Create a Basic Express JS Server

This server will print out a “hello world” to a local webpage on your PC. The steps are simple:

Step 1: Install Node JS

Go here and download the installer for your system (Max / Windows / Linux). Once installed verify by opening a cmd or terminal and typing

“node -v && npm -v”

This will verify that node and node package manager (npm) are installed. Any errors should be searched for on Stack Overflow.

Step 2: Setup the project

Many tutorials miss out this step. If you’re new here then what you need to know is:

  • Node / React / Angular / many other projects start from a single file called package.json
  • package.json is simply a configuration file that tells your system
    • Some details about the project, such as name
    • What packages or “dependencies” your project needs, generally these come from NPM
    • Many other possibilities (but that’s not needed right now)
Step 3: Create a Basic Node Project
  • Create a folder on your computer and name it (for example) basic-express-app.
  • Open that folder in Visual Studio Code, or whatever code editor you’re using.
Step 4: Use NPM to Start the Project
  • Open a terminal or command line. If using VS Code you can do this is the “terminal” menu.
  • Type “npm init” and accept the basic answers to the questions.
  • Npm will create a basic package.json file and our project is ready to install
  • In the terminal type “npm i” which will install the dependencies (there are none right now but the system will tell you that everything is up to date anyway)
Step 5: Create an index.js file
  • You have a package.json and in that file it should have a “main” entry. This tells the app where to start when it is run. It should say index.js right now.
  • Create the “index.js” file in the root of your folder, leave it empty for now.
Step 6: Install Express

Express is a framework that sits on top of Node JS and makes creating a server MUCH easier! There are alternative framworks such as Hapi JS etc but Express is very popular and much loved.

(Developer lesson: stick with much loved projects because they’re most likely to still be around in a decade, when you come back to your ancient code!)

Grant @ iamdev
  • In the terminal type: “npm i express” and hit enter
  • This will fetch Express from npm and install it in “node_modules” folder

Congratulations, all we have to do now is write our first server code!

Step 7: Paste into index.js

Take the following code and paste it into index.js:

const express = require(‘express’)
const app = express();
const port = 3001;

app.get(‘/’, (req, res) => {
res.send(‘Hello World, I\’m a server!’);

app.listen(port, () => {
console.log(`App listening at http://localhost:${port}`);

So what does each line do?

const express = require(‘express’)
const app = express();
const port = 3001;

Here we tell our app to pull in the Express dependency (1st line) and then initialise the express server (2nd line). Finally we tell the app which port to use out of the thousands available on our PC. This is important as we may have multiple servers on one system (although I wouldn’t advise it) so each one must have a unique port it can use.

Behind the scenes express JS is doing a lot of heavy lifting and abstracting away all the painful tasks!

app.get(‘/’, (req, res) => {
res.send(‘Hello World, I\’m a server!’);

app.listen(port, () => {
console.log(`App listening at http://localhost:${port}`);

The last 3 lines in this section tell the express app to listen to the port we specified. Whenever a packet reaches that port the app captures it and then later on will route it on to its destination.

The first 3 lines define a single destination for the app. The destination is ‘/’ in this case, which means the root destination. For example: is also a root destination, but is not.

Within the block we see req, res which are objects that hold information about the request and the response. Request is what the person using your site sent (eg, address, header, body, IP etc). Response contains data and methods we can use to return an answer to the person who sent the request.

Finally you can see that the “res.send” line returns a message to the user. In this case it’s a simple string with a message. Most of the time you’ll have more structure than a string – we usually send data formatted in JSON (javascript object notation) – but that’s for another day.

Step 8: Run the Server
  • Go to your terminal and type “node index.js”
  • Your app will now run, and stay running. You should get a message like:
    App listening at http://localhost:3001

Congratulations you have built a server! To see it running:

  • Open a browser and go to localhost:3001

You should see a message welcoming you to the dark world of back end server creation 🙂

Note that this will only work on your current PC. It doesn’t work on the web (yet).







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