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Reflections on Programming

My perspective on programming has changed quite a bit over the years. Even in the few years since I started this blog I've noticed that I look at programming differently than I used to. If there's anything people who work with technology need to get used to, it's change, and I expect that my perspective will continue to evolve in the years to come. This is an attempt to take a snapshot of how I look at programming right now and how it's different from the recent past. As for the future, I'm not capable of speculating. We'll have to see what I think when it gets here.

Tech Book Face Off: Practical Node.js Vs. Node.js the Right Way

I've recently gotten into some server-side JavaScript development at work, and I needed to take a crash course in Node.js to make better progress, so I did what I always do. I picked up a couple of books on the subject and dug in. I did some perusing of reviews on and settled on a couple of books that appeared to be solid: Practical Node.js by Azat Mardan and Node.js the Right Way by Jim R. Wilson.

The funny thing about Node.js (I'll refer to it as Node from now on) is that there's not that much to talk about, so you quickly move on to talking about all of the libraries that you can plug into Node to get stuff done. That's because Node isn't a framework like Ruby on Rails or ASP.NET MVC. Node is a runtime that runs on the Chrome V8 engine, and all it does is allow you to run JavaScript directly on any machine outside of a browser. It includes a small, tight collection of APIs for working with file systems, operating systems, and networking interfaces, and it establishes an asynchronous paradigm for writing and executing code.

This asynchronous paradigm takes a little getting used to. Basically, any function call that could block, be it a file system access, database access, or HTTP request, will take a callback function as its last parameter and return immediately. When the slower operation finally finishes, the callback will be executed with the response from the operation as its parameters. If you forget about this behavior, you'll very quickly run into situations where you're trying to read things out of a database that haven't been written into it yet, or getting empty responses from HTTP requests. Basically, all dependent code needs to be executed inside callbacks, and that leads to the well-known Node existence of Callback Hell. We'll talk more about how to deal with that in a minute, but that pretty much is Node in a nutshell. Let's take a look at the books.

Practical Node.js front coverVS.Node.js the Right Way front cover