Node Toolchain for Newbies: The Best Node Apps and Libraries to Increase Productivity

Node Toolchain for Newbies: The Best Node Apps and Libraries to Increase Productivity
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I get this question very often: “What tools would you recommend for Node development?” Software engineers love to optimize and increase productivity instead of wasting their time. I bet you are one of them! Read on to find out the best Node tools for development.

  • IDEs/code editors
  • Libraries
  • GUI tools
  • CLI tools

IDEs/code editors

When it comes to your primary tool, the code editor, I recommend sticking with lighter and simpler editors like Atom or VS Code instead of full-blown IDEs like Webstorm. Of course an IDE will do more for you but this comes with a learning curve and the need to configure. Node is interpreted, thus there’s no need to compile it. The files are just plain text files with the .js extension.

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Here’s my list of the best Node editors:

  • Atom: created and maintained by GitHub; uses Electron, HTML, JS and CSS under the hood which makes it very easy to customize or add functionality; allows to have Git and terminal support via packages. Price: free.
  • VS Code: a newer addition; uses similar to Atom web-based tech; was created from Azure’s Monaco editor; comes with debugging, smart autocomplete based on types, Git and terminal support. Price: free.
  • WebStorm: more of an IDE than an editor, developed by JetBrains and based on IntelliJ platform; has code assistance, debugging, testing, Git. Price: starts at $59/yr for individuals.

There are more options like Brackets, Sublime Text 3 and of course IDEs like Eclipse, Aptana Studio, NetBeans, Komodo IDE, and cloud-based like Cloud 9, Codenvy.

What to pick? Any of the three in the list is good choice. I have heard good things about VS Code and their smart autocomplete is a nice thing, but I didn’t find it a good enough reason for me to switch from Atom. So try VS Code and Atom and see which one you like more. Both of them offer a wide variety of packages and themes.

The most popular and useful libraries and project dependencies

Here’s the list of the most used and most popular modules which you would install as dependencies of your projects. Node developers use most of these modules (or alternatives) in almost all of their projects.

The libraries are listed with the npm names, so you can execute npm i {name} substituting {name} with the name of the package/module:

  • webpack: Builds static assets like browser JavaScript, CSS and even images. It allows to use node modules in the browser.
  • babel: Allows to code in the latest versions of JavaScript/ECMAScript without having to worry about your runtime by converting the new code to the code compatible with older versions of ECMAScript
  • axios: Makes HTTP requests
  • express: the most popular Node web framework
  • mongoose: MongoDB object-document mapper library
  • sequelize: PostgreSQL object-relational mapper library
  • socket.io: Real-time library with support of Web Sockets and others.
  • cheerio: jQuery syntax for working with HTML-like data on the server
  • node-oauth: Low-level but very mature and tested library to roll out any OAuth integration
  • passport: OAuth library to quickly integrate with major services
  • yargs
  • shelljs
  • mocha: Testing framework
  • async: Controls flow by running function concurrently, sequentially or any way you want
  • concurrently: Allows to execute CLI tools (local) as multiple processes all at the same time, e.g., webpack and node-static.

Note: Some of the libraries/tools listed above like webpack or mocha, can be installed globally instead of locally in your project folder. However, installing them globally is an old practice and currently is an anti-pattern because local installation allows developers to use multiple versions of the tool with different projects in addition to have these tools specified in package.json.

 

Of course there are a lot of different options in each category. For example, request and superagent are also extremely popular HTTP agent libraries. However, I don’t want to give too many options and confuse you with the differences, I listed only one tool (typically the one I use the most currently).

CLI tools (global)

pm2 in action
pm2 in action

Unlike the previous section, these tools are okay to install globally since most likely their version won’t affect or break your project.

  • node-dev: Monitor and restart your Node app automatically on any file change within the current folder
  • node-static: Serve files over HTTP web server
  • node-inspector: Debug Node code in a familiar interface of DevTools (now part of Node starting with v7)
  • docker: Build and run Docker containers to isolate app environment, speed up deployment and eliminate conflicts between dev and prod (or any other) environments
  • curl: Make HTTP(S) requests to test your web apps (default for POSIX but can get for Windows too)
  • nvm: Change Node versions without having to install and re-install them each time
  • wintersmith: Build static website using Node templates and Markdown
  • pm2: Process manager to vertically scale Node processes and ensure fail-tolerance and 0-time reload

GUI tools

MongoUI in action
MongoUI in action

A good share of Node developers prefer GUI (graphical user interface) tools at least for some of the tasks because these tools require less typing and have features which makes them more productive and the development easier and simpler.

Sidenote: If you like this post and interested in a corporate on-site JavaScript, Node.js and React.js training to boost productivity of your team, then contact NodeProgram.com.

  • Postman: HTTP client with ability to save requests and history, change formats (JSON, form, etc.) and do other things
  • MongoUI: Modify and inspect your MongoDB data in a web interface. You can host this web app on your server to enable the database management.
  • Chrome: DevTools is a great way to inspect your requests, network, traffic, CPU profiles and other developer related data which is very useful for debugging
  • iTerm, itermocil and zsh: A better alternative to a native macOS Terminal app which together with itermocil and zsh increases productivity greatly
  • SourceTree: Visual git trees and histories

If you liked this post, next step is to understand the Node platform better. For this reason, check out this FREE course You Don’t Know Node.

Courses on Node.js,
React and JavaScript
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[Sidenote]

Reading blog posts is good, but watching video courses is even better because they are more engaging.

A lot of developers complained that there is a lack of affordable quality video material on Node. It's distracting to watch to YouTube videos and insane to pay $500 for a Node video course!

Go check out Node University which has FREE video courses on Node: node.university.

[End of sidenote]

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Azat Mardan
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