animesh kumar

Running water never grows stale. Keep flowing!

WTF is node.js and what’s the fuss all about?

with 6 comments

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You must have been hearing about Node.js for quite some time. Me too! Everybody is talking about it, writing about it. I am tired. So I think I should try it myself. By definition, node.js is a library written for Google’s V8 that does evented I/O. V8 is a JavaScript engine written in C++ being used in Google Chrome, and it’s veryveryvery fast.

Point to note here is evented I/O. Traditionally you would wait for input/output to finish before moving further with your execution, but in evented environment you don’t wait, rather you get informed about I/O completion and meanwhile you could do whatever you want. Cool eh? Let’s cement it with an example. Say, you want to find out the last edited time of a file. Traditionally, you would do it this way:

// read file
Stat stat = readFileStat( ‘file-path’ );
// operation
useStatInfo( stat );

In evented environment, you would do it this way:

readFileStat( ‘file-path’, function ( result ) {
	// operation
	useStatInfo( result );
} );

In this case, once the file is read the result is passed to another function. You don’t have to wait. Do you see that? This enables evented systems to handle larger number of requests simultaneously, because there is no thread to spawn, no heap to allocate.

You have been doing this kind of things with Closures and Java anonymous functions since eternity. But JavaScript makes it all more natural and simpler. And that’s where Node.js shines. Let me list down the main things:

  1. It’s JavaScript. JavaScript’s anonymous functions and closures is perfect for callback definitions.
  2. Everything everywhere is asynchronous. There are no threads. Everything has been built up from scratch and everything is event driven.
  3. No old baggage. That is, nothing has been carried over from the old synchronous, threaded world. That’s a good thing though a little limiting right now since there aren’t many packages. But that would soon be taken care of. There is a huge community toiling here.
  4. Focus on dealing with data. You don’t have to focus on networks or protocols. Just focus on your data and your flow. Simple?
  5. It’s small.
  6. It’s fast.
  7. It’s easy.

Now don’t start thinking of Node.js as another framework like Rails, Django, Sinatra etc. Don’t. Node.js doesn’t only help you build a web application; it goes further and helps you to build an application server instead. Node.js is framework to build scalable network programs. It could run on HTTP protocol or on TCP or whatever. You don’t have to worry about it.


UPDATE: You should use Node Version Manager instead of bare installation.

I am using ubuntu-9.10-desktop-i386 and Oracle’s VirtualBox on Windows 7. Here is a nice tutorial to do it yourself: I think you could also use Cygwin to run Node.js but I don’t prefer that personally. Linux feels way much easier.

  1. Ensure you have all the essentials necessary.
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install git-core
    sudo apt-get install build-essential
  2. Clone the Node.js repository:
    git clone git://
  3. Now configure and install:
    cd node
    ./configure && make && sudo make install

That’s it. You are done. Now, let’s make ourself a small and pretty HTTP server.

var sys  = require("sys"),
http = require("http");

http.createServer(function(request, response) {
	response.sendHeader(200, {"Content-Type": "text/html"});
	response.write("Hello World!");

sys.puts("Server running at http://localhost:8080/");

This script uses two modules, sys and http to create an HTTP server. The anonymous function being passed to http.createServer is called at each request. Save this script to helloworld.js file.

Now run this server,

node helloworld.js

Go to http://localhost:8080/ in your browser, you will see “Hello World!”


It all might have seemed so simple, eh? I know. It stunned me too. So I decided to benchmark it. I created identical apps in PHP (using PHP5 with Apache2 mod_php) and Node.js. Both apps rendered a single html page with similar content. I used Apache Benchmark tool to run the comparison.

ab –n 10000 –c 10
ab –n 10000 –c 10

PHP			2988.3 requests/sec
Node.js		5391.2 requests/sec

Node.js wins with a huge margin. Wondering why? Remember Node.js is an event driven framework, so unlike other servers like Apache it doesn’t open a socket or spawn a thread or even use a pool of threads, rather it has only a single thread running an event loop that executes the callbacks, so it needs only a small heap allocation and it leaves a much smaller footprint.

So Node.js indeed handled a lot of concurrent connections like a breeze. I thought to experiment a bit further. I introduced a 2 seconds sleep. That way, there will be many connections piling up and waiting to be responded.

ab –n 2500 –c 350
ab –n 2500 –c 350

PHP			27.3 requests/sec
Node.js		148.7 requests/sec

Amazing, isn’t it? Now, I am officially swept over by it.


In the next blog, I will create a simple web application with Node.js and Riak. Meanwhile, if Node.js indeed aroused your curiosity, you can read more,

  1. Ryan’s presentation
  2. Node.js API
  3. How to node

Written by Animesh

November 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Technology

Tagged with , , , ,

6 Responses

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  1. In many cases, good work.I ‘Please set the return value LL.


    November 15, 2010 at 11:45 am

  2. Hi Animesh

    Nice post you have written down on this, although please note that you’re comparing 2 different things.

    First of all benchmarking times is not between Node.js and PHP, but Node.js and Apache+PHP, please note that apache is the one takes the overhead on this.

    PHP on this take probably is only doing come echo ‘Hello world’, so the comparison is mainly Node.js and Apache.

    Great work anyway.

    Jose da Silva

    November 26, 2010 at 8:35 am

    • Hi Jose,

      You are right. Performance could have varied if I had used nginx with php. However, the main idea behind this post was to comapre Node.js with today’s most popular stack.



      November 26, 2010 at 9:26 am

  3. […] over heels. Madly in love! It’s awesome to know how much you can build with how little. I have ranted about Node.js earlier and did some comparisons too. It’s fast, really fast. And it’s plain old Javascript we have […]

  4. Great post. About the benchmark part. It might be unfair to compare Node.js with Apache+PHP. I think a more fair comparision is between node.js and Apache (static html). PHP includes a lot of other variables related to performance tunning.

    But even comparing node.js agains Apache (static html). node.js beats Apache. Here is the results:

    Diogo Melo

    February 27, 2012 at 8:19 am

    • You should try Node.js against Nginx (static delivery). That would be neck-to-neck.


      February 27, 2012 at 10:21 am

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