Top NodeJS Frameworks in 2021

Jaimik Patel July 27, 2021

Top NodeJS Frameoworks - Cover Image

Quick Summary: With the advent of NodeJS, full stack Javascript has been on the rise. Everything from frontend to backend to APIs can be created using NodeJS based frameworks. Of the many avaialable technologies, we have compiled a list of top NodeJS frameworks that are robust, scalable and highly performant. Read till the end to know more.

NodeJS has undeniably gained huge popularity from when it was introduced in 2009. Year on year the demand for web applications has increased. Companies are increasingly choosing to build platform agnostic web applications to target a wider audience. Hence, picking the most reliable and robust framework is of utmost importance in web app development. A framework should be chosen on certain criteria such as

  • It is under active development
  • It is extremely popular based on reliable sites
  • It has a large community who provide active support
  • It is highly used in the industry
  • It has extensive tooling and plugins available

NodeJS is one such technology that fits all the above criteria. Many tech giants such as Microsoft, Netflix, Uber, Nasa, Medium use NodeJS to create and improve their web applications and apis. In this blog post, we will analyse each and every aspect of NodeJS and all of the top node.js frameworks and pros and cons of each.

Read till the end for BONUS content

 

Briefing to get you started

About Node.JS frameworks

Node.JS is a JavaScript runtime environment based on Chrome’s V8 engine outside of browsers. This allows JavaScript to be run on the server side. It has an asynchronous I/O, event driven model which results in increased performance and robustness for the end product. NodeJS has several advantages and disadvantages such as

  • Easily Scalable, both horizontally and vertically
  • Use of JavaScript simplifies the learning curve
  • Speedy V8 engine improves speed and efficiency and hence overall performance
  • Non-blocking I/O
  • Slow performance in CPU Heavy Tasks
  • Tools, extensions and plugins lack quality
  • Increased developmental efforts required due to frequent breaking changes

 

Types of Node.JS frameworks and when to use them

  • MVC Frameworks: MVC aka Model-View-Controller architecture divides the application logic and functions into three parts. Model, which handles database/data related functionality, View: user-interface/client side architecture and Controller, which interfaces between models and views. Express & Hapi are widely used unopinionated while Adonis & CompoundJS are opinionated MVC frameworks.
  • Full Stack Frameworks: Full Stack frameworks have inbuilt functionality to handle both client-side and server-side software development. Various tools such as Database ORM, templates, plugins and extensions help developers create an entire project in a single language with a single framework. One such framework is MeteorJS
  • REST API Frameworks: Rest API frameworks help developers build robust, scalable and production-ready RESTful web services. A pre-build architecture means developers have to worry less about reinventing the wheel and can focus more on building the product.

 

Top NodeJS Frameworks that are currently trending

Top Nodejs frameworks download trends

From NPM trends downloads of the past 5 years, it is evident that ExpressJS is witnessing an increasing adoption day by day. It is the one of the most popular node.js frameworks that is actively used in server side programming with more than 80% usage in 2020 (Source).

Other top node.js frameworks such as Next.JS, Fastify, Meteor have also seen a spike in interest. More and more developers are flocking to technologies that help them deliver quality products while minimizing development time. Thus, the rise of modern frameworks that take advantage of the NodeJS platform.

 

Quick Links

  1. Express
  2. Next
  3. Meteor
  4. Koa
  5. Nest
  6. Hapi
  7. Socket.io
  8. Fastify
  9. Gatsby
  10. Nuxt
  11. Top 3 NodeJS CMS

 

Express.JS

Expressjs details

ExpressJS is widely considered as the best node js framework for web app development on the NodeJS platform. It provides a minimalistic interface along with many in-built tools for building applications.

Wide compatibility with NPM packages means that one would not need to write as much code to achieve the same functionality. Moreover, the fact that it is unopinionated allows developers to create web applications tailored to specific use cases with top class performance and utmost flexibility.

Pros

  • Wide variety of ”Middlewares”, plugins, extensions are available which help developers with various roadblocks
  • A very low learning curve with in-depth documentation so that even a beginner can get started
  • Highly flexible and unopinionated, thus a variety of custom softwares can be created

Cons

  • Unopinionated nature may result in improper security implementation
  • Organisation of code is difficult
  • Single Threaded nature of NodeJS might result in callback hell if implement improperly

Use Cases

Companies such as Twitter, Slack, Intuit among many others use Express to improve their web applications. Express can be used to create everything from open-source to enterprise grade apps as it has tested features.

It is the de-facto node.js framework used for web applications with robust and responsive backend. Detailed documentation and community support can help everyone from hobbyists to teams of experts in getting started. Thus Express.JS is an excellent framework for app development.

 

Next.JS

Nextjs details

NextJS is another popular Node.JS framework used for building dynamic web apps. Armed with features like Server Side Rendering(SSR) and Incremental Static Site Generation(SSG) , NextJS can significantly boost the performance of your existing project.

It has out-of-the-box support for SaaS and Typescript which helps keep the code clean and organised, thus reducing debugging efforts required.

Pros

  • Reusable Components along with live reloading
  • TypeScript support along with SEO friendliness
  • Large and growing community to help solve the issue

Cons

  • No support for dynamic routes (only FileSystem API based routes)
  • Absence of any in-built state management features
  • Higher development costs

Use Cases

Tiktok, Netflix, Hulu, Twitch, Nike are amongst the most popular users of NextJS. Even the most novice developers find it easy to get started as the framework is an open source alternative and extremely easy to use and navigate around.

Static pre-rendering can help boost the performance significantly. Dynamic web apps with JavaScript heavy features can benefit a lot from NextJS. NextJS greatly simplifies app development and it provides multiple savings when it comes to time-to-market. Hence, NextJS is one of the top picks for frameworks to use in 2021.

 

Meteor

Meteor details

Meter is a full stack Node.js framework that can be used to create both client and server side programs.

The fact it provides full stack reactivity means that by default the user interface is in sync with the rest of the business logic hence saving development time and efforts.

Pros

  • Abundance of packages, libraries and plugins to aid development and reduce time required to create custom web solutions
  • Can be used to design frontend easily with the help of third-party libraries and frameworks
  • Very useful for creating MVP apps
  • External ORMs are not required

Cons

  • Lack of server side rendering, SEO requires extra effort
  • PWA support absent hence native performance and feel is lacking
  • RDBMS not supported hence migrating to NoSQL would take time

Use Cases

Companies like Pathable, Lemlist, Chatra use Meteor to deliver web and hybrid mobile apps. With Meter one could target both frontend and backend thus saving time.

Meter has all the characteristics of a versatile and flexible node.js framework. It allows developers to use a single codebase for web app and mobile app and also features real time updates which can be pushed over the air without modifying user sessions.

 

Koa

Koajs details

Koa is a lightweight Node.JS framework that provides a variety of features and toolsets to develop responsive and robust web and mobile applications.

It is also very similar to Express, so it is quite flexible without any extra features. It is highly modular so it can be used in an existing project. Created using ES6, it has an edge over others like Express.

Pros

  • An extremely lightweight footprint
  • Architectured in a way that avoid code inconsistencies
  • High level of customizability

Cons

  • Community is small hence immediate support might not be available
  • It uses generator functions which aren’t compatible with other NodeJS middleware
  • Does not work well with Express-style middleware

Use Cases

Paralect, Pubu, Bulb, GAPO, Clovis are some of the companies using KoaJS. Koa can be used when mission critical performance is required in a web application.

It is lighter and faster than Express (in specific use cases). Enterprises can take advantage of Koa to build web apps that are robust and highly flexible.

 

Nest

Nestjs details

NestJS is one of the top Node JS frameworks that is primarily used for creating server side applications that are robust, reliable, and efficient. Nest is modular so it can be used with any other libraries and versatile enough to adapt to existing server-side applications.

Documentation is quite detailed and filled with examples. Many tools and services are provided to model the framework around security and best practices. Support for websockets and microservices is cherry on top.

Pros

  • Extremely powerful with Typescript and GraphQL support
  • Documentation is easy to understand hence the entry barrier for beginners is comparatively lower.
  • Since the syntax is similar to angular, experienced developers can get started easily.

Cons

  • Complexity can rise drastically with larger projects due to absence of strict type checking
  • Single threaded nature of the framework can bottleneck performance

Use Cases

MNCs such as Adidas, Roche, Autodesk, Decathlon have built innovative solutions using NestJS.

With robust architecture and performance benefits of Express (or Fastify) which is used under the hood, NestJS is an excellent Node framework for building applications that are responsive, scalable and highly performant.

 

Hapi

HapiJS details

Hapi is an open source NodeJS framework used for building REST APIs. Support for HTTP proxy apps, scalable REST APIs, SQL and NoSQL DBs makes Hapi extremely versatile.

With built-in features like routing, caching and i/o validation Hapi is flexible enough to be used in just about every project that requires REST API and its related functionality.

Pros

  • Framework is rails-like along with plugin based architecture
  • Highly configurable with minimal overheads and secure defaults
  • Provides excellent support for building REST API with features such as validation, caching, and authentication

Cons

  • Manual endpoint testing and code refactoring
  • Hapi specific plugins like catbox, joi aren’t compatible with Express
  • Structuring code can be difficult

Use Cases

Walmart is one of the many corporations that utilize hapiJS to develop custom web applications.

HapiJS is an excellent choice for building HTTP proxies, APIs and SPA backends.

 

Socket.io

Socket.io details

SocketIO is a JS library that is used to build real time applications that instant communication between client and server.

Its event-driven nature and support for bi-directional communication helps developers build real time apps such as chat-apps, live analytics, document sharing and video-conferencing apps and many more. It utilizes websocket protocol under the hood with fallback options.

Pros

  • Client and server side libraries available
  • Variety of features including but not limited to Namespaces, rooms and auto-connect
  • Extremely fast and smooth

Cons

  • Lack of coherent documentation
  • Connection to server always stays open, and client has no knowledge on how to close multiplex connection
  • Race conditions aren’t properly handled – crash or data loss may occur

Use Cases

Companies like Alibaba, Patreon, Trello use Socket.IO to develop web applications that require real time communication.

Ideal use cases would be real time applications such as instant chat apps, live multiplayer games, video conferencing platforms. For example, in a chat application where real-time bidirectional data transfers are essential. Hence SocketIO is a popular open source framework for developing real time applications.

 

Fastify

Fastify Details

Fastify is a popular framework that provides a modular/plugin driven architecture along with one of the best developer experiences. It is one of the fastest frameworks arounds that is also extensible with hooks, plugins and Typescript ready.

It uses Pino Logger to keep logs and hence it is extremely convenient to track back to the errors and iron out the bugs.

Pros

  • Lightweight and open source with large plugin ecosystem
  • Customizable with TypeScript support
  • Asynchronous behavior removes traditional bottlenecks

Cons

  • Auth libraries such as passport.js are incompatible
  • Websockets (specifically Socket.io) sometimes break

Use Cases

Many companies use Fastify to build various products and services such as Microsoft, Genesys, Hotstar and many more.

Fastify should be used in projects where high performance is the utmost priority. It handles server resources in a more efficient manner than express. The framework allows developers to code high performance web applications and rest api effortlessly.

 

Gatsby

Gatsby details

Gatsby is a framework that is extensively used to create websites with a lot of static content.

The framework is mainly focused on frontend, hence it stands out from the rest of the alternatives mentioned here. Since it builds the sites (essentially compiles) the performance is very fast and fluid.

Pros

  • Very high performance helps reduce the load time and general navigation from page to page
  • Plugins and extensions available for just about any problem which reduce the time needed to develop a particular feature
  • Markdown support and SEO friendly
  • React based thus components are readily available

Cons

  • Not suitable for sites with a lot of dynamic content
  • Build time is long even for sites with a lot of static content
  • Changes made might not be instantly visible

Use Cases

Snapchat, Tinder, Clubhouse and many more companies use Gatsby to create web apps.

The framework is highly versatile and flexible, hence it can be used to create just about anything from Saas products, e-commerce stores, to company landing pages, blogs, data visualization apps, and interactive surveys.

 

Nuxt

NuxtJS details

Nuxt is an open source framework that amalgamates the benefits of VueJS reactive component model with Server Side Rendered Apps.

It has an out-of-the-box feel like Angular/Ember with configuration, libraries and directory structures being very similar. Great SEO support, automatic code-splitting and fast startup are just some of the many features.

Pros

  • Server Side Rendering helps in search engine optimization
  • Live reloading helps developers easily view their changes
  • Default project structure is excellent and easy to understand
  • Creating Universal apps is convenient

Cons

  • Typescript support is poor hence some might find it difficult to use in their existing ecosystem
  • Integrating existing libraries with NuxtJS is a tad difficult
  • Instant answers to common questions might be unavailable as community is still growing

Use Cases

Upwork, Builder, Strapi (read more about Strapi in the bonus section below) use NuxtJS to build their products and services.

Nuxt takes full advantage of node.js platform. It can be used to create web applications and mobile applications that combine the advantages of Single Page Applications (SPAs) and static sites. Thus businesses that depend upon SEO can easily benefit from this framework.

When it comes to the best frameworks for web app development NuxtJS is our top choice to use in 2021.

 

 

Bonus: Top 3 NodeJS CMS

Top NodeJS CMS

Content Management System or CMS for short, is a piece of software that aids the user in creating, modifying and managing the content on a website without any technical know-how. One could build a fully functional website without any code.

From simple blogs to complicated ecommerce sites and everything in between can be easily made by using a CMS. There are many different types of CMS. Some are free while others are paid, some are open-source while others aren’t. Advantages of using a Node based CMS include but aren’t limited to:

  • User Friendly interface and customizability
  • Faster Deployment and hassle free maintenance with regular updates
  • A large number of plugins and extensions to extend the functionality
  • SEO-friendly design
  • Huge Cost Savings
  • Developer and community support

Thus, it is evident that CMS are just as powerful as full fledged frameworks. So, here are our top NodeJS CMS recommendations

 

Strapi

Strapi CMS details

Strapi is the most popular and a leading headless CMS. It provides developers with flexibility to use various tools and services while providing writers and designers with easy access to their content.

Strapi allows one to design and develop backend and database models from GUI entirely. Intuitive and user-friendly interfaces help fill the gap of missing “frontend” (hence the headless part).

Pros

  • Easy to install and get started in a matter of minutes
  • GraphQL support out of the box
  • Database Agnostic
  • Inbuilt admin panel

Cons

  • Lack of proper extensions and plugins
  • 3 user roles limit in free version
  • Typescript not officially supported

Use Cases

Many companies such as IBM, ASOS and Discovery Channel use Strapi to create and distribute content on their blogs, editorials, websites and mobile applications.

Strapi can be used to create blogs, web backend, services without any prior knowledge about programming.

 

Ghost

Ghost cms details

Ghost is another popular CMS which primarily focuses on blogging. The design of Ghost is oriented more towards a platform rather than a CMS. It allows anyone to create a custom blog network/platform with built-in features like themes, sign up forms, analytics, creator tools, subscriptions and payment integrations.

While the open sourced version (MIT License) is free, it is missing some features that are reserved for pro version which is under subscription model

Pros

  • Extensive documentation
  • Robust and scalable it used modern technologies under the hood
  • Lightweight and SEO friendly
  • Professional tools and features available

Cons

  • Free version is limited in functionality
  • Highly oriented towards blogging and blogging ONLY
  • Comment functionality is missing

Use Cases

OpenAI, Buffer, Square, FreeCodeCamp are some of the many organizations that use Ghost to build and manage their blog networks and internal sites.

Since Ghost is focused on blogging only, the blogs created using Ghost tend to have better functionality. Use Ghost if you plan to focus on Blogs ONLY.

 

Keystone

Keystone CMS details

Keystone is another popular headless CMS. It is built upon the modern framework ExpressJS and has session management, email templating, Admin interface, form processing and multiple other features.

It is a very lightweight and flexible CMS. It is also easily extensible. One can develop or use existing functionality without losing any performance.

Pros

  • Many features and ExpressJS comes preconfigured
  • Variety of templating engines are supported
  • Authentication features are easy to use
  • Highly integrated with third party services

Cons

  • Lackluster documentation
  • Only PostgreSQL and MongoDB are supported
  • Absence of ‘roles’ system

Use Cases

KeystoneJS can be utilized for creating an array of different web apps, e-commerce projects, forums, web services etc.

It has a highly extensible architecture so it is easy to develop a feature for it which doesn’t already exist.

 

 

Shall I choose a full fledged NodeJS framework or a NodeJS CMS?

NodeJS Frameworks vs CMS

Both CMSs and frameworks have their dedicated use cases. Often is the case when a CMS is itself internally utilizing a framework to interact with low level functions. This is NOT to say that framework is superior.

Before deciding whether to choose one or the other one should consider multiple aspects of the project such as:

  • Complexity of Requirements – Highly complex projects might warrant the use of node.js frameworks. But if the needs are simple, a Node CMS would suffice. For example, blogs, e-commerce stores and websites could all be done quickly and easily with an open-source Node CMS such as Strapi.
  • Project Budget – Creating a web app with a node.js framework, requires a developer to code each and every feature from scratch and it results in a lot of time and effort, hence the higher cost. With a CMS, a fully functioning site can be easily created from a wide variety of templates available, hence lower development cost as compared to the framework solution.
  • Time to Delivery – CMS might be a better option in case of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) because it comes in-built with all the features and functions. CMS can shorten the time to market significantly. In case of no time constraints, node.js frameworks are a better choice as there is no useless code slowing down the product.
  • Flexibility & Scalability – Framework based websites are highly scalable and very flexible as they are not constrained by their architecture. By no means CMS is incapable of producing a high performing website, in fact if done right, a CMS might turn out to be more flexible to a subset of users whose needs and requirements perfectly align with the CMS offerings. However a node.js framework will outperform its CMS counterpart in robustness and scalability most of the time.

 

Where Node.JS CMSs shine?

  • Faster time to market
  • In-built functionalities like admin panel, login system, etc
  • Ease of app development

Where Node.JS frameworks shine?

  • Higher Performance
  • Utmost flexibility and scalability
  • Customizable upto the last bit and piece

 

 

Conclusion

I hope you find my list of Node.JS frameworks useful. Do not hesitate to delve deep into one and get your hands dirty. It will help you gain deeper insights of how top Node.JS frameworks function and pick an optimal solution. There is no one framework rules all. It is an always evolving picture. So make sure to adapt to it.

After reading the bonus content you may have gotten a clear idea on whether to pick a framework or a CMS depending on the use case. Deciding the best node js framework or best node js CMS out of all is not an intuitive task and neither does it add value to the debate.

I hope that this article provided you with a deeper insight into the top node js frameworks and helped you make an informed choice.

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