How to build your first Node.js app

By Tim Davis – Director of Development.

I have talked a little in previous posts about how excited I am about Node.js coming to Domino 10 from the perspective of NoSQL datastores, but I thought it would be a good idea to talk about what Node.js actually is, how it works, and how it could be integrated into Domino 10. (I will be giving a session on this topic at MWLUG/CollabSphere 2018 in Ann Arbor, Michigan in July).

So, what is Node.js? Put simply, it is a fully programmable web server. It can serve web pages, it can run APIs, it can be a fully networked application. Sounds a lot like Domino. It is a hugely popular platform and is the ‘N’ in the MEAN/MERN stacks. Also it is free, which doesn’t hurt its popularity.

As you can tell from the ‘.js’ in its name, Node apps are written in JavaScript and so integrate well with other JavaScript-based development layers such as NoSQL datastores and UI frameworks.

Node runs almost anywhere. You can run it in Windows, Linux, macOS, SunOS, AIX, and in docker containers. You can even make a Node app into a desktop app by wrapping it in a framework like Electron.

On its own, Node is capable of doing a lot, but coding something very sophisticated entirely from scratch would be a lot of work. Luckily, there are millions of add-on modules to do virtually anything you can think of and these are all extremely easy to integrate into an app.

Now, suppose you are a Domino developer and have built websites using Forms or XPages. Why should you be interested in all this Node.js stuff? Well, IBM and HCL are positioning the Node integration in Domino 10 as a parallel development path, which is ideal for extending your existing apps into new areas.

For example, a Node front-end to a Domino application is a great way to provide an API for accessing your Domino data and this could allow easy integration with other systems, or mobile apps, or allow you to build microservices, or any number of things which is why many IoT solutions are built with Node as a platform, including those from IBM.

In your current Domino websites, you will likely have written or used some JavaScript to do things on your web forms or XPages, maybe some JQuery, or Server-Side JavaScript. If you are familiar with JavaScript in this context, then you will be ok with JavaScript in Node.

So where do we get Node, how do we install it and how do we run it?

Getting it is easy. Go to https://nodejs.org and download the installer. This will install two separate packages, the Node.js runtime and also the npm package manager.

The npm package manager is used to install and manage add-in modules and optionally launch our Node apps. As an example, a popular add-on module is Express, which makes handling HTTP requests much easier (think of Express as acting like Domino internet site documents).  Express is the ‘E’ in the MEAN/MERN stacks. If we wanted to use Express we would simply install it with the simple command: ‘npm install express’, and npm would go and get the module from its server and install it for you. All the best add-on modules are installed using the ‘npm install xxxxxx’ command (more on this later!).

Once Node is installed, we can run it by simply typing ‘node’ into a terminal or command window. This isn’t very interesting, it just opens a shell that does pretty much nothing on its own. (Press control-c twice to exit if you tried this).

To get Node to actually do stuff, we need to write some JavaScript. A good starting example is from the Node.js website, where we build a simple web server, so let’s run through it now.

Node apps run within a project folder, so create a folder called my-project.

In our folder, create a new JavaScript file, lets call it ‘server.js’. Open this in your favourite code editor (mine is Visual Studio Code), and we can start writing some server code.

This is going to be a web server, so we require the app to handle HTTP requests. Notice how I used the word ‘require’ instead of ‘need’. If we ‘require’ our Node app to do anything we just tell it to load that module with some JavaScript:

const http = require('http');

This line essentially just tells our app to load the built-in HTTP module. We can also use the require() function to load any other add-on modules we may want, but we don’t need any in this example.

So we have loaded our HTTP module, lets tell Node to set up a HTTP server, and we do this with the createServer() method. This takes a function as a parameter, and this function tells the server what to do if it receives a request.

In our case, lets just send back a plain text ‘Hello World’ message to the browser. Like this:

const server = http.createServer((req, res) => {
 res.statusCode = 200;
 res.setHeader('Content-Type', 'text/plain');
 res.end('Hello World!\n');
});

There is some funny stuff going on with the arrow ‘=>’ which you may not be familiar with, but hopefully it is clear what we are telling our server to do.

The (req, res) => {…} is our request handling function. The ‘req’ is the request that came in, and the ‘res’ is the response we will send back. This arrow notation is used a lot in Node. It is more or less equivalent to the usual JavaScript syntax: function(req, res) {…}, but behaves slightly differently in ways that are useful to Node apps. We don’t need to know about these differences right now to get our server working.

In our function, you can see that we set the response status to 200 which is ‘Success OK’, then we make sure the browser will understand we are sending plain text, and finally we add our message and tell the server that we are finished and it can send back the response.

Now we have our server all set up and it knows what it is supposed to do with any request that comes in. The last thing we want it to do is to actually start listening for these requests.

const hostname = '127.0.0.1';
const port = 3000;
server.listen(port, hostname, () => {
 console.log(`Server running at http://${hostname}:${port}/`);
});

This code tells the server to listen on port 3000, and to write a message to the Node console confirming that it has started.

That is all we need, just these 11 lines.

Now we want to get this Node app running, and we do this from our terminal or command window. Make sure we are still in our ‘my-project’ folder, and then type:

node server.js

This starts Node and runs our JavaScript. You will see our console message displayed in the terminal window. Our web server is now sitting there and happily listening on port 3000.

To give it something to listen to, open a browser and go to http://127.0.0.1:3000. Hey presto, it says Hello World!

Obviously, this is a very simple example, but hopefully you can see how you could start to extend it. You could check the ‘req’ to see what the details of the request are (it could be an API call), and send back different responses. You could do lookups to find the data to send back in your response.

Wait, what? Lookups? Yes, that is where the Node integration in Domino 10 comes in. I know this will sound silly, but one of the most exciting things I have seen in recent IBM and HCL presentations is that we will be able to do this:

npm install dominodb

We will be able to install a dominodb connector, and use it in our Node apps to get at and update our Domino data.

Obviously, there is a lot more to all this than I have covered in the above example, but I hope this has given you an idea of why what IBM and HCL are planning for Domino 10 is so exciting. In future blogs I plan to expand more on what we can do with Node and Domino 10.

 

What is NoSQL?

By Tim Davis – Director of Development.

I have been working with the MEAN/MERN stacks for a few years and with Domino 10 looking to introduce Node.js support, Domino itself is following me into the ‘World of Node’. This world is the full-stack web developer world of MEAN, MERN, and all things javascript, and in this world NoSQL is king.

The MEAN/MERN development stacks have been around for a while. They stand for MongoDb, Express, Angular/React, and Node. (The other main web development stack is LAMP which is Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python).

The reason the MEAN/MERN stacks have become so popular is because they are all based on the same language, i.e. javascript, and they all use JSON to hold data and pass it between each layer. It’s JSON all the way down.

You may already be using Angular or React as a front end in your Domino web applications. With the introduction of Node into the Domino ecosystem, this becomes even more powerful. Domino can become the NoSQL database layer of a full javascript stack (e.g. DEAN or NERD) and, most importantly in my view, Domino becomes a direct competitor to the existing NoSQL data stores such as Mongo and Couch which are so popular with web developers and CIOs.

So what exactly is NoSQL?

As you can tell by the name, it is not SQL. SQL datastores are traditional relational databases and are made up of tables of data which are indexed and can be queried using the SQL syntax. Examples are DB2, Oracle, and MySQL. The tables are made up of rows with fixed columns and all records in a table hold the same fields.

NoSQL data is not held in tables. It is held in individual documents which can each hold any number of different fields of different sizes. You can query these documents to produce collections of documents which you can then work with.

Does this sound familiar? Yes, this is exactly how Domino works! Domino was NoSQL before NoSQL.

The main advantage of NoSQL over SQL in app development is that it allows for more flexibility in data structures, either as requirements evolve or as your project scales. It also allows for something called denormalization, which is where you hold common data in each document rather than doing SQL joins between different tables, and this can make for very efficient queries. Again, this is how Domino has always worked. Notes views are essentially NoSQL queries.

In addition to all this, when NoSQL is used in a javascript development stack the use of JSON as the data format means that the data does not need to be reformatted as it passes up and down the stack, with less chance of errors occurring.

Now obviously the note items inside Domino documents aren’t held as JSON, and this would be a issue when looking to integrate Domino into a javascript stack, but the Node server solution being introduced in Domino 10 solves this problem.

The Node server in Domino 10 comes with a ‘connector’ to do the work of talking to Domino. It is based on Loopback and gRPC (both IBM/HCL initiatives) and promises to be very fast. Having this connector built-in means that you as the developer do not need to worry about how to get data out of Domino. HCL have done that job for you. All you have to worry about is what to do with it once you have it, e.g. send it out as a response from an API, show it in Angular or React, or whatever.

This is all very exciting as a developer, especially one like me who has worked with javascript stacks for a while, but as I mentioned earlier the power of this solution is that it moves Domino into a position to directly compete with other NoSQL databases in IT strategies.

In my next blog I will talk about the advantages that Domino brings to the NoSQL table and why I believe it is the best NoSQL solution for full-stack javascript development.