Node.js Frameworks: The 10 Best for Web and Apps Development

nodejs frameworks

Running JavaScript outside the browser turned out to be quite magical for JavaScript lovers and is definitely one of the most welcomed moves in the world of web applications development. Developers all around the globe embraced NodeJS with arms wide open.

For those who are new, Node.js is the JavaScript runtime that allows you to run JavaScript code on the server, outside the browser. It is built on top of Google Chrome’s V8 VM engine that supports JavaScript in the chrome browser.

The pace at which Nodejs grew in popularity is due to the fact that it allows you to build large scale, real time and scalable mobile and web applications with JavaScript alone.

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As the node ecosystem grew, the frameworks also started to surface up to speed up the development workflow. There are many Node.js frameworks that allow you to build real time end to end web applications without the need of any other third party web server, app server, tool or technology.

Which Node.js Framework Meets Your Requirements?

The less opinionated node frameworks like Node.js Express, Koa and Hapi are more flexible and let you do everything the way you want and are best suited for grounds up development. However, you need to put in more efforts initially and rely on developers for making right decisions.

On the other hand, full stack opinionated frameworks like Mean.io, Meteor, Derby and Mojito come with standard structure and technology stack and offer less flexibility. These however, don’t give much room to developers for making wrong design decisions.

If you need to create APIs, then you can try out more specialized node js api framework like LoopBack, actionHero.js and Restify.  

Let us look at the Node.js framework list representing most powerful and feature rich frameworks available today that help you build real time and scalable web applications with ease –

1. Node.js Express

Express or node.js express doesn’t really need an introduction to the existing node developers, but this article would not be complete without few lines about express before we move on to the other powerful node.js frameworks. Express is a minimalist and flexible framework built on top of node.js and has taken node.js to the next level by providing high level wrappers around node.js APIs.

It offers all the features required for developing robust web and mobile applications and for creating APIs as well, with ease, and for that reason it also qualifies as node js rest api framework. Developers can write plugins or extension packages for express and extend its magical powers. Express is far from being opinionated and gives you flexibility in below areas (at least) -

- Use any third party database and define your models.

- Use any user authentication scheme.

- Use any template engine conforming to the signatures (path, locals, callback)

- Define the project directory structure the way you want.

With Node Express you do everything that node.js does but with much lesser lines of code. At the minimum, you can setup middleware to respond http requests, define routing tables against http methods and URLs, and utilize templates for dynamic html rendering.

With a little learning curve, it is a good choice for new Node.js developers to get started quickly with Node.js Express. Express boasts a huge and supportive community, great documentation and largest user base among all of the node.js frameworks.

Express is available as open source framework under MIT license and is currently sponsored by StrongLoop.

You can read more about Node.js Express at official website – expressjs.com.

2. Sail.js (node.js mvc)

Sail is a rock solid node.js framework and comes packed with all the features required for building anything from a small scale chat client to an enterprise grade web application.

Sail.js derives its superpowers from the underlying express framework for handling http requests and sockets.IO for doing all the magic with websockets. Being frontend agnostic framework, it gives you the flexibility to select technology for developing the frontend.

It also comes packed with waterline, the database agnostic ORM to let you work with any database behind the scenes. You write just one code line and connect to any database. The best thing is that you can move from SQL to NoSQL databases like MongoDB without any real effort.

Sail is particularly shines in the areas of multiplayer board games, single page web apps, dashboards and other apps where real time data updates are critical. If you have background in Ruby, Django or Zend then you can feel home with sail.js.

In the nutshell, you get a well-defined MVC architecture (being nodejs mvc framework) along with full flexibility at hand for selecting the front end and database technologies for your project. Sail.js is built by Mike McNeil and supported by Treeline and balderdash. It is free to use and available under MIT license.

Read more about Sail at official website – sailsjs.org.

3. KOA

KOA is the dark horse in the world of node.js frameworks (mvc frameworks) and relatively new entrant with its first release committed back just in the last quarter of 2013. The KOA team of developers comes mainly from Express development community with TJ Holowaychuk being the lead developer. However, KOA has taken a completely different approach from Express and is giving a tough competition to the much established Express framework.

The ES6 generators powered by the co module are at the core of KOA framework. KOA utilizes generators for middleware flow control, enhanced error handling with try/catch and eliminates all the callback complexities.

KOA comes with a very small footprint, packages very little ready to use functionality, has a modular approach, and lets you write scalable and future proof applications your own way.

Many hard core JavaScript/Node.js developers are choosing KOA over Express for new projects since it gives them even more flexibility to write cutting edge code, their own way.

You can read more about KOA at – koajs.com.

4. Meteor - Full Stack Node.js Framework

Meteor framework is the big daddy of full stack frameworks running on Node.js. With 28K+ stars on GitHub, tons of custom packages, huge supportive community and well written node.js tutorial and documents, Meteor is the undisputed king in the wild. Using Meteor, you build real time web and mobile apps purely with JavaScript.

The best part about meteor is that everything works seamless, out of the box, right from the database access to server side business logic to the client side rendering. There is only one API used and that is Meteor API that is used on the client side as well as on the server side.

The DDP protocol lets you connect to anything in the backend, from a simple database, to enterprise data warehouse to the IOT sensors. Meteor comes with its own recommended stack but is flexible enough to let you use technology of your choice. If you do not want to experiment with other frameworks, or do not have other constraints, head straight to Meteor, pick up the recommended stack and you are fully equipped for rapid apps development.

Meteor has professional development team with a lot of funding from top tier venture capitalists and this is what keeps Meteor ahead in the game, all of the time.

You can read more about Meteor Node.js web application framework at - meteor.com.

5. Derby.js

Derby.JS is a full stack framework and competes directly with the likes of Meteor, Mean.io and Mojito. It runs on top of node.js in conjunction with mongo DB and Redis. Derby comes packed with a data synchronization engine called Racer which makes data synching among database, server and browser an absolute breeze.

Racer makes Derby framework based applications real fast, both in browser as well as on the server, a perfect choice for single page applications. Derby is often compared with the big brother Meteor that has come a long way now and offers much more features out of the box, Meteor makes it real easy to create complex web applications in much lesser time.

Derby however is best fit for making faster applications and is more flexible and extendible due to its modular approach. Derby has slowed down in the recent past but is not out and has all the potential to rule the game of full stack Node.js frameworks.

You can read more about Derby at – derbyjs.com.

6. Flatiron.js (Node.js MVC Framework)

The philosophy behind Flatiron framework is that you can assemble your own full stack framework with the components provided by Flatiron and other third party packages. Cool, huh, and I personally like this approach. This however comes with more complexity and gives everything in the hands of developers who can screw up the project by making wrong selection of components.

You can call it as a loosely coupled full stack MVC framework with multiple components available to use independent of each other. Flatiron framework features Director, component used for URL routing built bottoms up using JavaScript without any dependencies.

Templating is supported using templating engine called Plates whereas data management is done with resourceful which is interface for json data stores and can be used with any database. Flatiron is maintained by Nodejitsu and other community members and doing great at the moment, a less popular framework but worth a watch.

You can read more about flatiron at – flatironjs.org.

7. Hapi - Node.js Web Application Framework

Hapi is among the very few node.js based frameworks that do not depend on Express and as of now everything works completely independent of Express. This makes Hapi more or less a competitor of Express with many developers choosing Hapi over Express in the recent past.

Hapi is not that old in the Node.js frameworks marketplace but has successfully managed to create an ecosystem of its own in the world of web application frameworks. Hapi aims to cleanly segregate node HTTP server, routing and the business logic and focuses more on handling things via configuration where possible rather than writing code.

Hapi framework was first created by Eran Hammer and team working at Walmart labs to get their job done, grew in popularity at a very rapid pace, and is currently available under MIT license as open source framework, free to download and use.

You can gauge the popularity and powers of HAPI from the fact that companies like Disney, Yahoo, Pebble, beats music and Walmart (of course) are using it as Node.js web application framework for one or other of their projects.

Node.js Express vs Hapi

Node.js developers often compare express and Hapi, Check out this page at stackoverflow for a thorough comparison, it lists similarities as well as differences between the two.

You can read more about Hapi at - hapijs.com.

8. Mean.IO - Node.js Application Framework

Mean is Mongo DB, Express, Angular and Node.js bundled together which essentially means that you get the database layer, the server side, the front end stack to jump start the development of any modern web application. Mean stack gives a close competition to Meteor as a full stack Node.js application framework

Mean is full stack opinionated package that covers all aspects of application development and is best suited for those who need to quick start the development with set of technologies that really work well when used in combination, to create applications of any size and complexity.

Developers are spared from the experiments of mixing and matching different technology stacks. With Mean, You cut down on the time required for setup and configuration of MongoDB, Express, Angular and Node.js with mean stack. Another big advantage with Mean.io is that entire stack uses JavaScript, right from MongoDB access (json) to server side with Express and Node to the client side with Angular.

Read more about Mean.io at - mean.io

There is a fork of mean available as mean.js which is quiet popular as well.

9. Mojito

Mojito was released by Yahoo and was an instant success. It however, soon went to the back seat with the unprecedented success of frameworks like Meteor and Mean stack.

Mojito is also an MVC application framework and is well suited for creating high performing web and mobile applications with HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3. The underlying goal of Mojito is to offer a framework for building standard based cross platform applications that run both on client and server side, and deliver high performance. 

You can read more about Mojito at yahoo developers webpage- mojito.

10. Socket Stream

SocketStream is an interesting framework with a specific focus on fast data synching between client and the server in near real time. The focus is making the updated data available real time for rendering on the front and storing in the backend irrespective of the frontend and backend technologies used.

The best thing is that it doesn’t restrict you to use a specific client side technology or any specific database & ORM. I would tend to compare it with the big brother Sail.js which conceptually does the same thing. It suits best for single page web apps, multiplayer games, chat clients, networking apps, trading platforms and anything that has to do with pushing data to the client from the server in real near real time.

JSON is used for data transfer form server to client and vice versa, the best thing is that any updates on the server are auto pushed to the client, as and when it happens, using websockets. Socket stream is created by Owen Barnes and is currently maintained by Paul Jensen and team, who are taking a good care to get this framework to the glories it deserves.

SocketStream framework is seeing a lot of traction and growth in the recent months and looks to have a promising future.

Read more about SocketStream here at github page - socketstream.

Other frameworks that are good enough to be mentioned here are total.js, Geddy.JS, Locomotive, compound and Restify. Restify specifically is useful as a node js api framework and helps speed up rest api server deployment.

Conclusion - Best Node.js Framework

Web and apps development landscape is changing very fast and developers are shifting to frameworks for quick and clean project delivery. The biggest advantage of using node frameworks is that they provide the high level structure out of the box and you can focus on scaling your application instead of spending efforts in building and defining the basics.

Frameworks offer varied set of features and work on different underlying concepts but attempt to solve the common problem of building real time, scalable and complex web apps with speed. The frameworks discussed here in this paper are among the best node.js frameworks in the market as of today.

Let us know your experience with node frameworks via comments.

Further Reading - Best Nodejs Tutorial List

About The Author: noeticsunil

Sunil is the founder and contributing editor at noeticforce.com. He writes about anything and everything that makes modern mobile apps, web apps and websites possible. Passionate about coding in any language including Python, Swift, JavaScript, PHP, Java, Android & iOS dev, not excluding CSS/HTML. 

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