What is Node.js?

Paul Chien's picture

JavaScript has traditionally only run in the web browser, but recently there has been considerable interest in bringing it to the server side as well, thanks to the CommonJS project. Other server-side JavaScript environments include Jaxer and Narwhal. However, Node.js is a bit different from these solutions, because it is event-based rather than thread based. Web servers like Apache that are used to serve PHP and other CGI scripts are thread based because they spawn a system thread for every incoming request. While this is fine for many applications, the thread based model does not scale well with many long-lived connections like you would need in order to serve real-time applications like Friendfeed or Google Wave.

Node.js, uses an event loop instead of threads, and is able to scale to millions of concurrent connections. It takes advantage of the fact that servers spend most of their time waiting for I/O operations, like reading a file from a hard drive, accessing an external web service or waiting for a file to finish being uploaded, because these operations are much slower than in memory operations. Every I/O operation in Node.js is asynchronous, meaning that the server can continue to process incoming requests while the I/O operation is taking place. JavaScript is extremely well suited to event-based programming because it has anonymous functions and closures which make defining inline callbacks a cinch, and JavaScript developers already know how to program in this way. This event-based model makes Node.js very fast, and makes scaling real-time applications very easy.