Next-Level Node.js Development

Node js

Node.js is one of the more groundbreaking additions to the web development landscape, offering an environment that enables full-stack JavaScript applications for the first time ever. Prior to Node.js, JavaScript was limited to client-side scripting, but Node transformed the script into a cross-over language, capable of writing software that’s portable between the front and back ends.

JavaScript brought its speed and cross-platform compatibility to back-end development, along with its devoted community of JavaScript programmers. In its 2015 developer survey, Stack Overflow found that JavaScript was the most popular programming language—even among back-end developers.

This soaring popularity, along with Node’s expansion into an entire development ecosystem, has fueled the creation of numerous Node.js frameworks that both extend and add to Node.js’s existing features.
The result? These JavaScript evangelists are building exciting new JavaScript frameworks that help to streamline and speed up Node development.

These range from lightweight and flexible modules to full-stack and highly opinionated frameworks. The resulting applications have varying strengths and advantages, but all share one main advantage: they’re written in JavaScript, so they’re compatible across browsers, devices, and operating systems.

Developers will love one framework over another for various reasons (and various projects), but all are guaranteed to boost the power of Node.js and speed up development cycles. If you’re developing an app with the MEAN stack or another Node-based back end, here are some frameworks to keep an eye out for when planning your software stack.


Why would you opt for one of the following lightweight frameworks?  To do a lot more with a lot less effort. If you’re building a single-page, multi-page, or hybrid mobile app and want it to be maintainable for longer (and write less code while building it), these feature-rich middleware frameworks are for you.

Think of middleware frameworks as the plumbing of your app, handling requests and responses between the server and the user interface. Having solid, well-built middleware early on ensures your app can scale, and scale well.

Express.js a lightweight, efficient middleware and routing framework. Express.js is best known as another quarter of the MEAN (MongoDB, Express, AngularJS and Node) software stack, and is the most popular Node.js framework. Because Node.js itself wasn’t intended to build websites, the Express framework is able to create an HTTP server in Node, layering in the middleware structure and response/request functions needed to actually run a site.

It’s a pretty minimalist framework that’s great for giving developers extra, built-in web application features and the Express API without overriding the already robust, feature-packed Node.js platform. Note that it does require a bit more manual tasks, which can be tedious and time consuming, and has a bit larger footprint than other frameworks.

Other frameworks like the kraken.js suite extend Express even further. Express has been used as a middleware framework for sites like MySpace, PayPal, and Klout.


Need more enterprise-level functionality? Working with distributed engineering teams? Hapi.js may be the best route for you. Hapi.js was created by developers at Walmart in preparation for Black Friday traffic as an answer to limitations they’d run into with Express—mainly extensibility and maintainability issues.

They found that, as the application grew, Express code was more difficult to split into chunks and delegate to different teams. Hapi’s plug-in system enables it to be worked on in sections without breaking the rest of the code base.

Right out of the box, Hapi does a lot more than Express. While there are similarities and differences between the two frameworks, Hapi—which is primarily used for rapidly building and testing application programming interfaces (APIs)—generally enables developers to focus more on writing reusable application logic instead of spending time building infrastructure.

It supports API development with an array of plug-ins from authorization and authentication to metrics and logging. It’s been used by heavy-hitters like OpenTable, Macy’s, Condé Nast, and Disney.


New to the scene and following in Express’ footsteps is the Koa.js framework, a callback-less, lightweight middleware framework written by the same authors as Express. Koa.js is a powerful server framework for Node.js to build efficient web applications and APIs. Koa.js efficiently uses generators to deal with callbacks and increase error-handling capabilities.

This framework might not be the best for first-timers developing Node.js servers as it does have some of its own quirks and methods to learn, but it does support ES6, the latest release of JavaScript.


Total.js is a full-stack model-view controller (MVC) framework that builds highly responsive web apps with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. It’s compatible with client-side frameworks like AngularJS, Backbone.js, React, Ember, and Bootstrap and isn’t limited by a single database compatibility.

The framework contains a full web server, SMTP mail sender, image processing, web sockets, and other helpful utilities. When it comes to databases, it’s compatible with everything from MongoDB and CouchDB to PostgreSQL, SQLite, and MySQL.

Also check out: Locomotive, TWEE.IO, Flatiron, and diet.js.


When you want a little more upfront support and don’t mind a touch less flexibility, these frameworks offer stability and robust features ideal for enterprise-size projects.

MVC Framework

Sails.js is another MVC microframework that’s great for data-heavy enterprise-grade apps, and it’s built off of Express.js. It’s used for HTTP requests, with some Ruby on Rails-inspired magic. Its MVC pattern is based on Express and Socket.IO and is ideal for writing data-oriented applications and real-time features like a chat application. It’s also compatible with a ton of front-end frameworks, like AngularJS. Where it differs (and shines) is its API structure, automatically generating RESTful JSON models with support for websockets and HTTP.

Also check out: Nodal, Adonis, Trails, Strapi (great for fast, production-ready apps), RhapsodyJS, Compound.js, ThinkJS, and Geddy (for large-scale apps).


Full-stack frameworks are going to give you support for every step of your application’s development, from middleware and UIs to APIs and database integration.


Meteor lets developers create applications that have reactive, real-time UIs that modern app users have come to expect. These apps are a mix of JavaScript that runs inside a client web browser, JavaScript that runs on the Meteor server inside a Node.js container, and all the supporting HTML fragments, CSS rules, and static assets.

It’s full-stack, with default (yet interchangeable) technologies for every part of its stack, and is backed by a ton of excellent community packages that are available to fill any hole or shortcoming in the technology. It’s also a highly opinionated, MVC-style framework that’s a little less flexible than a more lightweight framework like Express. Meteor builds websites and applications that can be supported by OS X, Windows, and Linux operating systems, with a built-in, subscription-based cloud deployment service called Galaxy. (See also Meteor’s alternative framework, Meatier.)


Derby is ideal for writing real-time collaboration applications in the Node environment. Why? Because collaboration hinges on two things: support of multiple users, and the ability to immediately sync up data across all fronts. DerbyJS excels at this in two ways.

First, it’s backed by Racer, its powerful data synchronization engine, which automatically syncs data among browsers, servers, and a database, making that real-time collaboration possible. Second, Derby’s MVC design ensures applications load immediately in the browser because the view (UI) is updated every single time there’s an update to the model (database). Extra bonus? Derby applications get indexed by search engines just like websites do, helping you boost traffic.

Mean.js and

Mean.js and are frameworks written by the same author with subtle differences. was developed first, so it has a bit more documentation and a larger community behind it. It’s based on Node modules, with client- and server-side files in separate modules. Mean.js uses an MVC-style Express/Node back end and an AngularJS-based front end. It also leverages the Grunt tool to enable automated testing.


Mojito is an MVC framework based on Yahoo! Cocktails, a JavaScript-based mobile development platform built by developers in house at Yahoo!. Mojito acts like a module that layers very well with other core Node modules, while implementing Cocktails’ on-line/off-line, multi-device, hosted application platform.


Feathers is a real-time, micro-service web framework for Node.js that gives you control over your data via RESTful resources, sockets, and flexible plug-ins.


Keystone is a full-stack, open-source framework that’s also ideal for developing database-driven websites, applications, and APIs on top of Node.js. It’s robust enough to be reliable for enterprise-level development, and was built on the Express framework, the Mongoose framework, and the MongoDB database. Mongoose gives it great asynchronous capabilities.

Also check out: Knockout.js, Tower.js, SocketStream, seneca.js, Catberry, and AllcountJS.


These frameworks are heavily API-driven, ideal for fast development of Node.js API servers that can scale, with logic that can be reused when you need it.


LoopBack (and its StrongLoop API platform) is a highly extensible Node.js API framework from IBM used in stacks at companies like GoDaddy, Bank of America, and Symantec. LoopBack APIs are capable of connecting devices, and integrate with Android and AngularJS SDKs for app creation. As for database compatibility, it supports Oracle, Mongo, and SQL. The team behind Express created it, so it’s built on the framework making it an easy API tool for Express pros.


This fast, lightweight API server for Node.js is excellent for building reusable and scalable API servers that are compatible with one another and support your existing apps. It uses the same API code for HTTP and socket transports, and allows clients to access the API, access any static data on the server, and also communicate with one another. Companies with Actionhero.js in their stack include TaskRabbit and Samsung. is all about real-time communication and chat apps—the kind of software that hinges on robust event-driven, bidirectional communication between browsers and servers. It’s a websocket-compatible server that’s great at providing collaborative features and real-time analytics, whether they’re in the form of a counter or more in-depth metrics. is compatible with every device, operating system, and browser. It’s been used by top tech companies like Trello, Zendesk, Microsoft, and Yammer, as well as Flightcar, a startup that lets people rent out their cars from the airport while they’re traveling.

Also check out: Nodal, RESTify, Frisby (great for testing API endpoints), Partial.js, Raddish, Fortune.js, and percolator.

In conclusion, the Node.js ecosystem is large and continuing to grow and improve. However, it’s important to weigh the pros of Node (and the MEAN stack as a whole) with its cons. While many of these framework are quite mature and have an excellent community behind them, Node (and JavaScript) as a back-end solution may not always be the best route for you. Be sure to take into account the capabilities of other back-end languages like PHP, Java, and back-end scripts like Python and Ruby, all of which have had incredible staying power over the years.

These languages are ideal for certain fields that JavaScript can’t compete in, like scientific computing, process management, or server virtualization.
Also, just because a developer knows JavaScript does not mean Node.js will enable them to automatically write the best back-end code. A front-end JavaScript developer will still need to have a back-end mindset, and vice versa.

With all of the options available, there’s definitely a framework that’s right for your app. Consult a Node.js developer and see what’s best for you.

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