Understanding Worker Threads in Node.js

Understanding Worker Threads in Node.js

In this article, you can understand Worker Threads, how Node.js is structured and some examples on how to use it

To understand Workers, first, it’s necessary to understand how Node.js is structured.

When a Node.js process is launched, it runs:

  • One process
  • One thread
  • One event loop
  • One JS Engine Instance
  • One Node.js Instance

One process: a process is a global object that can be accessed anywhere and has information about what’s being executed at a time.

One thread: being single-threaded means that only one set of instructions is executed at a time in a given process.

One event loop: this is one of the most important aspects to understand about Node. It’s what allows Node to be asynchronous and have non-blocking I/O, — despite the fact that JavaScript is single-threaded — by offloading operations to the system kernel whenever possible through callbacks, promises and async/await.

One JS Engine Instance: this is a computer program that executes JavaScript code.

One Node.js Instance: the computer program that executes Node.js code.

In other words, Node runs on a single thread, and there is just one process happening at a time in the event loop. One code, one execution, (the code is not executed in parallel). This is very useful because it simplifies how you use JavaScriptwithout worrying about concurrency issues.

The reason it was built with that approach is that JavaScript was initially created for client-side interactions (like web page interactions, or form validation) -- nothing that required the complexity of multithreading.

But, as with all things, there is a downside: if you have CPU-intensive code, like complex calculations in a large dataset taking place in-memory, it can block other processes from being executed. Similarly, If you are making a request to a server that has CPU-intensive code, that code can block the event loop and prevent other requests of being handled.

A function is considered “blocking” if the main event loop must wait until it has finished executing the next command. A “Non-blocking” function will allow the main event loop to continue as soon as it begins and typically alerts the main loop once it has finished by calling a “callback”.

The golden rule: don’t block the event loop, try to keep it running it and pay attention and avoid anything that could block the thread like synchronous network calls or infinite loops.

It’s important to differentiate between CPU operations and I/O (input/output) operations. As mentioned earlier, the code of Node.js is NOT executed in parallel. Only I/O operations are run in parallel, because they are executed asynchronously.

So Worker Threads will not help much with I/O-intensive work because asynchronous I/O operations are more efficient than Workers can be. The main goal of Workers is to improve the performance on CPU-intensive operations not I/O operations.

Some solutions

Furthermore, there are already solutions for CPU intensive operations: multiple processes (like cluster API) that make sure that the CPU is optimally used.

This approach is advantageous because it allows isolation of processes, so if something goes wrong in one process, it doesn’t affect the others. They also have stability and identical APIs. However, this means sacrificing shared memory, and the communication of data must be via JSON.

JavaScript and Node.js will never have threads, this is why:

So, people might think that adding a new module in Node.js core will allow us to create and sync threads, thus solving the problem of CPU-intensive operations.

Well, no, not really. If threads are added, the nature of the language itself will change. It’s not possible to add threads as a new set of available classes or functions. In languages that support multithreading (like Java), keywords such as “synchronized” help to enable multiple threads to sync.

Also, some numeric types are not atomic, meaning that if you don’t synchronize them, you could end up having two threads changing the value of a variable and resulting that after both threads have accessed it, the variable has a few bytes changed by one thread and a few bytes changed by the other thread and thus, not resulting in any valid value. For example, in the simple operation of 0.1 + 0.2 has 17 decimals in JavaScript (the maximum number of decimals).

var x = 0.1 + 0.2; // x will be 0.30000000000000004

But floating point arithmetic is not always 100% accurate. So if not synchronized, one decimal may get changed using Workers, resulting in non-identical numbers.

The best solution:

The best solution for CPU performance is Worker Threads. Browsers have had the concept of Workers for a long time.

Instead of having:

  • One process
  • One thread
  • One event loop
  • One JS Engine Instance
  • One Node.js Instance

Worker threads have:

  • One process
  • Multiple threads
  • One event loop per thread
  • One JS Engine Instance per thread
  • One Node.js Instance per thread

As we can see in the following image:

The worker_threads module enables the use of threads that execute JavaScript in parallel. To access it:

const worker = require('worker_threads');

Worker Threads have been available since Node.js 10, but are still in the experimental phase.

What is ideal, is to have multiple Node.js instances inside the same process. With Worker threads, a thread can end at some point and it’s not necessarily the end of the parent process. It’s not a good practice for resources that were allocated by a Worker to hang around when the Worker is gone-- that’s a memory leak, and we don’t want that. We want to embed Node.js into itself, give Node.js the ability to create a new thread and then create a new Node.js instance inside that thread; essentially running independent threads inside the same process.

What makes Worker Threads special:

  • ArrayBuffers to transfer memory from one thread to another
  • SharedArrayBuffer that will be accessible from either thread. It lets you share memory between threads (limited to binary data).
  • Atomics available, it lets you do some processes concurrently, more efficiently and allows you to implement conditions variables in JavaScript
  • MessagePort, used for communicating between different threads. It can be used to transfer structured data, memory regions and other MessagePorts between different Workers.
  • MessageChannel represents an asynchronous, two-way communications channel used for communicating between different threads.
  • WorkerData is used to pass startup data. An arbitrary JavaScript value that contains a clone of the data passed to this thread’s Worker constructor. The data is cloned as if using postMessage()

API

  • const { worker, parentPort } = require(‘worker_threads’) => The worker class represents an independent JavaScript execution thread and the parentPort is an instance of the message port
  • new Worker(filename) or new Worker(code, { eval: true }) => are the two main ways of starting a worker (passing the filename or the code that you want to execute). It’s advisable to use the filename in production.
  • worker.on(‘message’), worker/postMessage(data) => for listening to messages and sending them between the different threads.
  • parentPort.on(‘message’), parentPort.postMessage(data) => Messages sent using parentPort.postMessage() will be available in the parent thread using worker.on('message'), and messages sent from the parent thread using worker.postMessage() will be available in this thread using parentPort.on('message').

EXAMPLE:

const { Worker } = require('worker_threads');

const worker = new Worker(`
const { parentPort } = require('worker_threads');
parentPort.once('message',
    message => parentPort.postMessage({ pong: message }));  
`, { eval: true });
worker.on('message', message => console.log(message));      
worker.postMessage('ping');  
$ node --experimental-worker test.js
{ pong: ‘ping’ }

Example by Anna Henningsen

What this essentially does is create a new thread using a new Worker, the code inside the Worker is listening for a message on parentPort and once it receives the message, it is going to post the message back to the main thread.

You have to use the --experimental-worker because Workers are still experimental.

Another example:

    const {
      Worker, isMainThread, parentPort, workerData
    } = require('worker_threads');

    if (isMainThread) {
      module.exports = function parseJSAsync(script) {
        return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
          const worker = new Worker(filename, {
            workerData: script
          });
          worker.on('message', resolve);
          worker.on('error', reject);
          worker.on('exit', (code) => {
            if (code !== 0)
              reject(new Error(`Worker stopped with exit code ${code}`));
          });
        });
      };
    } else {
      const { parse } = require('some-js-parsing-library');
      const script = workerData;
      parentPort.postMessage(parse(script));
    }

It requires:

  • Worker: the class that represents an independent JavaScript execution thread.
  • isMainThread: a boolean that is true if the code is not running inside of a Worker thread.
  • parentPort: the MessagePort allowing communication with the parent thread If this thread was spawned as a Worker.
  • workerData: An arbitrary JavaScript value that contains a clone of the data passed to this thread’s Worker constructor.

In actual practice for these kinds of tasks, use a pool of Workers instead. Otherwise, the overhead of creating Workers would likely exceed their benefit.

What is expected for Workers (hopefully):
  • Passing native handles around (e.g. sockets, http request)
  • Deadlock detection. Deadlock is a situation where a set of processes are blocked because each process is holding a resource and waiting for another resource acquired by some other process. Deadlock detention will be useful for Worker threads in this case.
  • More isolation, so if one process is affected, it won’t affect others.
What NOT to expect for Workers:
  • Don’t think Workers make everything magically faster, in some cases is better to use Worker pool
  • Don’t use Workers for parallelizing I/O operations.
  • Don’t think spawning Workers is cheap
Final notes:

The contributors to Workers in Node.js are looking for feedback, if you have used Workers before and want to contribute, you can leave your feedback here

Workers have chrome DevTools support to inspect Workers in Node.js.

And worker_threads is a promising experimental module if you need to do CPU-intensive tasks in your Node.js application. Keep in mind that it’s still experimental, so it is advisable to wait before using it in production. For now, you can use Worker pools instead.

Top 7 Most Popular Node.js Frameworks You Should Know

Top 7 Most Popular Node.js Frameworks You Should Know

Node.js is an open-source, cross-platform, runtime environment that allows developers to run JavaScript outside of a browser. In this post, you'll see top 7 of the most popular Node frameworks at this point in time (ranked from high to low by GitHub stars).

Node.js is an open-source, cross-platform, runtime environment that allows developers to run JavaScript outside of a browser.

One of the main advantages of Node is that it enables developers to use JavaScript on both the front-end and the back-end of an application. This not only makes the source code of any app cleaner and more consistent, but it significantly speeds up app development too, as developers only need to use one language.

Node is fast, scalable, and easy to get started with. Its default package manager is npm, which means it also sports the largest ecosystem of open-source libraries. Node is used by companies such as NASA, Uber, Netflix, and Walmart.

But Node doesn't come alone. It comes with a plethora of frameworks. A Node framework can be pictured as the external scaffolding that you can build your app in. These frameworks are built on top of Node and extend the technology's functionality, mostly by making apps easier to prototype and develop, while also making them faster and more scalable.

Below are 7of the most popular Node frameworks at this point in time (ranked from high to low by GitHub stars).

Express

With over 43,000 GitHub stars, Express is the most popular Node framework. It brands itself as a fast, unopinionated, and minimalist framework. Express acts as middleware: it helps set up and configure routes to send and receive requests between the front-end and the database of an app.

Express provides lightweight, powerful tools for HTTP servers. It's a great framework for single-page apps, websites, hybrids, or public HTTP APIs. It supports over fourteen different template engines, so developers aren't forced into any specific ORM.

Meteor

Meteor is a full-stack JavaScript platform. It allows developers to build real-time web apps, i.e. apps where code changes are pushed to all browsers and devices in real-time. Additionally, servers send data over the wire, instead of HTML. The client renders the data.

The project has over 41,000 GitHub stars and is built to power large projects. Meteor is used by companies such as Mazda, Honeywell, Qualcomm, and IKEA. It has excellent documentation and a strong community behind it.

Koa

Koa is built by the same team that built Express. It uses ES6 methods that allow developers to work without callbacks. Developers also have more control over error-handling. Koa has no middleware within its core, which means that developers have more control over configuration, but which means that traditional Node middleware (e.g. req, res, next) won't work with Koa.

Koa already has over 26,000 GitHub stars. The Express developers built Koa because they wanted a lighter framework that was more expressive and more robust than Express. You can find out more about the differences between Koa and Express here.

Sails

Sails is a real-time, MVC framework for Node that's built on Express. It supports auto-generated REST APIs and comes with an easy WebSocket integration.

The project has over 20,000 stars on GitHub and is compatible with almost all databases (MySQL, MongoDB, PostgreSQL, Redis). It's also compatible with most front-end technologies (Angular, iOS, Android, React, and even Windows Phone).

Nest

Nest has over 15,000 GitHub stars. It uses progressive JavaScript and is built with TypeScript, which means it comes with strong typing. It combines elements of object-oriented programming, functional programming, and functional reactive programming.

Nest is packaged in such a way it serves as a complete development kit for writing enterprise-level apps. The framework uses Express, but is compatible with a wide range of other libraries.

LoopBack

LoopBack is a framework that allows developers to quickly create REST APIs. It has an easy-to-use CLI wizard and allows developers to create models either on their schema or dynamically. It also has a built-in API explorer.

LoopBack has over 12,000 GitHub stars and is used by companies such as GoDaddy, Symantec, and the Bank of America. It's compatible with many REST services and a wide variety of databases (MongoDB, Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL).

Hapi

Similar to Express, hapi serves data by intermediating between server-side and client-side. As such, it's can serve as a substitute for Express. Hapi allows developers to focus on writing reusable app logic in a modular and prescriptive fashion.

The project has over 11,000 GitHub stars. It has built-in support for input validation, caching, authentication, and more. Hapi was originally developed to handle all of Walmart's mobile traffic during Black Friday.

Node.js for Beginners - Learn Node.js from Scratch (Step by Step)

Node.js for Beginners - Learn Node.js from Scratch (Step by Step)

Node.js for Beginners - Learn Node.js from Scratch (Step by Step) - Learn the basics of Node.js. This Node.js tutorial will guide you step by step so that you will learn basics and theory of every part. Learn to use Node.js like a professional. You’ll learn: Basic Of Node, Modules, NPM In Node, Event, Email, Uploading File, Advance Of Node.

Node.js for Beginners

Learn Node.js from Scratch (Step by Step)

Welcome to my course "Node.js for Beginners - Learn Node.js from Scratch". This course will guide you step by step so that you will learn basics and theory of every part. This course contain hands on example so that you can understand coding in Node.js better. If you have no previous knowledge or experience in Node.js, you will like that the course begins with Node.js basics. otherwise if you have few experience in programming in Node.js, this course can help you learn some new information . This course contain hands on practical examples without neglecting theory and basics. Learn to use Node.js like a professional. This comprehensive course will allow to work on the real world as an expert!
What you’ll learn:

  • Basic Of Node
  • Modules
  • NPM In Node
  • Event
  • Email
  • Uploading File
  • Advance Of Node

How to Use Express.js, Node.js and MongoDB.js

How to Use Express.js, Node.js and MongoDB.js

In this post, I will show you how to use Express.js, Node.js and MongoDB.js. We will be creating a very simple Node application, that will allow users to input data that they want to store in a MongoDB database. It will also show all items that have been entered into the database.

In this post, I will show you how to use Express.js, Node.js and MongoDB.js. We will be creating a very simple Node application, that will allow users to input data that they want to store in a MongoDB database. It will also show all items that have been entered into the database.

Creating a Node Application

To get started I would recommend creating a new database that will contain our application. For this demo I am creating a directory called node-demo. After creating the directory you will need to change into that directory.

mkdir node-demo
cd node-demo

Once we are in the directory we will need to create an application and we can do this by running the command
npm init

This will ask you a series of questions. Here are the answers I gave to the prompts.

The first step is to create a file that will contain our code for our Node.js server.

touch app.js

In our app.js we are going to add the following code to build a very simple Node.js Application.

var express = require("express");
var app = express();
var port = 3000;
 
app.get("/", (req, res) => {
  res.send("Hello World");
});
 
app.listen(port, () => {
  console.log("Server listening on port " + port);
});

What the code does is require the express.js application. It then creates app by calling express. We define our port to be 3000.

The app.use line will listen to requests from the browser and will return the text “Hello World” back to the browser.

The last line actually starts the server and tells it to listen on port 3000.

Installing Express

Our app.js required the Express.js module. We need to install express in order for this to work properly. Go to your terminal and enter this command.

npm install express --save

This command will install the express module into our package.json. The module is installed as a dependency in our package.json as shown below.

To test our application you can go to the terminal and enter the command

node app.js

Open up a browser and navigate to the url http://localhost:3000

You will see the following in your browser

Creating Website to Save Data to MongoDB Database

Instead of showing the text “Hello World” when people view your application, what we want to do is to show a place for user to save data to the database.

We are going to allow users to enter a first name and a last name that we will be saving in the database.

To do this we will need to create a basic HTML file. In your terminal enter the following command to create an index.html file.

touch index.html

In our index.html file we will be creating an input filed where users can input data that they want to have stored in the database. We will also need a button for users to click on that will add the data to the database.

Here is what our index.html file looks like.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
  <head>
    <title>Intro to Node and MongoDB<title>
  <head>

  <body>
    <h1>Into to Node and MongoDB<&#47;h1>
    <form method="post" action="/addname">
      <label>Enter Your Name<&#47;label><br>
      <input type="text" name="firstName" placeholder="Enter first name..." required>
      <input type="text" name="lastName" placeholder="Enter last name..." required>
      <input type="submit" value="Add Name">
    </form>
  <body>
<html>

If you are familiar with HTML, you will not find anything unusual in our code for our index.html file. We are creating a form where users can input their first name and last name and then click an “Add Name” button.

The form will do a post call to the /addname endpoint. We will be talking about endpoints and post later in this tutorial.

Displaying our Website to Users

We were previously displaying the text “Hello World” to users when they visited our website. Now we want to display our html file that we created. To do this we will need to change the app.use line our our app.js file.

We will be using the sendFile command to show the index.html file. We will need to tell the server exactly where to find the index.html file. We can do that by using a node global call __dirname. The __dirname will provide the current directly where the command was run. We will then append the path to our index.html file.

The app.use lines will need to be changed to
app.use("/", (req, res) => {   res.sendFile(__dirname + "/index.html"); });

Once you have saved your app.js file, we can test it by going to terminal and running node app.js

Open your browser and navigate to “http://localhost:3000”. You will see the following

Connecting to the Database

Now we need to add our database to the application. We will be connecting to a MongoDB database. I am assuming that you already have MongoDB installed and running on your computer.

To connect to the MongoDB database we are going to use a module called Mongoose. We will need to install mongoose module just like we did with express. Go to your terminal and enter the following command.
npm install mongoose --save

This will install the mongoose model and add it as a dependency in our package.json.

Connecting to the Database

Now that we have the mongoose module installed, we need to connect to the database in our app.js file. MongoDB, by default, runs on port 27017. You connect to the database by telling it the location of the database and the name of the database.

In our app.js file after the line for the port and before the app.use line, enter the following two lines to get access to mongoose and to connect to the database. For the database, I am going to use “node-demo”.

var mongoose = require("mongoose"); mongoose.Promise = global.Promise; mongoose.connect("mongodb://localhost:27017/node-demo");

Creating a Database Schema

Once the user enters data in the input field and clicks the add button, we want the contents of the input field to be stored in the database. In order to know the format of the data in the database, we need to have a Schema.

For this tutorial, we will need a very simple Schema that has only two fields. I am going to call the field firstName and lastName. The data stored in both fields will be a String.

After connecting to the database in our app.js we need to define our Schema. Here are the lines you need to add to the app.js.
var nameSchema = new mongoose.Schema({   firstName: String,   lastNameName: String });

Once we have built our Schema, we need to create a model from it. I am going to call my model “DataInput”. Here is the line you will add next to create our mode.
var User = mongoose.model("User", nameSchema);

Creating RESTful API

Now that we have a connection to our database, we need to create the mechanism by which data will be added to the database. This is done through our REST API. We will need to create an endpoint that will be used to send data to our server. Once the server receives this data then it will store the data in the database.

An endpoint is a route that our server will be listening to to get data from the browser. We already have one route that we have created already in the application and that is the route that is listening at the endpoint “/” which is the homepage of our application.

HTTP Verbs in a REST API

The communication between the client(the browser) and the server is done through an HTTP verb. The most common HTTP verbs are
GET, PUT, POST, and DELETE.

The following table explains what each HTTP verb does.

HTTP Verb Operation
GET Read
POST Create
PUT Update
DELETE Delete

As you can see from these verbs, they form the basis of CRUD operations that I talked about previously.

Building a CRUD endpoint

If you remember, the form in our index.html file used a post method to call this endpoint. We will now create this endpoint.

In our previous endpoint we used a “GET” http verb to display the index.html file. We are going to do something very similar but instead of using “GET”, we are going to use “POST”. To get started this is what the framework of our endpoint will look like.

app.post("/addname", (req, res) => {
 
});
Express Middleware

To fill out the contents of our endpoint, we want to store the firstName and lastName entered by the user into the database. The values for firstName and lastName are in the body of the request that we send to the server. We want to capture that data, convert it to JSON and store it into the database.

Express.js version 4 removed all middleware. To parse the data in the body we will need to add middleware into our application to provide this functionality. We will be using the body-parser module. We need to install it, so in your terminal window enter the following command.

npm install body-parser --save

Once it is installed, we will need to require this module and configure it. The configuration will allow us to pass the data for firstName and lastName in the body to the server. It can also convert that data into JSON format. This will be handy because we can take this formatted data and save it directly into our database.

To add the body-parser middleware to our application and configure it, we can add the following lines directly after the line that sets our port.

var bodyParser = require('body-parser');
app.use(bodyParser.json());
app.use(bodyParser.urlencoded({ extended: true }));
Saving data to database

Mongoose provides a save function that will take a JSON object and store it in the database. Our body-parser middleware, will convert the user’s input into the JSON format for us.

To save the data into the database, we need to create a new instance of our model that we created early. We will pass into this instance the user’s input. Once we have it then we just need to enter the command “save”.

Mongoose will return a promise on a save to the database. A promise is what is returned when the save to the database completes. This save will either finish successfully or it will fail. A promise provides two methods that will handle both of these scenarios.

If this save to the database was successful it will return to the .then segment of the promise. In this case we want to send text back the user to let them know the data was saved to the database.

If it fails it will return to the .catch segment of the promise. In this case, we want to send text back to the user telling them the data was not saved to the database. It is best practice to also change the statusCode that is returned from the default 200 to a 400. A 400 statusCode signifies that the operation failed.

Now putting all of this together here is what our final endpoint will look like.

app.post("/addname", (req, res) => {
  var myData = new User(req.body);
  myData.save()
    .then(item => {
      res.send("item saved to database");
    })
    .catch(err => {
      res.status(400).send("unable to save to database");
    });
});
Testing our code

Save your code. Go to your terminal and enter the command node app.js to start our server. Open up your browser and navigate to the URL “http://localhost:3000”. You will see our index.html file displayed to you.

Make sure you have mongo running.

Enter your first name and last name in the input fields and then click the “Add Name” button. You should get back text that says the name has been saved to the database like below.

Access to Code

The final version of the code is available in my Github repo. To access the code click here. Thank you for reading !