Web Development with MongoDB and Node.js

4.3 (3 reviews total)
By Jason Krol
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  1. Welcome to JavaScript in the Full Stack

About this book

Node.js and MongoDB are quickly becoming the most popular technologies in the world of full stack JavaScript development. Powered by Google's V8 JavaScript runtime, Node.js caters to easily building fast, scalable network applications while MongoDB is the perfect fit as a scalable, high-performance, open source NoSQL database solution. Using these two technologies together, web applications can be built quickly and easily and deployed to the cloud with very little difficulty.

This book will enable you to leverage the key features of both MongoDB and Node.js in web and mobile app development. Starting with setting up your development environment, it will guide you through how to write your first Node.js web server application from scratch. Along the way, you will learn about best practices and common mistakes while mastering the core concepts of web development.

Publication date:
September 2014


Chapter 1. Welcome to JavaScript in the Full Stack

What an exciting time to be a JavaScript developer! What was once only considered a language to add enhancements and widgets to a webpage has since evolved into its own full-fledged ecosystem. I believe Atwood's law says it best— any application that can be written in JavaScript, will eventually be written in JavaScript. While this quote dates back to 2007, it's never been more true than today. Not only can you use JavaScript to develop a complete single-page web application such as Gmail, but you will also see how we can achieve the following projects with JavaScript throughout the remaining part of the book:

  • How to completely power the backend using Node.js and Express.js

  • How to persist data with a powerful database like MongoDB

  • How to write dynamic HTML pages using Handlebars.js

  • How to deploy your entire project to the cloud using services like Heroku and AWS

With the introduction of Node.js, JavaScript has officially gone in a direction that was never even possible before. Now, you can use JavaScript on the server, and you can also use it to develop full-scale enterprise-level applications. When you combine this with the power of MongoDB and its JSON-powered data, you can work with JavaScript in every layer of your application.

One of the great advantages of developing with JavaScript in the "full stack" of a web application is that you are using a consistent language and syntax. Frameworks and libraries are no longer exclusive only to the frontend or backend but can be integrated into other layers of the application as well.

Underscore.js is an extremely popular JavaScript library to work with collections that is used equally on the backend with Node.js as much as on the frontend directly within the browser.

JavaScript in the full stack of a web application


Node.js changed JavaScript forever

Back in 2009, Ryan Dahl gave a presentation at JSConf that changed JavaScript forever. During his presentation, he introduced Node.js to the JavaScript community, and after a roughly 45-minute talk, he concluded it, receiving a standing ovation from the audience in the process. He was inspired to write Node.js after he saw a simple file upload progress bar on Flickr, the image-sharing site. Realizing that the site was going about the whole process the wrong way, he decided that there had to be a better solution.

As stated on the Node.js homepage, the goal of Node is to provide an easy way to build scalable network programs. It achieves this by providing an event-driven, nonblocking IO model that is extremely lightweight. Compared to traditional web-serving technologies that require a new CPU thread for every connection to the server that would eventually max out the systems resources, Node instead uses a single thread but doesn't block the I/O of the CPU. Thus, this allows Node to support tens of thousands of concurrent connections. It's for this very reason that Node is so popular with high-traffic web applications.

To see an example of just how lightweight Node can be, let's take a look at some sample code that starts up an HTTP server and sends Hello World to a browser:

var http = require('http');
http.createServer(function (req, res) {
  res.writeHead(200, {'Content-Type': 'text/plain'});
  res.end('Hello World\n');
}).listen(8080, 'localhost');
console.log('Server running at http://localhost:8080');

A few basic lines of code are all it takes to write a complete Node application. Running it with a simple node app.js command will launch an HTTP server that is listening on port 8080. Point any browser to http://localhost:8080, and you will see the simple output Hello World on your screen! While this sample app doesn't actually do anything useful, it should give you a glimpse of the kind of power you will have while writing web applications using Node.js.

At its core, Node is very low-level. It consists of a small set of modules that do very specific things and do them very well. These modules include tools to work with the file system, networking with TCP and HTTP, security, and streams.

Asynchronous callbacks

One of the most powerful features of Node is that it is event-driven and asynchronous. Code gets executed via callback functions whenever an event is broadcast. Simply put, you assign a callback function to an event, and when Node determines that the event has been fired, it will execute your callback function at that moment. No other code will get blocked waiting for an event to occur. Consider the following example to see asynchronous callbacks in action:

setTimeout(function() {
}, 2000);


Downloading the example code

You can download the example code files for all Packt books you have purchased from your account at http://www.packtpub.com. If you purchased this book elsewhere, you can visit http://www.packtpub.com/support and register to have the files e-mailed directly to you.

In a typical synchronous programming language, executing the preceding code will yield the following output:

... (2 second delay) ...

However, in JavaScript and Node, the following output is seen:

... (approx. 2 second delay) ...

The function that actually logs Three is known as a callback to the setTimeout function.

Node Package Manager

Writing applications with Node is really enjoyable when you realize the sheer wealth of information and tools at your disposal! Using Node's built-in package manager npm, you can find literally tens of thousands of modules that can be installed and used within your application with just a few keystrokes! You can view the library of available modules by visiting http://npmjs.org. Downloading and installing any module within your application is as simple as executing the npm install package command. Have you written a module that you want to share with the world? Package it up using npm, and upload it to the public npmjs.org registry just as easily! Not sure how a module works that you downloaded and installed? The source code is right there in your projects' node_modules/ folder waiting to be explored!

Networking and file IO

In addition to the powerful nonblocking asynchronous nature of Node, it also has very robust networking and filesystem tools available via its core modules. With Node's networking modules, you can create server and client applications that accept network connections and communicate via streams and pipes.

Not just on the web

Node isn't just for web development! It can be a powerful solution to create command-line tools as well as full-featured locally run applications that have nothing to do with the Web or a browser. Grunt.js is a great example of a Node-powered command-line tool that many web developers use daily to automate everyday tasks such as build processes, compiling CoffeeScript, launching Node servers, running tests, and more.

In addition to command-line tools, Node has recently become increasingly popular among the hardware crowd with the Nodebots movement. Johnny-Five and Cylon.js are two popular Node libraries that exist to provide a framework to work with robotics.

Real-time web with Socket.io

Node achieves real-time communication with Socket.io. Using Socket.io, you can create features such as instant collaboration, which is similar to multiuser editing in Google Docs. What was once achieved using cumbersome (and not real-time) long polling can now be achieved using WebSockets. While WebSockets is a feature that is only supported in modern browsers, Socket.io also features seamless fallback implementations for legacy browsers.

Using this lightweight core, everything else is left to the developer—but don't let that scare you. The beauty of working with Node is that there is a thriving community developing and releasing modules every day via npm. As of this writing, npm has over 61,000 packages available! Throughout this book, we will use some of the most popular packages that help make writing web applications fun and easy!


The NoSQL movement

The term NoSQL has come to mean any kind of database that doesn't adhere to the strict structures of a typical relational database such as Microsoft SQL, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and so on. With a relational database, you are required to define ahead of time the exact structure of your schema. This means that you must have defined the exact number of columns, length, and datatype for every field in a table, and that each field must always match that exact set of criteria.

With a NoSQL database server such as MongoDB, records are stored as JSON-like documents. A typical document (record) in a MongoDB collection (table) might look like the following code:

$ mongo
> db.contacts.find({email: '[email protected]'}).pretty()

    "email" : "[email protected]",
    "phone" : "123-456-7890",
    "gravatar" : "751e957d48e31841ff15d8fa0f1b0acf",
    "_id" : ObjectId("52fad824392f58ac2452c992"),
    "name" : {
        "first" : "Jason",
        "last" : "Krol"
    "__v" : 0

One of the biggest advantages of using a NoSQL database server such as MongoDB is that it has a dynamic schema system, allowing records in a collection to be completely different from one another.

Some advantages of working with MongoDB are:

  • Dynamic schema design

  • Fast querying and indexing

  • Aggregate framework

  • Sharding and replication

In addition, as MongoDB was written using a JSON-like document structure, JavaScript becomes a powerful tool when working with queries and the interactive shell mongo. Like Node, MongoDB is also built for high performance, making it a great counterpart for building ever demanding, high traffic web and mobile applications. Depending on your exact needs, MongoDB may or may not be the right solution for your application. You should truly weigh the pros and cons of each technology before making a decision to determine which technology is right for you.

Node and MongoDB in the wild

Both Node and MongoDB are extremely popular and active in the development community. This is true for enterprises as well. Some of the biggest names in the Fortune 500 space have fully embraced Node to power their web applications. This is due in large part to the asynchronous nature of Node, which makes it a great alternative for high traffic, high IO applications such as e-commerce websites and mobile applications.

The following is just a small list of some big companies that are working with Node:

  • PayPal

  • LinkedIn

  • eBay

  • Walmart

  • Yahoo!

  • Microsoft

  • Dow Jones

  • Uber

  • New York Times

MongoDB's use in the enterprise sector is equally as impressive and wide reaching with an increasing number of companies adopting the leading NoSQL database server, such as:

  • Cisco

  • Craigslist Inc.

  • Forbes

  • FourSquare

  • Intuit

  • McAfee

  • MTV

  • MetLife

  • Shutterfly

  • Under Armour

What to expect from this book

The remainder of this book is going to be a guided tour that walks you through creating a complete data-driven website. The website we create will feature almost every aspect of a typical large-scale web development project. At its core, it will be powered by Node.js using a popular third-party framework called Express, and it will persist data using MongoDB.

In the first few chapters, we will cover the groundwork involved in getting the core of the server up and serving content. This includes configuring your environment so you are up and running with Node and MongoDB, and a basic introduction to the core concepts of both technologies. Then, we will write a web server from scratch powered by ExpressJS that will handle serving all of the necessary files for the website. From there, we will work with the Handlebars template engine to serve both static and dynamic HTML webpages. Diving deeper, we will make the application persistent by adding a data layer where the records for the website will be saved and retrieved via a MongoDB server. We will cover writing a RESTful API so that third parties can interact with your application. Finally, we will go into detail examining how to write and execute tests for all of your code.

Wrapping up, we will take a brief detour as we examine some popular, emerging frontend technologies that are becoming increasingly popular while writing single-page applications. These technologies include Backbone.js, Angular, and Ember.js.

Last but not least, we will go into details of how to deploy your new website to the Internet using popular cloud-based hosting services such as Heroku and Amazon Web Services.



In this chapter, we reviewed what is to be expected throughout the remainder of this book. We discussed the amazing current state of JavaScript and how it can be used to power the full stack of a web application. Not that you needed any convincing in the first place, but I hope you're excited and ready to get started writing web applications using Node.js and MongoDB!

Next up, we will set up your development environment and get you up and running with Node, MongoDB, and npm as well as write and launch a quick first Node app that uses MongoDB!

About the Author

  • Jason Krol

    Jason Krol is a passionate web developer with over 15 years of professional experience creating highly interactive web applications using the latest in both client and server technologies.

    Over the past few years, Jason has been focusing on developing Single-Page Applications using JavaScript in the full stack with Node.js, MongoDB, and Backbone.js. After co-owning and running a successful web development agency for a number of years, Jason recently joined AWeber Communications, an e-mail marketing service provider in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

    Browse publications by this author

Latest Reviews

(3 reviews total)
Needs more editing. There are many small grammar errors and some poor constructed sentences. These are annoying but overall the book is readable and understandable.
good read read to help me along understanding this framework
Web Development with MongoDB and Node.js
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