Understanding the difference between scope and context in a JavaScript method

JavaScript

scope and contextSometimes the concepts of scope and context are misunderstood in JavaScript. It is important to understand that they are not the same thing. This is particularly important inside of a method.

In JavaScript, the concept of scope refers to the visibility of variables. On the other hand, the concept of context is used to mean: “the object to which a method belongs”. That may sound like an odd statement, but it is accurate. The only time we care about context is inside a function. Period. Inside a function, the “this” keyword is very important. It refers to the object to which that function belongs. In other words, every function is a property of some object. In client-side JavaScript (i.e. in a browser), if you declare a function at the top of your code, then that function is a property of the window object. So, inside of that function, the “this” keyword refers to the window object. If you create a new object (let’s call it: “myObject”) and add a method (i.e. a property that happens to be a function), then inside of that function, the “this” keyword refers to the object (i.e. “myObject”).

So the main issue is that inside of a method, object properties and variables can sometimes be confused. In short; when the JavaScript “var” keyword is used, that is a variable. A variable will not be a property of an object (except in the global scope, which is for another discussion). But inside a method, any variable created using the JavaScript “var” keyword will be private to that method. So this means that it is not possible to access that variable from outside the method. But inside of a method, you have access to all of the properties of the object to which that method belongs. And you access these properties using the JavaScript “this” keyword. So, for example; if myObject.greeting = “Hello” and myObject.greet is a method, then inside myObject.greet, if I reference this.greeting, I should get the string: “Hello”. And if I have declared a variable named “speed” inside of myObject.greet, I would access it simply by referring to “speed” (i.e. I would not use the JavaScript “this” keyword). Also, a big difference between variables and properties in a method is that properties are always public. That is to say: all object properties can be seen and in most cases modified. But a private variable inside of a method is completely hidden from the outside world. And only our code inside of the method has access to that variable.

Try it yourself !

In above example, we start out by creating a property on the window object named: “foo”. This “foo” object is the result of an immediately invoked function expression (aka: “IIFE“). The reason that we take this approach is so that we can have a private variable: count. Our getCount method as access to that private count variable.

There is also a count property on the “foo” object. This property is available publicly. That is to say: we are able to make changes to the count property, whereas the count variable is not available outside of the IIFE. Our getCount method has access to the count variable, but that is the only way we can reach it.

When we call foo.getCount() without passing any arguments, then it increments the count property and returns it. This is CONTEXT. By using the JavaScript “this” keyword inside of the getCount method, we are leveraging the concept of context. Conversely, when we call foo.getCount(“scope”), then the count variable is incremented and returned. This is SCOPE. It is very important to understand the difference between scope and context in JavaScript.

JavaScript Spread Syntax – Basics

JavaScript

JavaScript Logo - spread syntaxJavaScript spread syntax provides a way to convert an array into a comma-separated list.

In this article, I will cover the basics of JavaScript spread syntax. But first, let’s start by taking a step back and thinking about how functions work in JavaScript. A function expects a comma-separated list of arguments, so, when we call a function, we need to provide zero, one or more arguments, separated by a comma. But what happens when we don’t know exactly what all of these arguments are? Now it may be tempting to simply pass an array, but then this array would be seen by the called argument as simply the first argument. In other words, argument[0] in the function would be an array. But this is not what we want; we want to pass an array to a function and for that array to be interpreted by the function as a comma-separated list of arguments.

Why is JavaScript Spread Syntax So Helpful?

So here’s where the spread syntax comes in: it allows us to put the arguments in an array, and then pass that array to the function we are calling. And, actually, this is only one example of how the JavaScript spread syntax can be helpful, but it certainly is a great way to start the conversation.

Inspect Arguments in a Function – Example # 1 A

The Output from the inspectArguments function – Example # 1 B

Inside every JavaScript function, the “arguments” keyword provides a reference to all arguments that were passed into this execution of the function. The “arguments” keyword is not an array, but an array-like object with a “length” property. Fortunately, however, this “length” property allows us to iterate the “arguments” object as if it were an array. The “inspectArguments” function from Example # 1 A contains a for-loop, which iterates over all the arguments it receives. Inside of that for-loop, we output the value of each argument.

Nothing too special there.

On the last line of Example # 1 A, we call the “inspectArguments” function, passing it: “…letters”. What’s happening here is that instead of passing the letters array, we pass “…letters”, which spreads the letters array out into a comma-separated list. Example # 1 B contains the output from Example # 1 A, and as expected, we see the contents of the letters array.

Spreading Out the Arguments – Example # 2 A

The Output Has Changed – Example # 2 B

Example # 2 A is similar to Example # 1 A, except in the way that we call the “inspectArguments” function. In other words, instead of passing just “…letters”, we pass “x, y, …letters”. This allows us to specify that the first two arguments that the “inspectArguments” function receives are “x” and “y” and the rest of the arguments is the content of the letters array. The point here is that we can mix the use of literals and the spread syntax. So as expected, Example # 2 B shows the output, which is similar to Example # 1 B, except that “x” and “y” are the first two console.log statements.

Using Spread Syntax for Both Arguments – Example # 3 A

The Output – Example # 3 B

Now, in Example # 3 A, we take things a little further. We use the spread syntax twice, which calls the “inspectArguments” function, passing the contents of both the days and letters arrays, spread out into one comma-separated list. Consequently, the output that you see in Example # 3 B is exactly as expected: the contents of the days and letters arrays.

How to test HTTP POST with the Node.js request Module

Node.js

Node.js Logo - test HTTP POSTTesting HTTP POST requests is usually tedious. Bit with a few lines of JavaScript, you can spin-up your own HTTP POST testing tool.

In web development, GET and POST requests are quite common. GET requests are the ones more frequently seen, and in fact, when you load most web pages, the majority of the requests that make up what you see in the page are GET requests. For example, you request the initial HTML file, CSS files, JavaScript files and images. But sometimes, you need to make a POST request.

Making a GET request is easy, as is testing one. Testing a POST request is not always so simple, though, because the HTTP request body must include the data you want to send. One approach is to create a simple HTML page with a form. The problem here is that you need to create an input element for each data property that you want to send in the POST request, which can be tedious for a simple test. But then there’s Node.js, which can be leveraged to solve this problem.

In this article, we will see how a small JavaScript file can make an HTTP POST request. Now this approach may not be appropriate for use in a production application, but the idea behind this article is to point out that any time you need to test a POST endpoint, you can set up a quick test using Node.js.

Get the example code from GitHub

If you clone this repo: github.com/kevinchisholm/video-code-examples/tree/master/node/testing-http-post-with-request-module, you can clone the example code locally and edit the code yourself.

package.json

The package.json for this project contains references to the modules needed. We’re using the request module, the body-parser module, and the express module.

Example # 1 – The Web Server

In Example # 1, we have the server code. (Creating the server code is not the focus of this article, but it’s still good to review.) We need the express module and the body-parser module, and once we’ve set the references to those, we set up the POST route. So, when the user sends an HTTP POST request to /form, our code will handle this request. The requestAsJson variable allows us to set up the round-trip – that is, the exact same data from the POST request that we return to the user as JSON. We then set the Content-Type header to be application/json so that the HTTP header will be correct. Note the “log the output” comment; this is just for demonstration purposes. We then send the response using the res.end method.

Example # 2 – Testing the POST Request

In Example # 2, we have the test client, which is the focus of the article. We want an easy way to test POST requests, so instead of mocking up an HTML page with a form, we can use the file test-post.js to test an HTTP POST request. We set a reference to the request module, and no other module is needed in this file.

The postData variable is an object containing the data for the HTTP POST request. The postConfig variable contains the URL for the HTTP POST request, and a reference to the postData variable. The postSuccessHandler variable is a success handler for the HTTP POST request. Inside of that success handler, you can see a console.log statement, which completes the proof of concept. Whatever data sent for the HTTP POST request should be output in that console.log statement.

<h2>How to test the example code</h2>

Open two terminal windows (terminal A and terminal B), and make sure that you are in the root of the repository folder. In terminal A, execute this command: node post-server.js. In terminal B, execute this command: node test-post.js. In terminal A, you should see the message: The POST data received was XXX. In terminal A, you should see the message: JSON response from the server: XXX. (In each case, XXX represents the data from the HTTP POST request).

NOTE: Go ahead and change the properties of the postData object. You can create more properties if you wish. No matter what you do, you can see the data that you set in that object in the two console.log statements.

Fat Arrow Function Basics – Node Modules

Node.js

JavaScript LogoJavaScript Fat Arrow Functions solve the “this” problem by maintaining a reference to the object to which a method belongs. This is the case even with nested functions.

One of the most popular aspects of JavaScript is the fact that functions are first-class citizens. So, this aspect of the ECMAScript specification provides a great deal of power. Now when a function is a property of an object, it is also considered a method. That is, it is a method of that object. And inside of a method, the JavaScript “this” keyword is important, because it allows us to access the object to which the method belongs, as well as its other properties.

Now, when nesting functions, the JavaScript “this” keyword, one of the more frustrating aspects of the language, can be a bit tricky to deal with. So, in this article, I will discuss this very problem and how to solve it using fat arrow functions. If you’d like to run the code examples locally on your computer, clone the following github repository: Using fat arrow functions in your Node module.

(Instructions on how to run the code are available in the Github page.)

One important note about the code examples: the title of this article references “…Node Modules” to keep things simple, so I did not use a node module for the context of the code examples. Most Node applications keep the main file code minimal. Taking a modular approach is almost always a best practice, but for this article, I have put the code in the main JavaScript file.

The problem with “this” – Example # 1

Run Example # 1 in your terminal with the following command: node example-1.js. The result of this is: “THE MESSAGE IS: undefined“.

We have created a tools object in Example # 1, and that name is “tools“, which is arbitrary. It could have been any name, we just need an object to work with. The “tools” object has a “message” property, and there is also a method named “asyncTask“. The asyncTask method simulates an asynchronous task by using the setTimeout method. There is a reference to the JavaScript “this” keyword inside of the anonymous function passed to the setTimeout method. Now here’s where it gets a little dicey: the anonymous function passed to the setTimeout method is not executed in the context of the “tools” object, and therein lies the problem. The resulting console.log message is: “THE MESSAGE IS: undefined“.

So, we need a way to reference the “tools” object inside of the anonymous function that we passed to the setTimeout method. Well, the best approach is still to reference the “this” keyword. A common and popular approach in the past has been to set a reference to “this” before calling the setTimout method. For example: “var me = this;”. Okay, so while that is still a possible technique, there now is a far more elegant approach.

Fat arrow functions solve the “this” problem – Example # 2

Run Example # 2 in your terminal with the following command: node example-2.js. The result of this is: “THE MESSAGE IS: Hello from this.message!”

We made a small change in Example # 2. We converted the anonymous function passed to the setTimeout method to a fat arrow function. Fortunately, this action solved our problem. One of the advantages of fat arrow functions is that they preserve the meaning of the JavaScript “this” keyword. Because of this, when we reference this.message we no longer have an error, and we also see the expected message in the console.

Fat Arrow Function – One Argument – Example # 3A

Fat Arrow Function – Multiple Arguments – Example # 3B

A few things to keep in mind:

  • In Example # 2, the fat arrow function takes no arguments, but, it still has a pair of opening and closing parentheses. This is because when a fat arrow function takes no arguments, you must include a pair of opening and closing parentheses.
  • In Example # 3A, there are no parentheses in the fat arrow function. This is because when there is one argument, you do not need to include parentheses.
  • In Example # 3B, there are two arguments contained inside of parentheses. This is because when there is more than one argument, you must include parentheses.

Summary

In this article we saw that fat arrow functions solve the “this” problem because they provide access to the object to which the containing function belongs, and you can access that object at all times by using the “this” keyword. And even when nesting fat arrow functions, the “this” reference is preserved, eliminating the need to set a temporary reference to “this”. Just keep in mind the importance of how the syntax can differ, depending on the number of arguments that the fat arrow function takes. In other words, with zero or multiple arguments, parentheses are required, and with only one argument parentheses are not required. Pretty simple, once you get used to it.

Node.js Templating with EJS – Basics

Node.js Templating

JavaScript LogoEJS Makes Templating in your Node.js application a breeze. Just supply a template string or .ejs file and some data.

The moniker says it all: “Effective JavaScript templating.” If you haven’t already discovered it, you’ll soon find that as front-end web developers have been transitioning to more of a full-stack role, templating has quickly become an important topic. In other words, this is no longer an unusual front-end task for JavaScript developers. And when working with Node.js, EJS has become the standard for server-side templating.

In this article, I will cover the bare-bones steps needed to get up and running with EJS, and in doing so, I’ll show you how to render data in an EJS template. First, I’ll explain the vanilla JavaScript approach. Then, we’ll move on to rendering your EJS template when using the Express.js framework. And finally, we’ll cover the syntax for EJS template code as well as how to use “if” logic in your template.

Now the power in EJS templates is the separation of concerns. Your data is defined (and possibly manipulated) in your server-side code, and your template simply declares what data will be rendered. This approach embraces the concept of “loose coupling”. With EJS templates, you can leverage that same “loose coupling” design pattern in your Node application. This scenario is, of course, fairly common to back-end developers, who have experience with languages such as Java, PHP, Python or .NET. For a front-end developer, however, this may be new territory. So, to illustrate, let’s take a look at some examples.

Example # 1-A

Example # 1-B: The Rendered HTML

In Example # 1 – A we first require the ejs module. This will be the case with every example, so I won’t cover that again. Just know that we need the ejs module in order to render our EJS templates, so we set a variable named “ejs” via require first. Next, we set the days variable; it’s just an array that contains the five days of the work week. Here, too, this will be the case in every example, so no need to cover this again. Just know that in each code example, there is a days variable – an array that contains the five days of the work week. We also set a variable named “http” which is an instance of the Node http module. We’ll need this in order to run our web server.

Okay, so let’s take a look at line # 3 in Example # 1. We’re using the ejs.render method here to create HTML that we will send to the user. The ejs.render method takes two arguments: a string template and the data for that template. In this case, our string template has the “<%=” and “%>” delimiters to indicate to EJS the start and end points for our template. And inside of those delimiters, we can write JavaScript code. So, let’s use the join() method of the days array to convert the array to a string. Then, inside of the execution of the http.createServer method, we’ll call the end method of the result object (i.e. res.end), passing the html variable to that method. And since the res.end() will send the response to the client and end the connection, the contents of our html variable will be sent to the user’s browser. Now, in Example # 1 – B, we have the HTML that is rendered in the user’s browser. This HTML happens to be very simple, and in fact, is not markup that we’d want to use in production. But what I wanted to demonstrate here is that rendering HTML in an EJS template is as simple as defining the template, then providing data to that template.

Example # 2-A: Setting the view engine for Express.js

Example # 2-B

Example # 2-C: The Rendered HTML

In Example # 2-A we’re leveraging the Express.js framework, so there’s a new require statement at the top of our code which sets the Express variable. On line # 3, we create the app variable which is an instance of the Express.js framework. And on line # 9, we use the app.set method to tell Express that we’re using EJS as our view engine. Note that this is required when leveraging EJS templates in your Express application. Now, on line # 12, we set up a handler for the “/” route. And inside that handler callback, we use the render method of the response object. This render method is available to use because of what we did on line # 9: using the app.set method to let Express know that EJS is our view engine. Okay, so let’s go back to line # 13, where we’ll pass two arguments to the render method: the string “example-2” and the data that our EJS will consume.

Now, you may be scratching your head as to what the first argument in “Example # 2-A” means. Well, it’s important to note that when you leverage EJS as your view engine, Express.js assumes that you will have view templates. These view templates are text files with an “.ejs” extension. So, it’s also important to note that Express.js assumes that these files will be in a folder named “views” that resides in the same folder as the file that is currently being executed. You can specify a different folder for your views, but the default folder that Express will look for is “views”. And in the “views” folder, Express.js will look for a file named XXX.ejs, where “XXX” represents the string that you pass as the first argument to the render method. So in our example, we want to use a template that resides in the file: “views/example-2.ejs”.

Here in Example # 2-B, we have the contents of the file “views/example-2.ejs”. And in this template file, there are two locations for data; the title tag and the body tag. In the title tag, we have a binding for the headerTitle property. In other words: we’ve provided some data to the res.render() method on line # 13 of Example # 2-A. That data was an object literal, and it had a property named: “headerTitle”. So, on line # 3 of our “views/example-2.ejs” file, we’ve told the template to inject the value of the “headerTitle” property of the data object that was provided to it. And the same thing is happening in line # 6 of our “views/example-2.ejs” file. In other words, we’ve asked EJS to inject the value of the “welcomeMessage” property of the data that was provided to the template. And then in Example # 2-C, you see the HTML that is returned to the user’s browser as a result of our template in Example # 2 B. In this HTML, the “headerTitle” property binding is replaced by the actual value: “EJS Demo Page” and the “welcomeMessage” property binding is replaced by the actual value: “This message was rendered on the server.”

Now, Example # 3-A is very similar to Example # 2-A, except that the data we provide to the template is an array, instead of just an object literal. If you look at Example # 3-B, you’ll see that the way we bind to the data differs from example # 2-A. In example # 2-A, we bound to a single property: “welcomeMessage”, but here we are using a loop to iterate over each element in the “days” array. Specifically, we use the forEach() method of the “days” array and in each iteration of the callback function, we have access to a variable named “day”. Then we generate a list item and output the value of “day”. So, if you look at Example # 3-C, you’ll see the HTML that is rendered by the server and sent to the user’s browser. Voila! As expected, we have the HTML with the unordered list rendered with each day of the week (i.e. the “days” array).

Example # 4-A is virtually identical to Example # 3-A; the only difference is the value of the “welcomeMessage” property. Take a look at Example # 4-B. You’ll see that on line # 4, we have some custom CSS in a set of style tags. This will make more sense in a few minutes. Now look at line # 20. Here we are looping over the “days” array, just as we did in Example # 3-B. But on line # 22, we use a basic JavaScript “if” block, to determine if this is the fourth element in the array. We do that by using the index variable, which is the 2nd argument passed to the callback function that we provide to the days.forEach() method. So, if index is equal to 3, then we generate the following in our HTML: class=”selected”. What we are doing here is, we are telling our EJS template that the 4th element in the list (i.e. the element with the index of 3) should have the CSS class “selected”. So, in Example # 4-C, you can see in the rendered HTML that the fourth list item has class=”selected“. As a result, the CSS that we added at the top of the EJS template kicks-in and “Thursday” is dark red text with a yellow background.

Summary

So, in this article, you learned the most basic steps needed to leverage an EJS template in your Node.js application. You started by learning how to render data in an EJS template using vanilla JavaScript, and also when using the Express.js framework. Then we went on to cover how to bind a single data property, as well as how to iterate an array in your template. And finally, we wrapped it up by illustrating how to use “if” logic in your EJS template.

Now this article only scratched the surface of what is possible with EJS templates. My goal here was simply to provide the information needed to get up and running quickly, and to illustrate the most basic concepts so that you can dig in further on your own, because, believe me, there is plenty more to discover on this topic!

Node.js – What is the Difference Between response.send(), response.end() and response.write() ?

Express JS

JavaScript Logoresponse.send() sends the response and closes the connection, whereas with response.write() you can send multiple responses.

In this article, I will explain the difference between response.send(), response.end() and response.write(), and when to use each one. When you’re working with the Express.js framework, you’ll probably most frequently be sending a response to a user. This means that regardless of which HTTP verb you’re handling, you’ll pass a function as the handler for that endpoint. This function will receive two arguments: the request object and the response object. The response object has a send() method, an end() method and a write() method, and in this article we’ll get to know the differences between them.

So, let’s start with the main issue, which is that the response.send() method is used to send the response to the server. Now this makes sense and in some cases, it’s actually the perfect tool. Problems can arise, though, if you’re not entirely sure what the response.send() method actually does. Well, in a nutshell, it does two things; it writes the response and also closes the connection. So, this seems like a win-win, right? Well, in some cases it is, but if you don’t want to close the connection on your first write, then the response.send() method may not be the right tool. When this happens, you’ll need to use a combination of response.write() and response.close(). So, let’s take a look at a few examples, to see just how this works.

Get the example code from GitHub

If you clone this repo: github.com/kevinchisholm/video-code-examples/tree/master/node-express/response-send-end-write-difference, you can clone the example code locally and edit the code yourself.

Trying to use the response.send method more than once per request – Example # 1

Run Example # 1 in your terminal with the following command: node example-1.js, then point your browser to: http://localhost:5000/. Now you’ll see this: “This is the response #: 1“. There are two problems here, however, the first of which is that any responses after the first one are never sent. This is because the send method of the Express.js response object ends the response process. As a result, the user never sees the messages “This is the response #: 2” or “This is the response #: 3”, and so forth.

The second problem is that the send method of the Express response object sets the Content-Type header, which is an automatic action. So, on the first iteration of the for-loop, the Content-Type header is set (i.e. “This is the response #: 1”). Then on the next iteration of the for-loop, the Content-Type header is set again because once more, we are using the response.send() method (i.e. “This is the response #: 2). But, we have already set the Content-Type header in the first iteration of the for-loop.
Because of this, the send method will throw this error: “Error: Can’t set headers after they are sent”. So, our application is essentially broken, but we don’t want users to have an error in their consoles. And more importantly; our back-end logic is not working correctly.

Using the result.write method – Example # 2

So, using the result.write method run Example # 2 in your terminal with the following command: node example-2.js. Now point your browser to: http://localhost:5000/. As you can see, there is still a problem with our code. Depending on your browser, either you will see only the first message or you will see none of them. This is because the response has not been completed. So, I’ll just mention here, that not every browser handles this case the same, which is the reason why you may see one message, all of the messages or none of them. But you should see that the request is “hanging” as your browser will stay in that “loading” state.

So, open your developer tools (e.g. FireBug or Chrome Dev Tools), and then look at the network tab. You’ll see that all five responses did, in fact, come back to the client. The problem is, the browser is waiting for more responses.
At some point, the request should time out and you can see all messages in the browser. This behavior can vary between browsers, but it is not the correct experience.

result.end fixes the problem – Example # 3

Run Example # 3 in your terminal with the following command: node example-3.js, then point your browser to: http://localhost:5000/. You will now see all of the messages in the browser, which means that here, in Example # 3, the problem has been fixed. We see all of the messages generated by the for-loop and the response completes successfully with no console errors. So, we’ve solved the problem by using a combination of of response.write() and response.close().

First we set the Content-Type header, just to get that task out of the way. Then, in each iteration of the for-loop, we used response.write() to send a message back to the client. But since response.write() does not set any headers or close the connection, so we were free to call response.write(), to send another response to the client. And once the for-loop was completed, we used the result.end() method to end the response process (i.e. we closed the connection). This said to the browser: “we’re done; go ahead and render the response now and don’t expect anything more from me.”

Summary

In this article, we learned about the difference between response.send(), response.end() and response.write(). During this discussion, we found that response.send() is quite helpful in that it sends the response and closes the connection. We saw that this becomes problematic, however, when we want to send more than one response to the client. But, fortunately, we discovered that this is easily solved by using a combination of response.write() and response.close(). We used response.write() to send more than one response, and then used response.end() to manually end the response process and close the HTTP connection. So, useful steps and easily solved problems.!

Node.js File Uploads with Multer

Node.js

Node.js LogoWhen it comes to the UI, file uploads are pretty simple. But on the back-end, there is some work to do. Multer is a Node.js module that simplifies this process.

Uploading a file is a common task for Web applications. Today, most Web pages leverage AJAX — which requires JavaScript — for a smoother user experience, but this can be accomplished using only HTML and zero JavaScript. The truth is, HTML-only file uploads have been possible for more than 20 years. I mention this to point out that in the browser, file uploads are simple and require only a small amount of HTML. This is only half of the equation, however, because a file upload is useless without some back-end code that can process the file. So, in this article I’ll show you how to process a file upload in your Node.js application. To simplify the back-end code needed to handle a file upload, we’ll leverage Multer, a Node.js middleware for handling multipart/form-data.

For this article, our working example code is a simple Node application that accepts a POST request with an “enctype” of “multipart/form-data.” When the user uploads a file, our back-end code will take the uploaded file and put it in the “uploads” folder, right within the root of the project folder. Nothing too fancy here, but it’s worth noting that the examples provide plenty of opportunities for copy/paste. What you do with these examples is up to you, but at least you’ll know how to process a file upload in your Node application.

index.html

In the above example (index.html), we have the HTML file for our application, so take a look at the form element. You’ll see that the “enctype” attribute is set to “multipart/form-data,” which means that we will send images in various formats. This is also important to keep in mind because Multer will only process this kind of file-upload. Note also the input element, which has a type attribute of “file.” This ensures that the browser will take care of implementing a file-upload interface. So, in other words, there will be a “Choose File” button, which allows the user to select a file from his or her hard drive. We certainly don’t need to put any effort into this; simply setting type=“file” takes care of all of it. There is also a name attribute for this input element. This attribute is required so that Multer understands how to handle the request. The Submit button will pass the form to the same exact URL because there is no “action” attribute, so the default behavior is: this is the form submitted to the same exact URL.

Configuring Multer – Example # 1

Example # 1 contains all of the code for our Node application. For this project, we leverage the Express framework. By using Express, we significantly reduce the amount of code needed. One of the most powerful features of Express is the ability to easily create middleware, which is a perfect context for Multer because it needs to intercept the HTTP request for us. The upload variable is used to provide configuration for Multer. In this case, for example, it lets Multer know that we want our uploaded files to be placed in the “uploads” folder. We’re using express.static in order to serve the HTML and CSS files to the user, so when the user goes to the “/” route, index.html and style.css are served by the Express framework.

Adding a Handler for the POST route

On Line # 11, we set up a handler for the POST route. If you’ve ever used the Express framework when building a Node application, this pattern should look familiar to you. But notice that the second argument passed to the app.get() method is upload.single(‘img’). We’re using the upload variable created earlier. The single() method takes a string as an argument, which is the “name” attribute of the form field containing the uploaded file. For demonstration purposes, we output req.file to the console so we can see information on the uploaded file. We call the send method of the response object, passing it some HTML, which simply informs the user that the upload was successful and allows that user to go back to the “/” route.

At this point, it would be a good idea to run the example code yourself, so just follow these steps:

  • git clone
  • git@github.com:kevinchisholm/video-code-examples.git
  • cd /node/file-uploads-with-multer/
  • npm install
  • node index
  • Open this URL in your browser: http://localhost:3000/

Now in your browser, click the “Choose File” button and browse your hard drive for a file to upload. Once you’ve selected a file, click the “Submit” button. You should see the message: “File upload succeeded.” Now, if you look in the “uploads” folder in the root of the project folder, you should see a file with a name similar to: “08e36ff4c9d3dc106e3a9fa2367797c9”.

So, we’ve made good progress here; our example code works and we’re able to upload a file. As you can see, though, the original name of the file is not preserved, and a GUID-like name is provided. This can be helpful in that users will not overwrite a file when uploading the same-named file more than once. The downside, however, is that there’s no connection between the original file name and the one provided. So, let’s fix that.

Show the Original File Name – Example # 2

Stop the Node application and then start it again, using the second example: node index2. Now, upload a file again.
You’ll see that the original file name is preserved.
In Example # 2, we accomplished this by leveraging multer.diskStorage(). When calling that method, we provided a configuration object. The destination property told multer.diskStorage() where the uploaded file will go, and the filename property provided a way for us to specify what the name of the uploaded file will be. This method receives a second argument called file, so we use the “originalname” property of this object to set the file name. But there’s a new problem now: the user can overwrite an uploaded file by uploading a file with the same name. So let’s fix that.

Create a Dynamic File Name – Example # 3

In Example # 3, we have expanded the anonymous function passed to the filename() method. What we’ve done here is use regular expressions to extract the name of the file with and without the extension. We use Date.now() to generate what is essentially a unique value, and we piece the new file name back together. As a result, the user can upload the exact same file over and over, but each uploaded file name will be unique. For example: original-file-name_123456.jpg. So, let’s just confirm this. Stop the Node application and then start it again, using the third example: node index3. Now, upload the same file over and over. You’ll see that each uploaded file has a unique name, but the original file name is included so that it’s easy to reference the actual file that was uploaded.

An Introduction to NPM Scripts

NPM

Node.js LogoLearn how to leverage npm scripts to create commands that, in turn, execute more than one other npm script command, allowing you to simplify your builds.

As the default package manager for Node.js, npm has seen a rise in popularity because JavaScript’s is just everywhere! This certainly makes sense – npm is well-designed, well documented, and makes Node.js development more seamless. I think most web developers would have a hard time imagining using Node.js without npm, but they often have to turn to technologies such as grunt and gulp to simplify local development and front-end tooling. But with npm scripts, you have an opportunity to move some of your front-end tooling and local development tasks away from third party tools. The beauty of this approach is that it allows you to simplify your setup.

In order to explain npm scripts, I have created a simple project that leverages Gulp. So, to run the code locally, clone the following git hub repository: Getting started with npm scripts.

Instructions on how to run the code are available in the Git hub page.

This project has four features:

  1. It compiles a coffeescript file to JavaScript.
  2. It compiles a SASS file to CSS.
  3. It uglifies a JavaScript file.
  4. It starts a Node.js web server.

This is a very simple example and it’s mostly Gulp compiling and minifying files. I chose this project because it requires some manual steps. Now, it’s possible to automate these tasks using Gulp, but what if you needed to switch to tools such as Grunt, or Broccoli.js? In such a case, your commands would change. For example, “gulp coffee” would become “grunt coffee”. While this is not fatal, it be nice if we could have a consistent set of commands. So the question is, how can we build our local development assets and start the Node.js server with one command? Also, how can we ensure that this one command never changes? Well, this is where npm scripts come in!

Project Folder Structure – Example # 1

In Example # 1, we have the folder structure for our project. There is an src folder that contains three sub folders:

  • The coffee folder has a coffeescript file.
  • The js folder has a JavaScript file.
  • The sass folder has a SASS file.

These three files are used by our build. The built versions of these files are placed in the build/css and build/js folders accordingly.

package.json (no npm scripts) – Example # 2

The package.json so far allows us to use Gulp. We’re using the gulp-coffee module to compile coffeescript, the gulp-sass module to compile SASS, and the gulp-uglify module to uglify JavaScript. So, we have the following commands available to us:

  • gulp sass: This command will compile the file src/sass/main.scss and create build/css/main.css
  • gulp coffee: This command will compile the file src/coffee/global.coffee and create build/js/global.js
  • gulp uglify: This command will uglify the file src/js/main.js and create build/js/main.js
  • node index.js: This command will start the Node.js web server on port # 3000.

You can run each command and it will work just fine, but the problem is that each time you change any of the files, you will want to build them again, and then restart the web server.

Adding npm scripts to package.json – Example # 3

In Example # 3, we have added a scripts object to package.json. Here is a breakdown of the script commands:

  • build:sass : This command is a shortcut to: gulp sass.
  • build:coffee : This command is a shortcut to: gulp coffee.
    build:js : This command is a shortcut to: gulp uglify.
    build : This command will execute the previous three commands. It executes three steps in one command.
    serve : This command is a shortcut to: node ./index.js (it starts the Node.js web server).
    start : This command builds all three files, and then starts the web server
    clean : This command will delete every the built file (these are files created by all previous commands).

What to expect when you run the example code locally

  • npm start – The build places the three built files in the build/css and build/js folders accordingly. And then, it starts the Node.js web server. You will see messages in your terminal that indicating these outcomes.
    npm run clean – npm deletes the three built files in the build/css and build/js folders. (This is helpful if you want to “start from scratch” when running the npm start command. This way you see the built files created each time.

Summary

This article is a basic introduction to, and high-level overview of npm scripts and its ability to create commands that, in turn, execute more than one other npm script command. As you can see, there’s a great deal of power here, and depending on your needs, they can streamline your front-end tooling process significantly. There’s much more detail available about npm scripts, and a great place to start is: https://docs.npmjs.com/misc/scripts. In the meantime, I hope that this article has provided you with enough information to get you up and running.

Web Scraping with Node and Cheerio.js

Node.js

Node.js LogoCheerio.js allows you to traverse the DOM of a web page that you fetch behind the scenes, and easily scrape that page.

There are security rules that limit the reach of client-side JavaScript, and if any of these rules are relaxed the user may be susceptible to malicious activity. On the server side, however, JavaScript is not subject to these kinds of limitations. And, in fact, in the absence of them there’s a great deal of power, particularly in the area of web scraping, which, as it turns out, allows for one of the cool upsides of this awesome freedom.

To get started, clone the following github repository: Basic web scraping with Node.js and Cheerio.js.

You’ll find instructions on how to run this code in the Github.

The page we will target for web scraping

Lets’ take a moment to look at the example web page that we will scrape: http://output.jsbin.com/xavuga. Now, if you use your web developer tools to inspect the DOM, you’ll see that there are three main sections to the page. There’s a HEADER element, a SECTION element, and a FOOTER element, and we will target those three sections later, in some of the code examples.

The request NPM module

One of our key tools is the request NPM module, which allows you to make an HTTP request and use the return value as you wish.

The cheerio NPM module

The cheerio NPM module provides a server-side jQuery implementation, and its functionality mirrors the most common tasks associated with jQuery. There isn’t a 1:1 method replication; that was not their goal. The key point is: you can parse HTML with JavaScript on the server-side.

Caching an entire web page – Example # 1

In Example # 1, we set some variables. The fs variable references the file system node module, which provides access to the local file system. We’ll need this to write files to disk. The request variable refers to the request node module, which we discussed earlier, and the cheerio variable refers to that cheerio node module that we also discussed. The pageUrl variable is the URL of the web page that we will scrape. Now, at the highest level, there are two things that happen in this code: we define a function named scrapePage, and then we execute that function. So, now, let’s take a look at what happens inside of this function.

First, we call the request function, passing it two arguments, the first of which is the URL of the request. The second argument is a callback function, which takes three arguments. The first argument is an error object, and this “error first” pattern is common in Node.js. The second argument is the response object, and the third argument is the contents of the request, which is HTML.

Inside of the request callback, we leverage the file-system module’s writeFile method. The first argument we pass is the full path of the file name, which tells the fs module what file to write. For the second argument we pass the responseHtml variable, which is the content that we want to write to the file; this is what was returned by the request function. The third argument is a callback function, which we are using to log a message indicating that the file write to disk was successful. When you run Example # 1, you should see a new file in the HTML folder: content.html. This file contains the entire contents of the web page that we make a request to.

Caching only a part of a web page – Example # 2

In Example # 2, we have an updated version of the scrapePage function, and for the sake of brevity, I have omitted the parts of the code that have not changed. The first change to the scrapePage function is the use of the cheerio.load method, and I assigned it to the $ variable. Now we can use the $ variable much the same way we would jQuery. We create the $header variable, which contains the HTML of the HTML header element. We then use the file-system module’s writeFile method to write the HTML header element to the file: header.html.

Now, when you run Example # 2, you should see another new file in the HTML folder called header.html, which contains the entire contents of the web page that we make a request to.

Example # 3

In Example # 3, we have updated the scrapePage function again, and the new code follows the same pattern as the one in Example # 2. The difference is that we have also scraped the content and footer sections, and in both cases, we’ve written the associated HTML file to disk. So, now, when you run Example # 3, you should see four files in the HTML folder, and they are entire-page.html, header.html, content.html and footer.html.

Summary

In this article, took a look at what is possible when scraping web pages. Now, even though we only scratched the surface, we did work in some high-level areas, focusing on making a request and then parsing the HTML of that request. We used the request module to make the HTTP request, and the cheerio module to parse the returned HTML. We also used the fs (file-system) module, in order to write our scraped HTML to disk.

My hope is that this article has opened up some new possibilities in your work, and has pointed you in the right direction for pulling this all off. So, happy web page scraping!

MongoDB Shell vs MongoDB Node.JS Driver

MongoDB

MongoDB LogoThe mongo Shell and the MongoDB Node.JS Driver both provide a way to interact with a Mongo database. There are fairly significant differences in how they work, however, as well as the benefits they provide.

There are multiple ways to interact with MongoDB, and two of those are with the mongo shell and the MongoDB Node.js driver. Now at this point it might make sense to ask which approach is best. Well, the answer really depends on the scenario. So, perhaps the first question should be: “What is it that I need to do?” Once that question is answered, you can determine which tool is best suited for the task. In this article, I’ll demonstrate the differences between the mongo shell and the MongoDB Node.js driver when performing basic CRUD operations. My hope is that this will help you to decide which approach works best for what you need to do.

The mongo shell is an interactive JavaScript interface to MongoD, and it is a component of the MongoDB package. The mongo shell can be used to perform CRUD operations on data, as well as administrative operations. In other words, think of the mongo shell as a way to interact with a MongoDB database without the need to build or interact with an application.

The MongoDB Node.js driver provides a way to interact with a MongoDB database from your Node application code. It supports both callback-based and Promise-based interaction with your mongo database. This would be the opposite of the mongo shell, which is meant to be used in your Node.js application code.

Inserting One Document Into the Database

Insert One Document with the Mongo Shell – Example # 1A

Insert One Document with the MongoDB Node.JS Driver – Example # 1B

With the mongo shell, we need to specify which database we want to use. We do this by using the “use” command. The syntax is: “use DATABASE_NAME”. So, In Example # 1A, we accomplish two things; we select the madMen database with the user command (i.e. “use madMen”), and then we insert one document into the names collection. Actually, a third step was taken here, although you may not have noticed because it was not explicit; i.e., the names collection was created. With the mongo shell, if we reference a collection that does not already exist when using the insert command, then that collection is created. Note that when we inserted the document, we passed an object to the insert method. This object can have one or more key/value pairs. In this case, we provided that one key/value pair.

You’ll notice that in Example # 1B, an all of the following MongoDB Node.JS Driver examples, there is more code. The reason for this is that there this is application code, so there are some setup steps needed in order to provide dependencies to our application and tell it what we want to do. With the mongo Shell, there is context. That is to say, the mongo Shell understands that you will be working on performing MongoDB-specific tasks, so there is no need to provide dependencies or explain much.

Now here in Example # 1B, we accomplish the same tasks using the MongoDB Node.JS Driver. The first five lines of code provide dependencies and some configuration information. And on line # 8, we establish a connection to the madMen database using the mongoDbClient.connect() method. This method takes a callback, and inside the callback we set references to the madMen database and the names collection. We then use the insert method of the names collection to insert one document. We also add some console.log() statements, just to provide some helpful message so that we can see that the operation was successful. So far, so good.

Inserting Multiple Documents Into the Database

Insert Multiple Documents with the Mongo Shell – Example # 2A

Insert Multiple Documents with the MongoDB Node.JS Driver – Example # 2B

In Example # 2A we insert multiple documents Into the madMen database using the mongo Shell, and we do this in two ways. First, we insert the new documents one at a time. There is no need for a for-loop as this is not application code; since we are in the mongo Shell, we can simply run each command manually. Then, we insert three new documents by using the insertMany method. Now, the difference between the insert and insertMany methods is that with the insert method, you pass one document object as an argument, whereas with the insertMany() method, you provide an array of document objects.

In Example # 2B we insert multiple documents into the madMen database, using the MongoDB Node.JS Driver. The difference between this code and the code found in Example # 2A is that instead of only passing an array of objects to the collection.insertMany() method, we also provide a callback as the second argument. The callback is not required, but it is likely that you will want to provide it because the collection.insertMany() method is asynchronous and you will likely want to act upon the successful insertion of the documents. So, in this example, we’ve shown a couple of console.log() messages to indicate that the database insert was a success. But more importantly, we’ve called the database.close() method, which as you might expect, closed the database. The main thing to keep in mind about leveraging the collection.insertMany() method in your Node application is that it is an asynchronous action, as is often the case in Node.

Viewing All Documents in the Database

View All Documents with the Mongo Shell – Example # 3A

View All Documents with the MongoDB Node.JS Driver – Example # 3B

In Example # 3A, we use the mongo Shell to view all records in the database by simply executing the command: db.names.find(). If we were executing a script file in the shell, we’d need to set a reference to all records, set up a loop, and then in each iteration of the loop we could output the current record over which we are iterating. But because the mongo Shell provides REPL functionality, we can simply execute an expression that results in a value representing every record in the database.

In Example # 3B, we use the MongoDB Node.JS Driver to view all of the records in the database, and here, we need to roll up our sleeves, because we have a little more work to do. Now once again, this is because this is application code, so we need to explain to Node exactly what we want to do. So, if you’ll take a look at line # 11, you’ll see that we use the find() method to obtain a reference to all records in the database. We then chain the each() method to the return value of this, passing it a callback. In the callback, the second argument is the current document over which we are iterating, so we log that document. If the current document is null, then we close the database connection.

Deleting a Single Document

Dele a Single Document with the Mongo Shell – Example # 4A

Delete a Single Document with the MongoDB Node.JS Driver – Example # 4B

In Example # 3A, we use the mongo Shell to remove one document at a time. Notice that we reference a specific document by providing the key: “_id”, and the ID of the document we wish to remove. But we don’t provide the ID simply as a string; we pass a call to the ObjectId function, and then pass the document ID to that function. The reason for this is that MongoDB prefers the wrapper function that converts that string ID to an object.

In Example # 3B, we use the MongoDB Node.JS Driver to remove one document from the database. Now the main difference here is that we use the deleteOne() method, instead of the remove() method. And similar to the mongo Shell approach, we provide an object that uniquely identifies the document we want to remove. This action returns a promise, so we can chain the then() method to its return value and inside the callback, we close the database (line # 19).

Deleting All Documents

Delete All Documents with the Mongo Shell – Example # 5A

Delete All Documents with the MongoDB Node.JS Driver – Example # 5B

In Example # 5A, we use the mongo Shell to remove all documents from the database. Now this is a fairly simple task because we provided an empty object to the remove() method. This indicates to MongoDB that we want to remove all documents.

Example # 5B is somewhat similar. Using the MongoDB Node.JS Driver, we remove all documents in the database by calling the deleteMany() method (as opposed to the “remove()” method). And in a similar fashion, we provide an empty object that signals to MongoDB that we want to remove all documents from the database. Once again, this action returns a promise, so we chain the then() method, passing a callback, and inside of that callback, we close the database.

Summary

In this article, we walked through a comparison accomplishing basic CRUD operations with both the mongo Shell and the MongoDB Node.JS Driver. In each example, we saw that there is a fairly significant difference in the syntax and in some cases, the method names. The main reason for the differences is that the mongo Shell is a REPL environment; i.e., all actions are synchronous, and the shell understands that we are working with MongoDB databases. The MongoDB Node.JS Driver generally requires more work, because our Node application is vanilla JavaScript, and is not necessarily hosted in a MongoDB-specific environment. So, in this case, we need to establish a database connection, set a reference to the MongoDB client, and set references to the database and collection.

Now, as to which approach works best, it really depends on your needs. Both the mongo Shell and MongoDB Node.JS Driver provide significant power for your work with your MongoDB database. The difference is that the mongo Shell is a terminal-based REPL environment and the commands will tend to be simpler. On the other hand, the MongoDB Node.JS driver provides a way to interact with MongoDB from your Node.js code. So, in this case, you’ll need to take a more low-level approach and write code that takes care of connecting to and from the database, as well as your business logic. But while this will usually require more effort, there is great power in that you are writing application code that can have complex logic and be executed repeatedly.

Getting Started With the MongoDB Node.JS Driver – Basic CRUD Operations

MongoDB

JavaScript LogoWorking with any database always requires some CRUD. Learn how to connect to a MongoDB database and perform basic data transactions.

Database technology is a subject that can quickly become complicated, but here, we’re going to stick to the basics. For example, on a very high level, you’ll usually want to do the same few things repeatedly, that is: connect to a database, insert or update one or more records, or delete one or more records. This is otherwise known as “CRUD” (“create read update delete”). Now even though the exact syntax for these actions will differ from one database technology to the next, the good news is that the general concepts are the same.

In this article, I’ll demonstrate very basic MongoDB CRUD operations using the MongoDB Node.JS Driver. Let me just begin, however, by mentioning the part that I’ll be leaving out: the “U” (“update”) step of our CRUD operations. This is a practical move on my part, because I’m guessing that you no doubt found this article through a web search, and you’re perhaps just getting started with MongoDB. If this is the case, then I think the “create,” “read,” and “delete” steps in this article are the best ones to begin with, and I will follow up with an article dedicated specifically to the more challenging “update” operations in MongoDB. That said, let’s just dive right into some MongoDB CRUD (minus the “U” : – )

Connect to the Database – Example # 1

In Example # 1 we connect to the madMen database. There are just a few steps needed to set up the connection. On line #s 2, 3 and 4 we have the URL of the database server, the name of the database we want to connect to, as well as the name of the collection with which we want to work. On line # 7 we use the mongoDbClient object that was created on line # 1 and we call its connect() method, passing it the database url. The second argument that we pass to mongoDbClient.connect is a callback which will allow us to act upon a successful connection. Now our reason for needing the callback function is that the mongoDbClient.connect method is asynchronous. So inside of the callback function, we execute a console.log() statement just to let ourselves know that were able to establish the connection. Now there’s not too much going on here; I just wanted to point out the basics of how to connect to the database. Once again, just keep in mind that connecting to the MongoDB database is an asynchronous operation.

Insert a New Document – Example # 2

Example # 2 takes us to our next logical step in our CRUD operations by having us insert a new document into the database. The required steps for connecting to the database are exactly the same as those for Example # 1, so let’s save some time, skip over that, and talk about what’s new in Example # 2. Here, we’re using the database variable, which is the second argument passed to the mongoDbClient.connect callback function. Now, in using that database variable, we get ahold of the madMen database, and also set a reference to the names collection. So, using that variable, we call the collection.insert method, passing it the new document that we want to insert, as well as a callback function. Now the hope is that by now, you’ve noticed a pattern, which is that we need to provide a callback function because the collection.insert method is asynchronous. In the callback that we pass to the collection.insert method, we use console.log() to indicate that the document that was inserted was successful. This, of course, is just for demonstration purposes. We then call the database.close() method, to close the database connection.

Insert Multiple Documents – Example # 3

There is only a small difference between Example #s 2 and 3, and that is in Example # 3 we use the collection.insertMany method instead of collection.insert. And instead of passing one document, we pass an array of documents. Everything else is virtually the same; i.e., we execute a log message for demonstration purposes and then close the database connection.

View All Documents – Example # 4

So, now that we have created a few documents, it’s time to view them. Let’s take a look at Example # 4, and drill down to the collection object. By getting ahold of the collection, we can use its find() method. And by passing no arguments to the find() method, we get all of the documents in the collection. We iterate that list of documents, and output each one in the console. Then, when we have gotten to the end of the list, we close the database connection.

Delete One Document – Example # 5

So here we are at CRUD’s letter “D”, which is what we take care of in Example # 5. The main difference between this one and Example # 4 is that once we drill down to the collection object, we use the deleteOne() method, passing it an object that represents the document that we want to delete. Now, I say “…object that represents” because we do not pass it the exact document that we want to delete; what we actually pass it is an object that contains the ID that matches the document we want to delete. Note here that in this document the value of the _id property is an instance of ObjectID, which we initialized on line # 2. ObjectID is a special object that we need in order to pass around mongoDB document IDs. Now it’s important to point out that while it may be tempting to simply pass the ID of the document that we want to delete, unfortunately, MongoDB does not work like that. You need to actually provide an instance of ObjectID. It’s also important to note that, although the deleteOne() method is asynchronous, we handle it a bit differently. In other words, instead of passing a callback function, we use the then() method and pass a callback to that method. And once again, inside of that callback, we close the database connection.

Delete All Documents – Example # 6

In Example #6 we sort of kill two birds with one stone. We leverage the deleteMany() method and as you may have guessed, this method allows us to delete multiple documents in the database. Now, if we simply wanted to delete two or more documents, we would take an approach similar to the one in Example # 5, and pass an array of objects that contain ObjectIDs which match the documents we want to delete. In Example # 6, we wind up deleting every document in the database because we pass an empty object to the deleteMany() method. As with the deleteOne() method, deleteMany() is asynchronous, so we chain its then() method and pass a callback function to it. Inside of that callback function, we log our success and then close the database.

Summary

I’m hoping that this article has provided enough of a high-level understanding of MongDB’s basic operations to get you started. The examples are pretty simple, but they should be enough to help you do further digging around into CRUD operations. The main things to keep in mind are: most of the important methods that you will call are asynchronous, and the ObjectID is a critical component when you want to generate one or more matches with documents in the database.

JavaScript – For-In vs For-Of

JavaScript

JavaScript Logofor-in and for-of both provide a way to iterate over an object or array. The difference between them is: for-in provides access to the object keys ,
whereas the for-of operator provides access to the values of those keys.

Iterating over an object or array is a pretty routine task with JavaScript, in fact, it’s hard to imagine a day when you don’t’ need to perform this action. When Iterating over an array, things are a bit easier because you can leverage the array’s “length” property to set up your iteration. But when you need to iterate over the properties of an object, things get a little sticky.

Why For-In vs For-Of

In his article, I will demonstrate the difference between the for-in and for-of JavaScript operators. Now, while these two methods may seem to provide the same functionality, actually, they do not. In fact, you might say that they are polar opposites. The for-in operator returns the keys of an object of array, whereas the for-of operator provides access to the values of these keys.

For a better understanding, let’s take a look at some examples.

for-in – Example # 1

In Example # 1, we use a for-in loop to iterate over the elements of the days array. Now, since we are creating the variable: “day in days”, on each iteration of the loop, we have access to a day variable, which represents the element over which we are currently iterating. The output for this example can be seen in line #s 8-15, and the purpose of this example is to demonstrate that the for-in operator provides the keys of an object, not the values of those keys. It is possible to get ahold of these values, which we will see in a moment, but, for now, I just wanted to point out that for-in provides direct access to the keys of the object over which we are iterating.

Using Bracket Notation – Example # 2

Example # 2 is virtually identical to Example # 1, in that we leverage almost the exact same code to iterate over the days array. The difference here is that we manage to get ahold of the key values by using bracket-notation. So, instead of outputting console.log(day), we output console.log(days[day]). In a pseudocode kind of way, we are saying: “give me the value of the days property that had this key”. The output for this example can be seen in line #s 10-14, and it is exactly what we wanted: we see the value for each key. This does feel a little hackey though, so let’s see if we can do better than this.

for-of – Example # 3

In Example # 3, we’re able to achieve our goal by leveraging the for-of operator. Simply by using for-of (instead of for-in), we’re able to access the value of each key. So, not only is this a non-hackey way to approach this problem, it is also cleaner and easier to read.

JavaScript Rest Parameter – Basics

JavaScript

JavaScript LogoThe Rest Parameter allows you to do two things: (1) break out the first X arguments passed-into the function, and (2) put “the rest” of the arguments into an array.

Passing arguments to a JavaScript function is quite common. If a function expects one or more arguments, then it follows that inside of that function you’ll want to examine the incoming arguments. But things can get problematic when you’re not entirely sure exactly what the incoming arguments will be at design time. Now it’s true that inside of any function you have a local variable named “arguments” that is an array-like object, but there are two problems with this array-like “arguments” object.

First of all, it’s not an array, and while you can leverage the Array.prototype object in order to treat the “arguments” object as if it is a true array, that approach feels like a hack. Secondly, if you want to act upon the incoming arguments differently, based on their position, things can get messy. Now this is where the JavaScript Rest Parameter comes in – it’s a powerful tool that can help solve these problems.

Why Should I Care About the JavaScript Rest Parameter?

In this article, I will cover the basics of the JavaScript rest parameter. I’ll walk through the ways in which it can be used to collect the incoming arguments of a function and convert them into a true JavaScript array. I’ll also demonstrate how you can use the JavaScript rest parameter to break out the incoming arguments so that one or more of the initial arguments can be left as is, and then “the rest” of them can be put into an array.

Using the Rest Parameter – Example # 1 A

inspectArgs Output – Example # 1 B

Above we’ve created a function named “inspectArgs”, which we’ll use in the rest of the code examples for this article. In Example # 1 A, we use the JavaScript rest parameter to collect all of the arguments that are passed into the function, we and put them into an array. So, on line # 2, since theArgs translates to an array, we can use the forEach method of the “theArgs” variable to iterate that array. Inside of the anonymous callback function that we pass to the forEach method, we have access to each array element, as well as the index of that element. Now using this information, we output the value of each argument, and the index of that argument.

So, the key point here is that by placing “…theArgs” where the incoming arguments would normally go, we are saying: “take all of the arguments that are passed-into this function, put them into an array, and create a local variable for this function named theArgs”. And in Example # 1 B, you can see the output of Example # 1 A, which is exactly what we expect: the value of each argument that was passed to the inspectArgs function.

When you actually want “the rest” of the arguments – Example # 2 A

We See the First Argument, and “the rest” of them- Example # 2 B

Now, in Example # 2A, we made one small change, in order to really demonstrate the power of the JavaScript rest parameter. We changed “…theArgs” to “x, …theArgs” where the incoming arguments would normally go. So, what we are saying to the JavaScript engine here is: “let the first argument be what it is, but then take the rest of the incoming arguments and put them into an array”. So, before we use the “theArgs.forEach” method to iterate the “theArgs” variable, we take a look at the very first argument: “X” and output it.

Now if we take a look at Example # 2 B, we see the output of Example # 2 A. As expected, we see “x -> a” first, because we examined the first argument. Then we see the “rest” of the arguments, because we used the rest parameter to iterate the “rest of” the arguments that were passed into the function.

Skipping Arguments – Example # 3 A

The Second Argument Has Been Skipped – Example # 3 B


In Example # 3 A, we take an approach that’s very similar to that of Example # 2 A, by examining the first argument and outputting it to the console. But when you look at Example # 3 B, the output of this call to inspectArgs skips the second argument: “b”. This is because we specify: “x, y, …theArgs” where the incoming arguments would normally go. So now what we are saying to the JavaScript engine here is: “let the first and second arguments be what they are, but then take the rest of the incoming arguments and put them into an array”. As a result, we wind up with three local variables in this function: “a” “b” and “theArgs”. We output the value of “a” and “theArgs”, but we ignored “b”. The main point here is that we have changed the value of “theArgs” simply by specifying a “b” argument. So, as you can see, Example # 3 A truly demonstrates the power of the JavaScript Rest Parameter.

Handling HTTP POST Requests with Express.js

Express JS

Node.js LogoLearn how to access the body of an HTTP POST request using the Express.js framework and body-parser module.

Forms are a common component in web applications. When a user submits a form, that data is sent to the back-end for processing. To process that data, the web server must understand how to access it. Popular web server languages include Java, .NET, PHP, Python and Node.js. In this article, we’ll learn how to access the POST data sent to a Node.js web server using the Express.js framework. To get started, you can go ahead and clone the following github repository: Handling POST requests with Express and Node.js.

And you’ll find instructions on how to run the code in the Github page.

package.json

The package.json for this project is pretty straightforward, and we’ll only need the body-parser and express Node.js modules. We also create a scripts property so that running the example code requires a simple command: npm start.

Requiring the modules we need – Example # 1:

In Example # 1, we’ve imported the Node.js modules that we need. The Express module takes care of the heavy lifting with regard to fulfilling web requests. NOTE: If you’re not familiar with the Express Node.js module, please see my earlier blog post on this subject:  Set up a Node / Express Static Web Server in Five Minutes.

We also import the body-parser Node.js module, which has the critical role of parsing the body of an HTTP request. When it comes to processing a POST request, this is important. And the path Node.js module helps express to construct a file path.

bodyParser.json and bodyParser.urlencoded – Example # 2:

Now, here in Example # 2, we tell express to use the bodyParser.json middleware, which provides support for parsing of application/json type post data. We also tell express to use the bodyParser.urlencoded middleware, which provides support for the parsing of application/x-www-form-urlencoded type post data.

Creating the node.js web server – Example # 3:

In Example # 3, we use express.static to set up the static assets folder, the main purpose of which is to help the working example function in a browser, with minimal effort. For more information on express.static, please see my earlier blog post in Express mentioned above. In this example, we use the app.post method, which tells the Express module to wait for an HTTP request at the /form route that leverages the POST HTTP verb. So, when the user sends a POST request to the /form route, Node.js executes the provided callback, which is the second argument passed to the app.post method.

The app.post callback takes two arguments, the first of which is the request object (i.e. “req”). The second is the result argument (i.e. “res”). We use the res.setHeader method to set the Content-Type header to application/json, which tells the user’s browser how to properly handle the returned data from the request.

NOTE: We wrap the rest of the callback code in a setTimeout, the purpose of which is to mimic a slow internet connection. Otherwise, the working example will move too fast for most to comfortably follow.

Inside the setTimeout, we use the res.send method to send the result body back to the user, and here we’re sending a serialized JSON object. To construct this object, we access the body property of the req object (i.e. the request object), which is why we have implemented the bodyParser.json middleware. And this is what allows us to parse the properties of the request body. In this example, we are expecting firstName and lastName POST parameters, which will allow us to access the req.body.firstName and req.body.lastName properties, to build the JSON for our result object.

To see this code in action, just follow these steps :

  1. Clone the git hub repository: https://github.com/kevinchisholm/video-code-examples/tree/master/node-express/handling-POST-requests-with-express
  2. Follow the instructions in the readme to set up the code
  3. Point your browser to: http://localhost:3000
  4. In the web page, enter some text into the two input boxes, and then click the “Submit” button
  5. Notice the logging statement in your node.js terminal
  6. Notice that the text you entered displayed in a browser message

You might also want to take a look at the Network tab in your Web Developer Tools, which allows you to see the actual network request that goes to the web server. You’ll be able to inspect the POST data sent, and the JSON data returned.

Viewing the working code example

Here’s what happens when you submit the data in the browser:

  1. The JavaScript in www/js/form-handler.js makes an AJAX POST call to the route: /form.
  2. The object sent in the POST request is: {firstName: XXX. lastName: XXX}. (NOTE: “XXX” is whatever value entered into the form’s text inputs.)
  3. Our Node.js web server intercepts the HTTP request to /form.
  4. Our Node.js web server parses the body of the HTTP request and constructs a JSON object.
  5. The XMLHttpRequest for the AJAX call is this JSON object.
  6. The browser displays the data from this JSON object in the browser.

Nothing too fancy here, just illustrating the “round trip” of our HTTP POST request.

Summary

In this article, we learned how to handle POST requests with the Express node.js module, and we talked about the need for bodyParser.json and bodyParser.urlencoded. We also learned how to listen for a POST request to a specific route, and how to access the POST parameters in the HTTP request body. Now, while the working example is simple, it does allow you to inspect every step of the process. If you look at your browser’s network tab, you can see the HTTP POST request go out, and then return. What happens during the server-side processing of that request is what you see in our Node.js code: server.js.

So, a lot to digest at first, but I’m hoping that this it will get you started with your next form-based Node.js application!

Introduction to Express.js, the Node.js web application framework

Express JS

Node.js Logo - expressExpress.js provides the kind of abstraction that lets you stay out of the weeds and focus on your application code.

While the low-level nature of Node can be an asset, it can also be somewhat of a curse because when you’re serving static assets, it can be tedious to detect routes and serve the correct static assets for an entire web page. Some examples of static assets are CSS files, images or JavaScript files. Now, the good news is, Express is a Node module that provides abstraction for these kinds of challenges. It’s popular, it’s used by large companies, and there’s strong community support for it, all of which make this a solid choice.

Why Express?

The main goal of Express is to provide an application framework, and getting started is simple. Take a look at the code samples, which you can clone at the following Github repository: Introduction to Express.js, the Node.js web application framework. You’ll find instructions on how to run the code in the Github

package.json

The package.json for this project is simple: the single dependency is express.

The get() Method – Example # 1

In Example # 1, we call the get() method of the app variable, and we pass the string “/” to the get method. This tells Express.js how we want to handle any GET request to the root of the application. (NOTE: GET is an HTTP verb, other examples are POST and PUT.) In Example # 1, we are sending back a simple HTML page, and we have created the HTML by constructing a string that represents that HTML code. This happens in the “HTML” variable. We then call the send() method of the result object, sending our HTML back to the user. Now run Example # 1 in your terminal with the command node example-1.js, then navigate to http://localhost:3000/ in your browser. There you will then see “This is Example # 1”.

The use() method – Example # 2

Example # 2 is much shorter than Example # 1 because we have not hard-coded our HTML. Instead, we have used the use method of the app object, which tells Express which folder we want to use for serving static assets. As a result, our JavaScript code is cleaner, and easier to read. Also, we’ve separated concerns. In other words, instead of hard-coding our HTML in our JavaScript file, we’ve put HTML where it belongs: in an HTML file.

Now notice how the web page in Example # 2 has an image. I included that to point out how Express handles this for us, even though we never had to write any JavaScript code that specifically waits for an image request. There is also a CSS file being served. In both cases, Express understands that WWW is our public web folder and it serves up static assets as needed, which certainly saves us a lot of time. Now run Example # 2 in your terminal with the command node example-2.js, then navigate to http://localhost:3000/ in your browser. There you will see “This is www/index.html”, which is a major improvement, as the HTML that the user sees is actually served from a static HTML file.

Adding Handlers for a Second Route – Example # 3

In Example # 3, we use the GET method to add a handler for when the user requests “/about“. In this case, we serve-up “/www/about.html“, which is just one example, but we could have added any specific route handlers needed. Now run Example # 3 in your terminal with the command node example-3.js, and navigate to http://localhost:3000/ in your browser. There you will see “This is www/index.html”. Now, click “About” in the upper-right-hand corner, to display the “About Us” page. You can then click “Home” and “About” over and over, to switch routes, because our JavaScript code in Example-1.js handles the alternation of these two routes.

Summary

In this article, we learned the absolute basics of Express, but in doing so, we also got to see how simple it is to use. In our discussion we saw examples of the get() method, as well as the use() method. I’m hoping that this was enough to illustrate the power behind this Node.js web application framework, and that it will get you well on your way to enjoying its usefulness.

Create a Node Websocket Server in Five Minutes

Node.js

Node.js Logo - node websocket serverLeveraging Express.js and the ws NPM module, it is possible to create a Node Websocket Server in less than ten lines of code.

The Websocket protocol provides full-duplex communication channels over a single TCP connection. In the past, web clients had to employ long-polling or the repeated pinging of a server in order to achieve this kind of “push” functionality. Now, Websocket technology eliminates the need for such outdated techniques. So, when a Websocket client connects to the server, a persistent connection is created, and the Websocket server can then push notifications to all connected clients. It is possible for the clients to send messages to the Websocket server as well, but I’ll cover that in a later article.

In this article, I’ll explain the bare-minimum code needed to create a Node Websocket server that can broadcast all incoming messages to connected clients. This should take us about five minutes, and less than ten lines of code. The beauty of Express.js is that it takes care of the heavy lifting with regard to the actual web server. The ws NPM module also plays a starring role in that it handles the Websocket communication layer, allowing us to expose an endpoint that accepts connections and messages from clients. Plus, we can broadcast messages to connected clients.

package.json

Above is the contents of package.json. There are only two dependencies: the Express.js framework and the ws module.

The Node Websocket Server – Example # 1

So, here in Example # 1 we have the entire working application. On line #s 3 through 9 we create our dependencies. I’ve grouped things in a way that I hope makes sense, but I’ll just point out that on a high level there are two things happening here. We require the modules that we need as constants: http, express, and WebSocket. Also, we create the constants app, server and websocketServer. These constants are the results of expressions. Now if you’ve ever worked with Express.js before, the app constant should be familiar to you; it’s simply an instance of the Express framework. The server constant is the result of calling http.createServer(), passing it our express.js instance (ie. “app”). And finally, the constant websocketServer represents our Websocket server.

Now let’s jump ahead for a moment to line # 30, where we start our web server. It’s not that there’s much going on here; it’s just that I wanted to point out that the server is started by calling the server.listen method, passing it the port to listen on (i.e. 3000). The second argument (the anonymous function) is optional.

Now let’s go back up to the top of the file. As you can see, the rest of the code is surprisingly simple. We create two event handlers, the first of which takes care of each Websocket client connection, and the second one processes each message that it receives from that client. On line # 12, we have the first event handler. We use the “on” method of the websocketServer instance to handler an incoming connection. This is somewhat similar to creating a handler for a GET or POST request in Express.js.

We pass the event as the first argument (i.e. “connection”), and then a function as the 2nd argument. The anonymous function that we provide contains the code that we want executed for each new Websocket client connection. This function also receives a Websocket client as its first argument. We have named this variable: “webSocketClient”. On line # 14 we provide some feedback to the Websocket client by sending it the first Websocket message: { “connection” : “ok”}. This is for demonstration purposes only, just so that we can see right away that the connection has been established.

Now inside of the anonymous callback, we set up the second event handler, which will process each message that this client receives. And similar to the connection event handler, we use the “on” method of the webSocketClient variable to handler an incoming message. We pass the event as the first argument (i.e. “message”), and then a function as the 2nd argument. The anonymous function that we provide contains the code that we want executed for each message received by this Websocket client.

Broadcasting the Message to All Websocket Clients

On line # 20, we start the process of broadcasting the incoming message to all Websocket clients. Using the forEach method of the Websocket.clients list, we iterate the list of websocket clients. And for each iteration, we provide a callback function. This callback function receives the currently iterated Websocket client as its first argument. So, we then use the send method of that client object, and send the incoming message (i.e. by sending one message to many recipients, we are “broadcasting” that message).

Testing the Websocket Server

Now if you copy all of the code from Example # 1 into a file and then execute it, you’ll have a running Websocket server on port # 3000. But that isn’t enough. Now we want to test our websocket server, and an easy way to do this is to use the Smart Websocket Client plugin for Google Chrome.

So go ahead and click this link to install the plugin, and once you’ve installed it, start the plugin by clicking the icon in the upper-right-hand corner of your Chrome browser.

smart-websocket-client-icon
smart-websocket-client-icon
smart-websocket-client-1
Smart Websocket Client

Once the Smart Websocket Client is running, enter http://localhost:3000 in the address bar and then click the “Connect” button. You should see { “connection” : “ok”} in the lower window, indicating that a Websocket connection was successfully established (see example # 2).

smart-websocket-client-2
Connecting
smart-websocket-client-3
Connecting Success Message

Example # 2

In the top window, enter any text, click the “Send” button, then you’ll see your message appear in the lower window. Now open a few more instances of the Smart Websocket Client and follow the same steps. If you place your Chrome browser tabs side by side, you’ll see that every message you’ve sent has been broadcast to every Websocket client. Congratulations!  You’ve just built a working Node Websocket server.

Example # 3

Now earlier in this article, I promised that we could create our Websocket server in less than ten lines of code. Example # 1 clocks in at 32 lines of code, but this is because I used whitespace and comments to make the code as readable as possible. So, in Example # 3, I’ve provided the condensed version of our Node Websocket server. This code is not very pretty, but as promised, it is a fully functional Node Websocket server that’s set up in less than ten lines

What is the difference between LET and CONST in JavaScript?

JavaScript

JavaScript LogoThe JavaScript let and const keywords provide block-level scope, but there is a slight difference in how they behave. With const, you can not re-assign a value to the variable. With let,
you can.

Over time, JavaScript applications have grown in complexity. As a result of the increased code complexity programmers have been faced with a challenging dilemma: build applications that satisfy ever-evolving business requirements, yet continue to work with the same tools. It only makes sense that JavaScript would be in need of improvements, since for much of its history, functions were the only tools available to achieve scope. But, for several years, block-level scope was a feature that was sorely lacking. Then along came the ECMAScript-2015 specification that finally met that need with the let and const keywords.

The JavaScript let and const keywords are quite similar, in that they create block-level scope. However, they do differ a bit in the way that they behave. For example, the JavaScript let keyword is similar to the var keyword in that assignments can be changed. On the other hand, the JavaScript const keyword differs in that assignments can not be changed. So, once you declare a variable using the const keyword, you cannot re-assign a value to that variable. This does not mean that the variable is immutable. If you assign an object to a variable using the const keyword, you can mutate that object. You just can’t re-assign that variable with a new value. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Example # 1 A

Example # 1 B

In Example # 1 A, we have two different versions of the “i” variable. I say “two different versions” because the same variable name exists in two difference scopes, the global scope and a block scope. The block scope exists between the two curly braces: “{ }”. Then inside of the two curly braces, I used the JavaScript let keyword to declare a second “i” variable. Because we used the let keyword, that particular “i” variable is scoped to the block in which it was declared. And because of this, the console.log() statement on line # 6 outputs  50. I’ll just note here that it may seem a little odd at first to declare a variable anywhere other than at the top of the function, but this actually is the correct syntax; if we want a block-level scope variable, we use the let keyword inside of a set of curly braces.

Take a look at Example # 1 B. Notice how, in the second console.log() statement, the output is 100. This is because that second console.log() statement is in the global scope, and in that scope the “i” variable is equal to 100. So, there we have it: two different scopes without even having used a function.

Example # 2 A

Example # 2 B

Now, in Example # 2 A, there are two “j” variables.
The first “j” variable is a global, equal to 100, and the second is defined inside of the for loop. And because it’s defined inside of a block, it has block-level scope. Now look at example # 2 B. Because “i” is global, the “i” variable increments, just as we would expect. But notice that the “j” variable is always 50 in each console.log() statement, even though there is a global “j” variable. This is because on each iteration of the for loop, a block-level “j” variable is declared using the let keyword, and it is incremented (just to demonstrate that with let, we can re-assign a variable value). So in this case, with each iteration of the for loop we have a block-scoped “j” variable and it is always 51. Note that the global “j” variable is ignored on line # 12.

Example # 3 A

Example # 3 B

In Examples # 3 A and # 3 B you’ll see a similarity to Examples # 1 A and # 1 B, the only difference being the use of the use of the const keyword instead of let when declaring our block-level version of the “i” variable.

Example # 4 A

Example # 4 B

Now here in Example # 4 A, we’ve run into a problem. We tried to take the same approach as Example # 2 A, that is, we tried to increment the “j” variable declared on line # 6. The problem, though, is that when you use the JavaScript const keyword, you cannot re-assign a new value to a variable. So when you look at Example # 4 B, you’ll see that we never see the full output of the for loop that we expected, because line # 9 of Example # 4A throws a TypeError. This is because when we try to change the value of “j”, we find that this is not possible because it was created using the const keyword. In other words: it’s a constant.

Example # 5 A

Example # 5 B

Now Example # 5 A is virtually identical to Example # 4 A, except that we have not tried to increment the “j” variable. And when you look at Example # 5 B, you’ll see that we no longer have an error. In the console, the value of “j” is 50 every time.

Summary

So to recap, we now know that the JavaScript let and const keywords allow you to create block-level scope for variables, which, in turn, negates the need to always use functions to create scope. With block-level scope, all you need are the curly braces “{ }”, and within that block, any variable created using let or const is private (or local) to that block. This is particularly helpful with for-loops. And a very important thing to keep in mind: with const, you cannot re-assign values to a variable. In other words, any variable created with the const keyword is a constant and the assignment cannot be changed.

A lot to take in here, but I think it’s worth keeping on your radar, given this very functional block-level scope now increasingly available in browsers.

The Paradox of JavaScript

JavaScript

JavaScript LogoAre you getting an ECMA-Headache?

In the book: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, author Barry Schwartz argues that too many choices can dilute satisfaction. While this title spends much of its time in the context of consumer products, a similar argument can be made about the world of JavaScript. There is so much going on in the wild wild west that is JS, but is that really a good thing?

In short, I’d say  yes, it is a good thing. Even though it can be difficult to navigate the maze of libraries and frameworks, the explosion of activity breeds a world of innovation and creativity. But there is no doubt a cost; Where to begin? How to keep up? There is a lot of noise associated with the world of JavaScript. I actually feel that most of it is good noise, but it can be overwhelming.

I recently participated in an  Aquent Gymnasium webinar titled: keeping up with javascript is a full-time job, and I thought the title was brilliant. Not only are beginners feeling JavaScript anxiety, but experienced developers as well. I’ve heard many people ask the same questions: “Should I learn Angular or React”? – “If few ES-2015 features are currently supported, should I still learn them?” – “Grunt , Gulp or Webpack?” and so on.

ES6 vs ES-2015 vs ES-2016 vs ES-WTF

And speaking of ECMAScript, what is up with the naming-scheme? ES6 is AKA ES-2015, and ES7 is AKA 2016? Ok, that’s easy to remember. But what to learn? What the hell is a JavaScript symbol? And, what significance does it play in the million-and-fifty-fifth JavaScript slideshow I will have to make in my next Agile Sprint? Is this just like all that cruddy math that we had to learn in 8th grade, knowing perfectly well that we’d never ever need it in adult life?

Sigh.

So many libraries, so little time

This is where the paradox may lie. We have so many JavaScript toys to play with, but who has time to keep up with all of them? First, you have to be aware of changes in the JavaScript jungle. For example, Angular 4 is out, but there is no Angular3. Okie dokie. Next you have to understand the role of each library or framework. And then at some point, you want to learn how to use it, right?

Sometimes it is really tough to know where to invest your time. I’ve been hearing more and more about Aurelia and Vue.js. Both have enjoyed positive reviews and are gaining traction. But are they really going to take off line Angular? Am I really going to benefit in my next job interview by learning either one of these libraries or any of the other up-and-coming JavaScript libraries/frameworks ?

My answer: Bet on JavaScript every time

I’m not sure it is necessary to learn every single JavaScript framework or library that falls from the tree. We all have lives to live and there are only 24 hours in each day.

Something interesting about all of this craziness is that there is one common thread throughout: JavaScript.  JavaScript is the language used in all of these libraries/frameworks/build tools. So, you simply cannot lose by making JavaScript your top priority. If you have a free hour, spend 45 minutes studying JavaScript, and 15-minutes learning a new library. As long as your JavaScript skills continue to improve, you will always have the tools you need to learn any new library/framework/build tool. Not only that, but you will get better at picking them up. In addition, you will start to see the similarities between them and common patterns in the source code.

In short: you simply cannot lose by concentrating on JavaScript.

ECMA-Everything

Not only is it important to focus on JavaScript, but it is also key to learn the new features of the specification.  Most browsers do not support these features, but they will soon, so best to get ahead of the eight-ball. ES-6 and ES-7 features are powerful and when supported, will take much of the pain out of creating sophisticated client-side web applications. More important than Angular, more important than React, learn the newest features of JavaScript. And, Babel is your friend; it allows you to use features that browsers do not yet support. Also, the combination of Typescript/Webpack is another solid solution.

Planning is key

I can only speak to what has worked for me, and that is: always trying to decide where my time is best spent. For example, one of the biggest arguments in the JavaScript world is: “should I learn Angular or React?” Well, I’d say: learn both!

You don’t have to master each one, but learn enough to understand the differences between them as well as their strengths / weaknesses. Since, I happen to spend 90% of my professional day working with Angular2, I am a fan. But, I was worried that I was falling behind on my knowledge of React, so I spent my last Christmas holiday building an application with React. Now, I am far from a React guru, but in building a simple CRUD application that I actually use each day, I was able to gain an understanding of how it works, how it differs from Angular, and what its strengths are.

I’ve tried to take this approach with every other segment of the JavaScript ecosystem: NPM vs Yarn, Gulp vs Grunt vs Webpack, Typescript vs Vanilla JavaScript, and so on. In each case I ask myself: “What is the most important thing I need to know about this library/framework/build-tool ?” and then my goal is to be able to speak intelligently about it. Sometimes it takes a Saturday afternoon, sometimes it takes a month. Sometimes it turns out that I wind up using that particular tool heavily in my daily work. But I try to at least understand what it does, how it differs from its competitor and what it brings to the table.

Summary

In my opinion, there will always be a couple of JavaScript libraries or frameworks that you work with on a daily basis, a few that you used to work with, and then a zillion that you have heard of but have not had time to learn yet. They key from my perspective, is to accept this reality; you can’t have an expert-level knowledge of everything. But you can keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there, and do your best to have a good understanding of the more popular tools and the role the play.

Set up a Node / Express Static Web Server in Five Minutes

Node.js

node express static web server

Setting up Node and Express as a Simple Lightweight Web Server for Your Single Page Application is Very Easy to Do.

Sometimes you just need a local web server.  Sure, you could use MAMP, but installing Apache, MySQL and PHP seems like overkill in some cases. I have used MAMP for years and it is terrific. In particular, when you need to run PHP locally and / or connect to a MySQL database, it’s the cats pajamas. But that was the standard 10 years ago. Nowadays, it’s very common to build a single page web application where all of the assets are static, data is pulled-in from a REST endpoint and all of the heavy lifting is done in the browser via JavaScript. In these kinds of scenarios, a static Node / Express server is a simple, easy and lightweight approach.

In this article I’ll explain the steps needed to set up a Node / Express Static Web Server. And the good news is that on this high level, the required steps are very simple. First, you’ll need to require the express and path modules. After that, you’ll create an instance of express, then set the port that the web-server will use. The next step, and the key-ingredient here is the express.static method. This tells Express.js that you want to serve static content from a specific folder. In that one line of code, you’ve done the majority of the configuration work.

So, not only will Express serve-up static content from that folder, it can do so for any subfolders as well. You can specify any folder in your project as the static web folder. And the beauty of it is that any folder outside of the one you specify will be hidden from public view, so your application code will be safe. When you pass the the express.static method to the use method of your express instance, you provide the details that express needs to serve your static content. Then finally, you use the listen method of your express instance to start the web server. We’ll take a closer look at the express.static method in Example # 2.

Now, I just want to remind you here that this article pertains to the specific occasions in which you need to serve static web assets locally. In other words, using a Node / Express static web server can be a very simple way to satisfy your need for a local web server, but may not be the best approach for your production needs. Technically, you could take the code that is detailed in this article and deploy it to your production server, and in theory it would work just fine. For this article, however, I’m just going to concentrate on providing a fast and simple way to get a local web server running so that you can test your front-end code (e.g. HTML, CSS or JavaScript).

The code samples can be downloaded here: https://github.com/kevinchisholm/node-express-static-web-server

Example # 1 – package.json

In Example # 1, we have the contents of package.json. Nothing too special going on here. But just note that our only dependency is the express module. Also, in the scripts property, I’ve set up the start command to execute the app.js file in the node web-server folder. This way, we can simply type npm start in the terminal, instead of node web-server/app.js (just a bit less typing).

Example # 2 – The Express Static Web Server

In Example # 2, we have the entire contents of our web server: 15 lines of code (and nearly 25% of that is comments!). The magic happens on line # 10:  We call the app.use method and pass it express.static, which also takes a couple of arguments. So this tells Express that we want to set a static folder. We then use the path.join method to tell Express where all static assets should be served from. In our case, it is the www folder. The two arguments passed to the path.join method are __dirname, which tells us the absolute path to the folder within which the current script is found, and then “../www” which is a relative path to the www folder.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, anything outside of your static folder is protected from public view. This means that while the folder you specify when calling the express.static() method (i.e. “../www”) is publically viewable, any folder that is a sibling or descendant of that folder is not available publically. This is not a critical factor when working locally (i.e, developing), but it does matter in production. In other words, you wouldn’t want your application code to be viewable to the general public. Nor would you want to make available any sensitive information that’s in your application code, such as a secret key or other credentials. So, as you can see, this is one of the key strengths of Express, which is the ability that it provides you to not only define your public/static folder in one line of code, but to also protect all of the other folders by default.

Express does all of the heavy lifting

A little earlier, I used the word magic. We both know that none of this is actually magic, but it sure feels like it. If you’ve ever created a Node web server manually, then you know two things: 1) It’s really easy, 2) It’s really tedious once you get past “Hello World”.  But Express hides all the tedium and makes serving static assets as easy as 1-2-3.

HTTP Headers

There is one downside here. Express does not set the appropriate content-type headers for the HTTP requests.  This is not fatal in most cases because this approach is simply meant to provide a very fast and easy way to set up a static web server. The actual web server works just fine, but keep in mind that content-type headers for files such as JPEG, PNG, CSS or JS will not be set accordingly. If that is a problem, then a simple static web server is probably not what you need and you should consider a more robust approach. So, hopefully, if you do need a simple static web server, this article was what you needed to get up and running quickly.

Summary

There are multiple options when it comes to setting up a static web server. One advantage to leveraging Node and Express.js, however, is that as a developer, you probably already have Node installed on your machine. So, in this case, you won’t need to install any additional software. You can simply import the Express framework, write about a dozen lines of code, and you have a static web server. This is probably not a server that you would use in production, but as you can see, it can easily solve the problem of quickly serving web content on your local machine. If you need to write moderately complex dynamic application logic, then you might need something a bit more advanced than what was discussed here. But for a basic static web server, this approach should get you going (hopefully in less than five minutes : – )