node.js in action: Learnings


I recently gave a talk on node.js at work… the talk was surprisingly well attended. It was scheduled to start at 1 PM. At around 1:02 PM, I was alone in the room with not another soul in sight. The room filled to the brim in the next 10 minutes. Last count = 33


The Talk

The theme of the talk was to get people excited about the node.js work we were doing for a large enterprise client. Almost 9 months into development, we had figured out a tonne of patterns and idioms and had actually started becoming productive with it. Talking about the hurdles faced during the non avoidable learning curve seemed like a sensible thing to do.

Tech Stack

Although I cannot reveal any actual URLs atm, the stack of the application we are developing is as follows:

Promises to Keep: Q

I think it is essential for any new node.js project to base itself on a solid promises library. As indicated above, the library of choice for us was Q. I would go out on a limb and say this - “Avoiding callback hell is probably the least interesting feature of Q.”

Q allows us to beautifully structure our code without excessive “pyramiding.” You still end up with a few nested promises from time to time, but that is also avoidable with judicious usage of Q.spread.


Equally important is the need to get the TDD/BDD pattern flowing right from get go. Mocha/Sinon/Chai allow BDD in JavaScript to look almost as elegant as RSpec (which I consider to be the holy grail of developer friendly BDD.) Being smart and using the -as-promised utility node modules will also save you a lot of grief and restore a sense of sanity to the test cases (you can then essentially start returning promises of future asserts from your test cases, instead of having to call a done() at the end to signal the end.)

Scaling and Deployment

Our dreams of serving a million requests from a single node.js process were quickly shattered when we discovered a pegged 100% CPU (on a single core.) Besides trying to fix the main issue (which turned out to be the MySQL driver being used by sequelize) we also spent some time getting the unicornification of node.js right. We ended up with a master-slave arrangement which allowed us to scale our application to N-1 cores (where N is the total number of cores available in the machine.) Common sense dictated the -1 part (to leave a core aside for the kernel and various sub systems.)

Figuring our deployments was also fun. Although there was some talk of building and deploying a .rpm (our target Linux distribution was CentOS 6.4), the general lack of time lead us to adapt a git based deployment mechanism. Any SHA is a good candidate for deployment to any of our environments. We obviously ended up tagging the good ones.


We really went out on a limb here by using node.js for the project when we did not actually have much in house expertise on the same. However, the effort has redeemed itself many fold. A lot of people have successfully managed to get “concurrent programming” as a result. Coming out from the comfort zone of RoR, .NET and Java also possibly has changed the course of their lives for ever! :)

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