Node.JS

When You Should and Shouldn’t Use Node.js for Your Project

Learn about how Node.js works and when it can benefit your project the most

Event-Driven

Events are at the core of the Node.js architecture. It uses an event loop that listens to events and passes them to event handlers. For example, say you are sending a request from your web browser to a Node.js server. This triggers an event loop in the server that listens to HTTP requests. The event loop then calls the associated callback function to handle the emitted event. At the end of the first event handler’s execution, it again emits another event to pass it on to the next event handler. This process continues until the task is completed. Most modules of Node.js implements an event loop that listens to and responds to events in a loop.

Node.JS Event Loop

Single-Threaded

Node’s event loop uses a single-threaded implementation when handling events. Each event is handled one after another in the order they arrive by a single processor thread. The requests received to a Node web server are served in the order they were received.

Node.JS vs Traditional

Asynchronous/ Non-Blocking

You may now have a question? How can a single thread handle more events at a given time than a thread pool if events are handled one after another and not concurrently? This is where Node’s asynchronous model steps in. Even though the Node’s event loop implementation is single-threaded, it achieves a concurrent-like behavior with the use of callbacks.

Node.JS Request Model

When to Use Node.js?

Now back to our main question. When should you use Node.js for your projects? Considering the main features of Node.js and its strengths, we can say data-driven, I/O-driven, event-driven, and non-blocking applications benefit the best from a Node.js implementation.

Web Servers

Web servers are a perfect use case that benefits from Node’s inherent features. Node’s event-driven implementation can be used to trigger events in the server every time a request from the client-side is received. The single-threaded and asynchronous features ensure that the server can serve a large number of requests at a given time using callbacks. Sending responses back to the client-side is handled by these callbacks while the event loop keeps accepting and passing the receiving requests to event handlers without much delay.

Real-Time Applications

Real-time applications, like chat applications, video conferencing, and online-gaming, benefit from Node’s inherent set of features. These data-intensive applications require the use of websockets and push technology to establish two-way communication between the server and the client. Node’s ability to handle I/O-intensive tasks and its high scalability are the main reasons why the language is being commonly used for real-time applications. These characteristics make Node apps faster compared to other languages.

Command-line Applications

Building command-line applications are another common application of Node.js. The simple syntax, fast development, and the number of packages available for this purpose are the reasons why Node has become a popular command-line application language.

Creating APIs

Creating APIs with Node.js is gaining increasing popularity. Combine this with the language’s ability to integrate well with NoSQL databases, Node becomes a good fit for creating API fronts for NoSQL databases.

When Not to Use Node.js

Programs with features that don’t blend well with Node’s characteristics are not a good fit for Node.js development. In general, blocking, processor-intensive, and computational-intensive programs fall under this category.

Heavy Computational Applications

If your application is likely to run tasks that involve heavy computing and number crunching, like running the Fibonacci algorithm, Node.js is not the best language to turn to. As discussed above, the heavy computation blocks the single-thread running in the application and halts the progress of the event loop until the computation is finished. And it delays serving the requests still in the queue, which may not take as much time.

Backends with Relational Databases

Still, Node’s relational database support tools are not up to the expected level when compared to other languages. This makes Node an undesirable for use cases with relational databases. However, this situation is fast changing. High-quality ORM libraries like Sequealize and TypeORM are already available for Node developers. It may not take long to scratch this point out of the when-not-to-use-node.js list.

Conclusion

Like any programming language out there, Node.js is best suited for some programming tasks and not suitable for some others. Taking advantage of Node’s superiority in different aspects is your job as a programmer. When it comes to Node, its event-driven, single-threaded, and asynchronous features give it superiority in speed and scalability. But they put Node at a disadvantage where computational heavy tasks are considered. Now it’s up to you to take advantage of the language’s better qualities for appropriate situations.

I’m an entrepreneur, developer, author, speaker, and doer of things. I write about JavaScript, Python, AI, and programming in general.

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