Introducing ExpressJS

Express is a web application framework for NodeJS. It is a highly configurable feature-rich framework which does not restrict the project structure basing on architecture. There are lot more required libraries, NodeFrameworks

The documentation of ExpressJS is highly informative. So, what I want to cover here is how to start off an express based application, understand the middlewares you are going to use.

Make sure that the Node and NPM are installed.

Installing Express globally will give you a generator automatically. But I will suggesting installing the express generator which gives you a express binary.

~$npm install -g express-generator

While generating the app you can configure it with following options (taken from above mentioned express guide)

Usage: express [options]


	-h, --help          output usage information
	-V, --version       output the version number
	-e, --ejs           add ejs engine support (defaults to jade)
	-H, --hogan         add hogan.js engine support
	-c, --css   add stylesheet  support (less|stylus) (defaults to plain css)
	-f, --force         force on non-empty directory

You can create an express app by typing express and sending the name of the project as the parameter. Since we added no options it generated scaffold uses plain CSS and Jade templates.

~$express MyExpressApp

	create : MyExpressApp
	create : MyExpressApp/package.json
	create : MyExpressApp/app.js
	create : MyExpressApp/public
	create : MyExpressApp/public/stylesheets
	create : MyExpressApp/public/stylesheets/style.css
	create : MyExpressApp/routes
	create : MyExpressApp/routes/index.js
	create : MyExpressApp/routes/user.js
	create : MyExpressApp/public/javascripts
	create : MyExpressApp/views
	create : MyExpressApp/views/index.jade
	create : MyExpressApp/views/layout.jade
	create : MyExpressApp/views/error.jade
	create : MyExpressApp/public/images
	create : MyExpressApp/bin
	create : MyExpressApp/bin/www

	install dependencies:
	$ cd MyExpressApp && npm install

	run the app:
	$ DEBUG=my-application ./bin/www

Now install the dependencies and start running the app

~$cd MyExpressApp
MyExpressApp-$npm install
MyExpressApp-$npm start

Go to browser and open http://localhost:3000. There you are, you first Node Express Server is up and running. You may want to look at multiple express examples.

Dwelling into app

Lets the file app.js which is the starting point of your server. Though, there are multiple configurations available in Express I will discuss only the important parts of it. You can read the rest from the Express guide.

After loading the importing the required node modules, get the instance of Express server from express() we shall look at the following configurations

//Letting the express know where the views are available
app.set('views', path.join(__dirname, 'views'));

//Setting the view engine to jade
app.set('view engine', 'jade');


Lets look at the middlewares. Every app.use() function call registers a new middleware. So, when a server receives new request first middleware is called and if the request can be answered the request will be answered else it will be forwarded to next middleware by invoking next(), usually used to call the next listener

var favicon = require('static-favicon');

//Gets the webpage's fav-icon which is the first middleware

// Logger, for logging the server requests
// Morgan is a logging library from ExpressJS
var logger = require('morgan');	

Body Parsers

Body parsing middleware. Parsing the body of server requests which are in JSON format like the POST data will be handled by a middleware bodyParser.json(). Similarly encoded url will be decoded by another middleware bodyParser.urlencoded()

var bodyParser = require('body-parser');


Parse Cookie header and populate req.cookies with an object with cookie names as keys. So, in your controller to access the user cookies it is just about looking into req.cookies

var cookieParser = require('cookie-parser');

Static Files

All the static files which should be publicly accessable can be served using express.static() middleware. So every api request will go through this middleware and see if the requested path is on the given static path of this disk. So, there will be a lag of atleast 1ms for the server to respond over all. So one way of handling this can be via setting a prefix for accessing static files, check the following code snippet. All the public files need to be prefixed with /static like http://localhost:3000/js/script.js to http://localhost:3000/static/js/script.js

app.use(express.static(path.join(__dirname, 'public')));

//Setting a prefix value
app.use('/static', express.static(path.join(__dirname, 'public')));

Refer SO Answer for more information on static files and its order compared to router

Router and Routes

Routing of the different web request to their respective controllers will be handled by the app.router. If none of the above middlewares cannot address the user request then app.router will check all the routes registered with it and if any route matches the request url then the respective callback will be called.


// Place where u have your controllers
var routes = require('./routes');
var users = require('./routes/user');

// Registering the routes
app.get('/', routes.index);
app.get('/users', users.list);

If none of the above middlewares are not able handle the user request, it means the path user request is not found. So, our next middleware is trying to respond with Not Found or 404 response.

app.use(function(req, res, next) {
	var err = new Error('Not Found');
	err.status = 404;

Error Handling

We can have a middleware which will always be available to handle the errors in the application. So this will be given in the end of all the middlewares. The arity of this middleware is 4 with signature function(err, req, res, next) So, from any middleware above if there is an error you want to throw just call next(err). From the below snippet you will find 2 error middlewares one in the development mode to get the full error stack trace and other in the production to just display the error message.

// development error handler
// will print stacktrace
if (app.get('env') === 'development') {
    app.use(function(err, req, res, next) {
        res.render('error', {
            message: err.message,
            error: err

// production error handler
// no stacktraces leaked to user
app.use(function(err, req, res, next) {
    res.render('error', {
        message: err.message,
        error: {}

As you see these are list of middlewares provided by Express but it is up to us, we can create new, delete the existing, replace with a better alternative. For Example, check flatiron for alternatives to these Express middlewares and you can use any of those middlewares replacing the ones provided by Express.