Enter the Browser

In this series of blog posts, we’re looking at how to set up a simple web app in node.

In the previous installment we looked at storing data, the node way.

In this post we’ll look at moving code into the browser, to make a single page application - the node way!

Creating an API

Let’s add some extra routes to our express app, to allow data to be posted and retrieved in JSON format. The code is very simliar to the code we had before, so you can replace the existing routes, or add these as well:

app.post('/api', function(req, res){
  db.put(guid(), req.body.todo, function(err){
    if (err) return res.json({error:err});

app.delete('/api/:key', function(req, res){
  db.del(req.params.key, function(err){
    if (err) return res.json({error:err});

app.get('/api', function(req, res){
  var list = [];
  var stream = db.createReadStream();
  stream.on('data', function(data) {
  stream.on('end', function() {

(the only real difference is that we’re calling json on the response object).

We’ll also need to allow json to be posted. Let’s set up the body parser middleware to handle JSON by adding this line (you can add it next to your existing body parser line)


That’s a simple JSON API set up, you should be able to see your todos if you start up the web server and open this page in your browser: http://localhost:8080/api.

Now let’s focus our effort on the browser.

Browser side

Let’s create a new directory for the source code which will run in the browser (so it doesn’t get confused with the server-side code).

> mkdir client

One of the first things we want to do it connect to our API.

I’ve got a really lightweight JavaScript module I use to do this - which you can borrow :¬)

function makeRequest(method, uri, body, cb){
    var xhr = new XMLHttpRequest();
    xhr.open(method, uri, true);
    xhr.onreadystatechange = function(){
      if(xhr.readyState !== 4) return
      if(xhr.status < 400) return cb(null, JSON.parse(xhr.responseText));

module.exports.get = function(url, cb){
  makeRequest("GET", url, null, cb);

module.exports.post = function(url, data, cb){
  makeRequest("POST", url, JSON.stringify(data), cb);

module.exports.del = function(url, cb){
  makeRequest("DELETE", url, null, cb);

Let’s call this http-request.js and put it in the client directory.

Next let’s create an index.js file which we’ll use to call this module.

var http = require('./http-request')

var http.get('/api', function(err, todos){

Hold on! This looks like node.js code. We’re using the require function to load our http-request module, which we’re loading off the disk. require isn’t available in the browser (and neither is the module.exports variable!), so what’s going on?

We’re going to use browserify, which is a useful command line tool for bundling together multiple source files, to build a single file we can serve to the browser. Browserify parses our JavaScript code and finds all the calls to require to figure out which files we’re using, it then bundles all of the referenced modules together into a single file.

Browserify has some fantastic benefits:

  • We can split our client-side code into small, testable and reusable modules.
  • We don’t have to worry about polluting the global namespace. All variables will be encapsulated within their own module.
  • We can tap into the npm registry, and use node.js modules in the browser.
  • Browserify figures out what which JavaScript files we’re using, so we don’t have to maintain list.

Put another way, browserify brings the benefits of node to the browser.

Let’s install browserify, as well as uglify (a JavaScript minifier). Both of these are node modules, which you can install like this:

> npm install browserify uglify-js -g

The -g option installs the module globally, and registers it as a command line tool.

Now we can create the bundle on the command line:

> browserify client/index.js | uglifyjs > public/index.min.js

This command will create an index.min.js file in the public directory with our bundled and minified JavaScript. You’ll need to run this command every time you change the client JavaScript files.

There are lots of automation tools in node, grunt and gulp being popular options. I normally create a makefile - but perhaps I’m old fashioned :¬)

Now let’s create an index.html in the public directory which will load the script file:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="//maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.3.5/css/bootstrap.min.css"></style>
    <div class="container" id="content"></div>
    <script src="index.min.js"></script>

Note that I have abandoned the server-side views, this static HTML file will be served instead.

If you fire up the application, you should now see your todos written to the console (open the developer tools with F12).

Next we’ll look at using React for templating in the browser.