Express.js and Node.js as a prototyping medium

Perhaps you already know this: Express.js and Node.js can be a powerful medium for rapid-prototyping. However, if you’ve never used either one, it may seem daunting to get started. Over the past week, I’ve stumbled across a number of useful articles related to using Express.js — ‘a minimal and flexible Node.js application framework’ that help take any edge off the learning curve. In the hopes that it’s useful, I thought I’d share the list in one place.

Evan Hahn has written an in-depth article — Understanding Express.js — exploring how Express.js actually works. In his words:

It helps you build web apps. If you’ve used Sinatra in the Ruby world, a lot of this will be familiar. It’s good magic… But all magic comes at a price: you might not understand the inner workings of Express.

After you read Understanding Express.js you will have a better idea of what’s happening beneath the abstraction layer.

Next, Eric Elliott has written an article Getting Started With Node.js and Express.js which demonstrates the process of just that. I particularly enjoyed reading through and playing with his code samples.

Finally, there a two-part series was published on A List Apart exploring using Node and Express together to rapidly prototype designs. Taking the idea of Design in the Browser to the next level, the series explores mocking-up data structures and a step-by-step process of creating a mockup you can actually use. In Garann Means words:

implementation tends to expose requirements you hadn’t considered, and some of those can have a considerable impact on your timeline. Even in a server-driven application where it may not be possible to reuse data structures and templates as-is, creating client-only versions helps test your assumptions about the data you need and how you’ll use it.

You can read more in Node at Work: A Walkthrough and Even Better in Browser Mockups with Node.js.

If you’ve been meaning to look closer at Express.js or are looking to explore designing in the browser, I recommend checking out the above articles.

If you make it through these articles and want to dive further into Node.js, I recommend picking up a copy of Smashing Node.js: JavaScript Everywhere by Guillermo Rauch. I’ve also heard good things about Professional Node.js: Building Javascript Based Scalable Software, though I haven’t personally read it yet so you’ll have to check it out on your own.

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