Meet the next big programing star: Node.js

Jason Hoffman

Sometimes, the geeks come out of the shadows and hit the mainstream consciousness. Remember the early ’00s and the rush of publicity for Ruby and Ajax as they became the calling cards of Web 2.0? Or in 2008, when Hadoop, the open-source version of Google’s MapReduce, started percolating up to the mainstream media, highlighting the new era of big data analytics? Well, Node.js looks like the next candidate for such elevation to the mainstream.

Behind the computer science chatter about event-driven access to web servers as opposed to thread-based access and figuring out why JavaScript engines are so hot, here are some basic reasons why Node.js is hot and what it allows programmers to do.

It’s easier. It’s built to run in JavaScript, which has a huge developer base and has a warm and fuzzy community. Never underestimate the power of familiarity and friendliness.

It’s faster. We’re impatient people, as Facebook’s continued efforts to shave microseconds off load times illustrates. So, in addition to all the hardware used to speed up our servers, we’re optimizing our code not just in the application, but at the server to make things load that much faster. Much like Ajax offered a better browsing experience, Node.js offers a better web-serving experience.

It’s scalable. If you’re building a successful consumer-facing business, you’re going to eventually need a lot of servers (or a cloud provider with a lot of servers), and so whatever you plan to run on those has to be able to handle a massively distributed environment. Node.js does, which gives it an edge.

So why should non-programmer folks care about Node.js? For end-users, it’s just another weapon in the arsenal of technology being deployed to make the web faster and more responsive in a manner that’s cheaper to deploy and operate. That means your Facebook habits, YouTube viewing parties and other services are cheap or free.

As an added bonus, here’s a video of me interviewing Jason Hoffman, Joyent co-founder and chief scientist, about the popular development framework. Joyent is a huge supporter of Node.js, and its creator Ryan Dahl works there.

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