in, and repeats this workflow. This approach is particularly suited for data-intensive, real-time applications running on distributed devices, improving performance and scalability. We go into more detail about this in our real-life examples below.

Feature-rich ecosystem

NPM: The world’s largest software registry - The famous Node Package Manager (NPM) provides access to hundreds of thousands of reusable packages. It also simplifies dependency management, allowing developers to easily share and update code across projects. Being part of the JavaScript ecosystem, the 1.3 million packages are either standardised in ECMAScript Module (ESM) or CommonJS which makes npm packages easy to import into your projects.

Speed and performance

Powered by V8 - Node.js leverages Google Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine to compile JavaScript directly into native machine code. This conversion process increases application execution speed, and gives it even more use cases beyond web applications, making Node.js an optimal choice for projects that require high performance.

Advantages of Node.js

Key benefits of Node.js

Real-world success stories: How Netflix improved their service with the help of Node.js

Given all these features and ways to implement Node.js into systems, it’s not surprising that companies like Netflix, PayPal, Spotify, and eBay switched to Node.js and benefited from the performance gains.

Netflix significantly reduced launch time and improved user experience by adopting Node.js, so much so that they decided to become a member and support the OpenJS Foundation financially. Guilherme Hermeto, Senior Platform Engineer at Netflix, started this new journey on an existing Node.js infrastructure.

The challenge they faced was a tricky one: Netflix was in the process of a shift, a change in their business model. Being a web streaming service for years, they now wanted to focus on being a content production platform, thus the existing infrastructure had to change, too. Netflix needed more applications than before and solved that by transitioning to plugins. They separated the infrastructure’s functions but made sure to keep components reusable across applications. With the use of application profiles, Hermeto aimed for even more structure, stability, and reusability. Embracing the features Node.js offers helped Netflix become the gigantic streaming service we know today.

Node.js success story: Netflix

Netflix improved their service using Node.js

Other success stories

  • Uber processes massive amounts of data quickly and reliably with Node.js, supporting its global operation
  • LinkedIn improved application performance and reduced servers for hosting significantly
  • eBay manages high traffic and delivers microservices efficiently
  • PayPal reduced response times, improved page loading, and streamlined operations immensely

A brief history of Node.js

Node.js was created by Ryan Dahl and initially released in May 2009 to develop a more scalable way to build network programs. Dahl was motivated by the limitations of the most popular web server at the time, the Apache HTTP Server, particularly its handling of concurrent connections. By using non-blocking, event-driven I/O, Node.js was designed to improve the scalability and performance of web applications, especially those requiring real-time capabilities.

In 2010 the package manager npm was released, Node.js wasn’t even released in V1 when that happened, which shows how significant npm was to the growth of Node.js. So much so, that quickly afterward the Node.js Foundation was established, which is known today as the OpenJS Foundation. In 2016 Node.js 6 was released with full support for ECMAScript 6. Just one year later, in 2017, Node.js 8 went public and brought the long-awaited async/await support.

In 2022 Node.js took a huge step towards compatibility and launched an experimental support for the Fetch API, bringing Node.js closer to web standards. The last major release was in 2023, when the popular JavaScript runtime environment focused on security and performance improvements, as well as support for the latest ECMAScript standards, demonstrating Node.js’s commitment to web development trends and developer needs.

What types of applications are worth using Node.js for?

Node.js is particularly well-suited for applications that require real-time data processing, high concurrency, and fast throughput. Its non-blocking architecture makes it an excellent choice for:

TypeScript & Node.js: A Powerful Combination

TypeScript, a superset of JavaScript developed by Microsoft, brings static typing to the JavaScript world, improving code quality and readability, and making it easier to maintain large-scale applications. Combined with Node.js, TypeScript provides a robust environment for server-side development, allowing developers to write type-safe code that compiles to JavaScript and can be executed by Node.js.

This synergy between TypeScript and Node.js not only increases developer productivity, but also leverages the strengths of both technologies: the dynamic capabilities and rich ecosystem of Node.js, and the strong typing and object-oriented features of TypeScript.

For more insight into TypeScript and how it complements Node.js in web development projects, visit our TypeScript landing page.

Conclusion: The future is TypeScript on the server

Node.js represents a significant shift in web development, underscoring the importance of JavaScript across the stack. Its efficiency, speed, and scalability make it an excellent choice for building modern web applications. By embracing Node.js, organizations worldwide, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, are profiting off the power of its unparalleled efficiency, scalability, and development speed in the JavaScript landscape. The top reasons for companies to choose Node.js are:

  • Scalability: Perfect for microservices architecture, allowing enterprises to scale their applications effortlessly.

  • Performance: Easily handles concurrent requests, improving user experience and application responsiveness.

  • Community: A vibrant, active open-source community supports Node.js, providing a wealth of resources, tools, and libraries.

  • Flexibility: No strict conventions, giving developers the freedom to build applications their way.

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