6 min read

Open source software in general, and JavaScript in particular, can seem like a place where boom and bust is the rule of law: rapid growth before everyone moves on to the next big thing. But Node.js is different. Although it certainly couldn’t be described as new, and it’s growth hasn’t been dramatic by any measure, over the last few years it has managed to push itself forward as one of the most widely used JavaScript tools on the planet.

Do you want to learn Node.js?

Popularity, however can only tell you so much. The key question, if you’re reading this, is whether you should learn Node.js. So, to help you decide if it’s time to learn the JavaScript library, here’s a list of the biggest reasons why you should start learning Node.js…

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Node.js lets you write JavaScript on both client and server

Okay, let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: Node.js is worth learning because it allows you to write JavaScript on the server.

This has arguably transformed the way we think about JavaScript. Whereas in the past it was a language specifically written on the client, backed by the likes of PHP and Java, it’s now a language that you can use across your application.

Read next: The top 5 reasons Node.js could topple Java

This is important because it means teams can work much more efficiently together. Using different languages for backend and frontend is typically a major source of friction. Unless you have very good polyglot developers, a team is restricted to their core skills, while tooling is also more inflexible. If you’re using JavaScript across the stack, it’s easier to use a consistent toolchain.

From a personal perspective, learning Node.js is a great starting point for full stack development. In essence, it’s like an add-on that immediately expands what you can do with JavaScript. In terms of your career, then, it could well make you an invaluable asset to a development team.

Read next: How is Node.js changing web development?

Node.js allows you to build complex and powerful applications without writing complex code

Another strong argument for Node.js is that it is built for performance.

This is because of 2 important things – Node.js’ asynchronous-driven architecture, and the fact that it uses the V8 JavaScript engine. The significance of this is that V8 is one of the fastest implementations of JavaScript, used to power many of Google’s immensely popular in-browser products (like Gmail).

Node.js is powerful because it employs an asynchronous paradigm for handling data between client and server. To clarify what this means, it’s worth comparing to the typical application server model that uses blocking I/O – in this instance, the application has to handle each request sequentially, suspending threads until they can be processed. This can add complexity to an application and, of course, slows an application down.

In contrast, Node.js allows you to use non-blocking I/O in which threads (in this case sequential, not concurrent), which can manage multiple requests. If one can’t be processed, it’s effectively ‘withheld’ as a promise, which means it can be executed later without holding up other threads.

This means Node.js can help you build applications of considerable complexity without adding to the complexity of your code.

Node.js is well suited to building microservices

Microservices have become a rapidly growing architectural style that offer increased agility and flexibility over the traditional monolith. The advantages of microservices are well documented, and whether or not they’re right for you now, it’s likely that they’re going to dominate the software landscape as the world moves away from monolithic architecture.

This fact only serves to strengthen the argument that you should learn Node.js because the library is so well suited to developing in this manner. This is because it encourages you to develop in a modular and focused manner, quite literally using specific modules to develop an application. This is distinct and almost at odds with the monolithic approach to software architecture.

At this point, it’s probably worth highlighting that it’s incredibly easy to package and publish the modules you build thanks to npm (node package manager).

So, even if you haven’t yet worked with microservices, learning Node.js is a good way to prepare yourself for a future where they are going to become even more prevalent.

Node.js can be used for more than just web development

We know by now that Node.js is flexible. But it’s important to recognise that its flexibility means it can be used for a wide range of different purposes. Yes, the library’s community are predominantly building applications for the web, but it’s also a useful tool for those working in ops or infrastructure.

This is because Node.js is a great tool for developing other development tools. If you’re someone working to support a team of developers, or, indeed, to help manage an entire distributed software infrastructure, it could be vital in empowering you to get creative and build your own support tools.

Even more surprisingly, Node.js can be used in some IoT projects. As this post from 2016 suggests, the two things might not be quite such strange bedfellows.

Node.js is a robust project that won’t be going anywhere

As I’ve already said, in the JavaScript world frameworks and tools can appear and disappear quickly. That means deciding what to learn, and, indeed, what to integrate into your stack, can feel like a bit of a gamble.

However, you can be sure that Node.js is here to stay. There are a number of reasons for this. For starters, there’s no other tool that brings JavaScript to the server. But more than that, with Google betting heavily on V8 – which is, as we’ve seen, such an important part of the project – you can be sure it’s only going to go from strength to strength.

It’s also worth pointing out that Node.js went through a small crisis when io.js broke away from the main Node.js project. This feud was as much personal as it was technical, but with the rift healed, and the Node.js Foundation now managing the whole project, helping to ensure that the software is continually evolving with other relevant technological changes and that the needs of the developers who use it continue to be met.

Conclusion: spend some time exploring Node.js before you begin using it at work

That’s just 5 reasons why you should learn Node.js. You could find more, but broadly speaking these all underline its importance in today’s development world.

If you’re still not convinced, there’s a caveat. If Node.js isn’t yet right for you, don’t assume that it’s going to fix any technological or cultural issues that have been causing you headaches. It probably won’t. In fact, you should probably tackle those challenges before deciding to use it.

But that all being said, even if you don’t think it’s the right time to use Node.js professionally, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth learning. As you can see, it’s well worth your time. Who knows where it might take you?

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Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.