Node.js tools: Server-side JavaScript comes of age

Node-inspired development environments and cloud platforms are rapidly remaking the Web application stack

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It's easy to predict that there will be even more advances coming very soon and to imagine new tools that shouldn't be hard to build. I'm sure we'll soon start seeing versions of the IDE that are tightly integrated with the website itself. Many of the Web content management systems such as Drupal have little switches that appear when an administrator logs in. If you want to change a part of the site, clicking on the nearest switch will take you to a screen where you can simply edit some PHP and hit Save. There's no need to fire up a text editor or sift through a pile of files for the source code. Everything is done right on the browser.

This kind of development environment would be ideal for Node, if only because the structure of the framework is even more disjointed than the typical programming language. Node's nested callback structure lends itself to a form-based tool that would have separate sections for code that's executed before and code executed after. I find the callback structure maddening and difficult to work with, especially when it's several levels deep. A nice UI into these depths would simplify matters dramatically. Only geniuses can manage to count all those nested brackets.

An innovation like this would go a long way to fixing some of the biggest problems that people are reporting with Node. You'll have no trouble finding developers' blogs filled with four-letter words because they hate the "spaghetti callback" design paradigm. People can manage this when the site is a simple layer on top of some database, but they go nuts when the application gets more complicated.

The websites of cloud providers like Joyent also show how a good UI will make it easier to work with Node. The instrumentation is much better than that offered by the basic download, and it's probably going to get better as the company invests more into making its SmartMachines a platform that sustains enterprises.

We're sure some serious folks will complain that all of this work is just re-implementing many of the features that Ruby and Java programmers already take for granted. They're right. The Node ecosystem still needs plenty of work before it can begin to compete with the traditional standard bearers that keep the serious sites running. Although much of this new work has some of the polish that serious software should carry, the entire ecosystem still has the feeling of a really, really good project for science class.

If you're a serious developer with a boss who demands real promises of performance, you can wait a year or two before tuning in again. It's still not worth your time. But if you're interested in experimenting and watching the tools evolve, you'll find plenty of interesting software to fill an afternoon or three. There's even enough to drive a simple Web service or database front end if you want to give it a real try.

This article, "Node.js tools: Server-side JavaScript comes of age," originally appeared at Follow the latest news in programming and open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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This story, "Node.js tools: Server-side JavaScript comes of age" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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