Node.js Frameworks for Developing RESTful APIs

Node.js is lightweight, efficient, and easy to get started with, making it a popular platform for REST APIs. However, the number of Node.js frameworks available for Node.js can make choosing one a difficult decision. Some of the considerations that may factor into that decision are the size of the team and how experienced they are, as well as the amount of flexibility and out-of-the-box functionality desired. We’ve reviewed several of the more popular Node.js frameworks for your consideration, in order to help you make an informed decision.

Express

Developed in 2009 by TJ Holowaychuk, one of the former maintainers of Node, Express is perhaps the most well-known and established Node.js framework. It provides a simple, minimalist foundation for building an API or application on, is highly customizable, and allows users to get started easily without overcoming much of a learning curve. However, because it is so flexible, developers may find themselves doing a lot of heavy lifting with caching, monitoring, security, and error-handling, requiring outside modules or a roll-your-own approach in order to implement many common tasks. As a result, teams that are inexperienced or large and requiring a lot of standardization across a project may require more management while working with Express. However, if your team wants to take a highly personalized approach and has the experience to do so, it may be the right fit for you.

LoopBack

LoopBack, which runs on top of the Express framework, provides a stark contrast to Express as a highly opinionated framework that takes a convention over configuration approach. This allows for quick development of APIs through built-in modules that allow developers to focus on user experience and business logic. In addition, Loopback is extensible by design, making it a good fit for scalability and enterprise endeavors. As such, large teams or those with an eye toward scalability should consider LoopBack, although they might keep in mind the lack of independence that will come from working within LoopBack’s highly opinionated framework.

It’s also worth mentioning that IBM owns Strongloop, the parent company for both LoopBack and Express, so anyone looking into IBM’s API Connect as an API manager should familiarize themselves with either of these frameworks, which can be used to build APIs directly within the manager.

Restify

Restify is one of the faster Node.js frameworks, and was designed specifically for building REST APIs. Although newer than Express, it is established, stable, and well maintained, and borrows heavily from the Express framework. However, it does not contain the functionality Express uses to support browser applications, such as templating and rendering that you wouldn’t need for an API. DTrace support is well integrated, which makes it good for troubleshooting, but it doesn’t have many baked-in features or modules, so it will be more labor-intensive than working in a framework like LoopBack. According to their webpage, “I wrote Restify as I needed a framework that gave me absolute control over interactions with HTTP and full observability into the latency and characteristics of my applications. If you don’t need that, or don’t care about those aspect(s), then it’s probably not for you.”

Sails

Sails is a full-stack MVC framework based on Express and written entirely in JavaScript. Like LoopBack, it is highly opinionated, but does much to facilitate development, offering blueprints to autogenerate REST APIs without any coding. However, given how much it encompasses, the tutorials and documentation provided are not quite as extensive as some of the other frameworks, such as Express and Loopback. As such, inexperienced developers who might be drawn to its ease of use could have difficulties taking advantage of the full range of its capabilities.

Hapi

Hapi was developed by Walmart Labs in 2011 and, while not quite as well known as Express, is used by other major companies such as Macy’s and Disney. Like Restify, it is built specifically for developing REST APIs, but is more feature-rich, using a plugin system to provide out-of-the-box functionality. Because of its configuration over code philosophy and its focus on APIs, common use cases and needs are baked-in. In addition, it offers a great deal in the way of documentation and tutorials. Although those looking for less opinionated Node.js frameworks may want something more customizable, first-time or inexperienced developers may not find a better choice than Hapi for quickly developing a stable, secure, and functioning REST API.

Node.js is lightweight, efficient, and easy to get started with, making it a popular platform for REST APIs. However, the number of Node.js frameworks available for Node.js can make choosing one a difficult decision. Some of the considerations that may factor into that decision are the size of the team and how experienced they are, as well as the amount of flexibility and out-of-the-box functionality desired. We’ve reviewed several of the more popular Node.js frameworks for your consideration, in order to help you make an informed decision.

Express

Developed in 2009 by TJ Holowaychuk, one of the former maintainers of Node, Express is perhaps the most well-known and established Node.js framework. It provides a simple, minimalist foundation for building an API or application on, is highly customizable, and allows users to get started easily without overcoming much of a learning curve. However, because it is so flexible, developers may find themselves doing a lot of heavy lifting with caching, monitoring, security, and error-handling, requiring outside modules or a roll-your-own approach in order to implement many common tasks. As a result, teams that are inexperienced or large and requiring a lot of standardization across a project may require more management while working with Express. However, if your team wants to take a highly personalized approach and has the experience to do so, it may be the right fit for you.

LoopBack

LoopBack, which runs on top of the Express framework, provides a stark contrast to Express as a highly opinionated framework that takes a convention over configuration approach. This allows for quick development of APIs through built-in modules that allow developers to focus on user experience and business logic. In addition, Loopback is extensible by design, making it a good fit for scalability and enterprise endeavors. As such, large teams or those with an eye toward scalability should consider LoopBack, although they might keep in mind the lack of independence that will come from working within LoopBack’s highly opinionated framework.

It’s also worth mentioning that IBM owns Strongloop, the parent company for both LoopBack and Express, so anyone looking into IBM’s API Connect as an API manager should familiarize themselves with either of these frameworks, which can be used to build APIs directly within the manager.

Restify

Restify is one of the faster Node.js frameworks, and was designed specifically for building REST APIs. Although newer than Express, it is established, stable, and well maintained, and borrows heavily from the Express framework. However, it does not contain the functionality Express uses to support browser applications, such as templating and rendering that you wouldn’t need for an API. DTrace support is well integrated, which makes it good for troubleshooting, but it doesn’t have many baked-in features or modules, so it will be more labor-intensive than working in a framework like LoopBack. According to their webpage, “I wrote Restify as I needed a framework that gave me absolute control over interactions with HTTP and full observability into the latency and characteristics of my applications. If you don’t need that, or don’t care about those aspect(s), then it’s probably not for you.”

Sails

Sails is a full-stack MVC framework based on Express and written entirely in JavaScript. Like LoopBack, it is highly opinionated, but does much to facilitate development, offering blueprints to autogenerate REST APIs without any coding. However, given how much it encompasses, the tutorials and documentation provided are not quite as extensive as some of the other frameworks, such as Express and Loopback. As such, inexperienced developers who might be drawn to its ease of use could have difficulties taking advantage of the full range of its capabilities.

Hapi

Hapi was developed by Walmart Labs in 2011 and, while not quite as well known as Express, is used by other major companies such as Macy’s and Disney. Like Restify, it is built specifically for developing REST APIs, but is more feature-rich, using a plugin system to provide out-of-the-box functionality. Because of its configuration over code philosophy and its focus on APIs, common use cases and needs are baked-in. In addition, it offers a great deal in the way of documentation and tutorials. Although those looking for less opinionated Node.js frameworks may want something more customizable, first-time or inexperienced developers may not find a better choice than Hapi for quickly developing a stable, secure, and functioning REST API.