Is it still worth learning Node.js in 2024?
The answer to this question might not be immediately obvious. You see, Node hasn’t been the hot new thing in the web development space for a few years now.
But that doesn't mean it's become redundant. In fact, it's actually a good thing that Node has evolved past the "hot new thing" phase and has now stood the test of time (at least relative to most tech!).
Node has become more mature and battle-tested over time, but because it’s not the hot new thing, people naturally ask me:
“Should I learn Node or should my time be better spent learning newer back-end technologies?”
Why is this maturity so important?
Simply because there are very few things in web development that stick around for more than three or four years, but Node has been a staple now for over 14 years!
There's almost a compounding effect that happens especially when big companies adopt a certain language or technology.
It's also a huge undertaking to switch languages for these massive companies so once they've adopted something, they usually stick with it and need to hire a ton of developers who can write code in that language.
Then those people go to other companies or start their own and they're already used to using that language. And you can see how the cycle continues.
Here is a short list of massively successful companies that are invested in Node.js, and use it to power their products and systems:
Clearly, Node.js must be doing something right, but what exactly?
In this guide, I’m going to break down the top reasons behind why these FAANG (and FAANG level) companies are using Node and through that, you'll see why you should learn Node.js as well.
Let’s dive in!
This is important to remember as we get into reason #1 of why you should learn Node.js...
Okay, so a quick history lesson and some software 101, to put this into perspective.
When it comes to software development, there are 2 main areas of focus:
As you can imagine, communication and interaction between the front and back-end was a challenge. Not only were they using different languages, but developers who specialized in the front-end would have very different skill sets than developers from the back-end.
Add in the fact that the sharing of knowledge and expertise between the front and back-end was generally limited to high-level explanations, or shallow forays into the other realm without proper understanding, and it often left one side being neglected.
Worse still, this divide started to form separate knowledge silos.
Why is this bad?
Well, when teams operate in silos the result is inevitably misunderstandings, duplicated work, and missed opportunities for collaboration.
Because each team works independently, best practices aren’t shared, and integration between systems grows more complicated, progress is slow. Ultimately it means you get more of a Frankenstein's monster of stitched-together different systems, rather than a coherent product.
Developers could now build their entire application using a single language, and as a result, we saw the popularization of the full-stack developer.
To be clear, we’re not talking about a single jack-of-all-trades “unicorn” developer.
So what does this all mean for you?
Not bad right?
So yeah, you could say it's still pretty popular.
It’s true that TypeScript is growing in popularity, but that's the great thing about Node. Everything we’ve said so far still holds true!
However, there's multiple additional benefits that come from using a single language like this - and it's partly why many large companies love Node so much.
When we have to switch languages between the front-end and the back-end, there’s an added mental burden on us as developers called ‘context switching’, and it can seriously affect productivity.
It can increase stress, frustration, errors, and even task completion time.
Being able to use a single language across the stack removes all of that.
When you only need to learn one language, it’s easier for new developers to get up to speed and for experienced developers to deepen their expertise.
This is a big one. In my experience, the ease of hiring quality developers is the most important factor when choosing your technology stack, especially for start-ups.
But because you’re only hiring for a single language, companies can find quality developers from a broader pool of talent.
Better yet, the developers you find can be more versatile because they can work on both the front-end and the back-end.
When the entire codebase uses one language, it’s easier to read and understand. (Of course, best practices need to be followed to take full advantage of this).
Code that’s easier to read is easier to maintain.
When code is easier to read and maintain, it’s easier to avoid making mistakes.
And this leads, finally, to the most important benefit…
When developers can work more efficiently and introduce fewer bugs, it becomes easier to focus on building a great product.
tl;dr: Being able to use a single language across the stack makes your life easier and it's better for companies because output quality and quantity are both increased. That means better profits. Always follow the money 🤑
Speaking of money... In software development, and in most areas of life (especially work life), time is money.
This means that speed is of the essence, and not just the speed of our applications and how they’re performing, but also the speed at which these applications can be developed, tested, and brought to market.
This is where Node.js shines…
Sure, it meant we could build front and back-end, but it was also revolutionary because V8 was specifically developed to perform efficiently.
Technically yes. Since 2008, the back-end development landscape has changed significantly, and there’s a lot of competition from programming languages like Google’s Go in terms of raw speed on the back-end.
System design and programming are all about compromises.
This is why raw performance is rarely the most important factor in choosing a technology. Otherwise, we’d all be using the C programming language and machine code for our back-ends.
Instead, the most important factors when deciding which language to build with, tend to be:
As you’ve already seen from reason #1 on this list, when it comes to these factors, nothing beats Node.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that Node.js is no slouch when it comes to raw performance either, and it’s constantly getting better.
While runtimes like Deno have made big strides, Node.js still remains the industry standard.
As the competition improves, so does Node, so there’s no worry of learning a dead framework.
Again, it really depends on your goals, and what your current skills or required tech stack is.
You might not need these specific benefits, or might be using other languages, so here's a few alternatives, along with their pros and cons, to help you decide if Node is right for you.
It’s often said that one of Node’s biggest advantages is its ‘event-driven, non-blocking I/O model’, but what does this actually mean?
In simple terms, it means that Node is perfectly suited for data-intensive applications that run across distributed networks like the Internet.
Well, Node excels at managing large numbers of connections and concurrent I/O operations like reading files - which is exactly the type of work that most modern websites spend most of their time doing.
Like any tool though, it has its strengths and weaknesses.
If your application performs a lot of intensive calculations that make heavy use of your computer’s CPU, then you may be better off with using Go instead of Node.
Image manipulation, analyzing large documents, and running complex simulations are examples of work that is not well suited to Node.
It really depends on the specific requirements and goals of your project. Node can definitely work well with smaller applications, but there are pros and cons to weigh up.
If your app has very basic requirements, and you don't need the capabilities and features of Node.js, it might be considered overkill.
Simpler apps might benefit from a more lightweight and minimalistic technology stack. However, if you're going to scale later, then you have the capabilities in place by building with Node now.
As I mentioned earlier, Node.js is known for its efficiency and non-blocking I/O, making it suitable for high-concurrency, real-time applications such as Netflix.
But if your app doesn't require these characteristics, you might use more resources than necessary.
If you or your team are not already experienced with Node.js, there may be a learning curve involved in adopting it for a small project.
Remember: There are no silver bullets. No one tool is perfect for everything, and that’s exactly what Node.js is - a tool.
However, Node.js is very good at what it does best...
Netflix started migrating to Node.js in late 2013, and by 2014 their first Node application had been deployed to production.
Thus began an epic adventure, resulting in the creation of a new more powerful platform that allowed Netflix to continue growing and scaling to hundreds of millions of users.
Here’s the thing though. Netflix doesn't need to be just fast - it also needs to be reliable.
This means that it’s designed to always be available so that subscribers can watch their favorite shows regardless of whether there’s an update happening in the background, or if there’s been an unforeseen crash or error.
As you can probably guess, when you’re dealing with such an extreme scale, being able to monitor the state of the system is crucial.
This means that the team at Netflix needs to be aware of:
With that in mind, the Netflix platform needs to:
As you might guess, when dealing with distributed applications with dozens of services running on hundreds of servers, this can be a serious challenge.
But fortunately, Node and its vast ecosystem (more on this later!) are up to the challenge.
Case in point, Netflix is still using Node to power its customer-facing website, APIs, essential infrastructure, and internal tools, over 10 years later. If that’s not state-of-the-art, I don’t know what is!
If you’re still not convinced about why you should learn Node, let’s get into the final reason why these companies are using it.
Community is key to the success of any product or technology, and Node is no exception.
It helps you learn, while also growing out quality of life features.
When I first started using Node.js ten years ago, high-quality documentation was lacking. Oftentimes the best resource was a paperback book that used outdated versions of Node and every other dependency.
Many of the best practices used for writing Express.js servers were taken from the Ruby programming language and its Sinatra framework.
To someone like myself who had never used something like Sinatra, there was a lot of guesswork, and so I often found myself looking into the source code of third-party dependencies on GitHub, or asking coworkers very basic questions.
As you can imagine, finding any up-to-date information was a bit of a headache! Nowadays though there are so many quality learning resources available for Node.js, that we’re spoiled for choice.
Sites like StackOverflow, GitHub, Discord channels, and even Reddit have helped to build helpful Node communities.
This growth in community interaction has led to:
It doesn’t end there though.
All this community growth has led to better tools and more reusable packages, such as the Node Package Manager.
The NPM registry is the largest software registry in the world, with over two million packages.
NPM consists of two main parts
Simply put, it’s an enormous toolbox of code written by other developers that saves you from “reinventing the wheel”.
Instead of writing code to solve common problems, you can use NPM to find and install packages that provide the functionality you need. You can find anything from simple command line tools to powerful frameworks used to power the systems of companies like Netflix and Walmart.
tl;dr: Node's thriving community means you can get help, ask questions, learn what you need, and have useful tools and packages to help fast-track your builds.
You should learn Node.js if you want to:
If your goal is to get hired as a back-end developer or full-stack developer, you'll want to learn a language that's used as broadly as possible, has a lot of job opportunities, and is very likely to be around for a while so that the time you invest in learning it doesn't go to waste.
If you just want to build your own apps, you'll want to focus on whatever language will allow you to build most quickly and reliably.
Node meets all of these criteria!
What more can you want?
So there you have it. The 6 major reasons why Enterprise companies love Node, and why you should still learn it today, ASAP.
Better still. You’ll also get direct access to me, other students, and current Node.js developers via our private Discord channel.