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    Node.js vs Go: Choosing the Best for Your Backend

    Go is a programming language, Node.js — an open-source server environment. Why do we compare them? And are they actually comparable? 

    Both tools are used for back-end development. If you plan the development of your own product, you’ll probably face the choice between the two of them. 

    Node.js is relatively young (coming from 2009) but has been successfully used by high traffic sites such as Twitter, Github, Zellow, Upwork, and others.

    Go is also a young programming language, and still, as of 2021, it belongs to the top 5 languages that developers plan to adopt or migrate to, and the top 5 fastest growing languages. 

    In this article we suggest you go into more detail to see how both tools can be used, where the difference lies, and which can definitely be more effective for your project.

    We, at Surf, provide backend development services to market-leading companies and startups, and are aware of the specific issues and options to pay attention to. As a Go development company, we are glad to offer you a non-biased opinion on both tools and their benefits. 

    Meet Node.js and Go

    To compare the two tools, we start by learning what they are, and why they were created.

    What is Node.js?

    Node.js is an open-source back-end JavaScript runtime environment. The platform was created by Ryan Dahl in 2009 to offer developers the possibility to use JavaScript for server-side scripting. Node.js runs on the V8 engine. The platform makes it possible to use JavaScript for the server-side and client-side as a universal programming language for web development. This is considered to be an advantage. But to be fair, the programming language is only a part of the whole picture, the backend complexity lies in choosing databases, setting up and optimizing requests, setting up indexes, solving scalability issues, setting up cache, dealing with the problems related to distributed systems, and many other aspects.

    Node.js is a good-fit platform to develop

    • scalable, 
    • data-intensive,
    • real-time web applications.

    The tool is effectively used for data transportation from the network to database or other places (in collaborative services, chat servers, SPAs, browser games (with chat rooms). In live data streaming apps Node.js is used to start and the rest of the job is done by C++. 

    • Netflix shifting to Node.js. The company used Java on the server side and JavaScript on the front-end side. The developers had to do a double job for error handling, activity tracking, and debugging. To enable high volume web streaming out to numerous devices (from the web to mobile applications to dedicated consoles), Netflix decided to use the benefits of Node.js that allows a common-language approach to server side and browser side, offers high performance increasing the startup time, and has a lot of open-source modules available. The infrastructure was meant to ensure observability, debuggability, and availability. Node.js proved to be effective in relation to both performance and economy. Further on, the Netflix team developed the infrastructure to move beyond web streaming into content production.
    • Uber scaling their business with Node.js. Uber had an ambitious goal to provide a reliable and user-friendly experience for its customers and drivers, and on a fast-growing and global scale. The company applied to Node.js to build their system as they saw the technology had potential to meet their challenging business needs. Uber became one of the first three companies to put Node.js into full production. The key benefits lied in its ability to quickly and reliably process large information volumes as the system has to handle millions of requests on a daily basis, its convenient error handling on the fly without restart that allows developers to deploy the code quickly, and Node.js large and active community that improves the technology on a regular basis. Node.js ensures the ability to manage large quantities of concurrent connections. But still, many Uber services are written in Go, and further in our article we’ll get a closer look at Go to show what benefits it has and why Uber chose it for some services in spite of huge in-house experience in Node.js. 

    What is Golang?

    Go (Golang) is a programming language that was developed at Google by Robert Griesemer, Rob Pike, and Ken Thompson. Go was designed as a fast and high-performance language, and easy to read and understand. In 2007, when Go was written, the multicore CPU architecture was widely used, and there was no programming language to make multithreaded app development easier for developers from the point of view of managing different threads. Go turned out to be more effective and easier than its predecessors and since then, has been gaining in popularity. 

    Go is applied for web development, cloud and network services, DevOps, and site reliability engineering. It is especially good for development focused on security, speed, scalability. 

    The language is a good match for

    • distributed systems,
    • microservices,
    • network applications and servers,
    • geofencing,
    • audio and video streaming and editing,
    • Big Data and ML apps.

    Monzo app-based bank. Monzo is a classic example of an app built on Golang from the very start. They used Golang with the microservices architecture. Their approach was to make every module responsible for a single functionality. And a new growing business Monzo expected from a technology platform to be extensible, scalable, resilient, and secure. Here’s where the benefits of Go  are a good fit.  

    They chose Go as a primary programming language for 

    • being simple,
    • easy onboarding,
    • backwards-compatibility guarantee: with a new version, the existing code shall be recompiled, getting the benefits of updates,
    • meeting error handling policies.

    As Monzo kept growing, Golang helped the company scale the product and maintain a complex architecture covering 1,600 microservices.

    Uber geofence lookups.

    We have already described how Uber used Node.js, but the company uses Go as well. In 2015 they built a microservice that does one thing, and namely, geofence lookups. One year later, this service became Uber’s highest queries per second (QPS) service.

    For building and scaling the service Uber chose Go, though they had more in-house knowledge and experience with Node.js.

    Go met the company’s requirements

    • high-throughput and low-latency, 
    • CPU intensive workload: in this case Node.js is not optimal due to its interpreted and dynamic-typed nature,
    • non-disruptive background loading: Node.js is single threaded, background refreshing can tie up the CPU for an extended period of time. This isn’t a problem for Go, since goroutines can execute on multiple CPU cores and run background jobs in parallel with foreground queries.

    As a result, Go helped the company achieve high developer productivity, high performance in throughput and latency, and excellent reliability.

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    Go language vs Node.js

    Now, as we have learned what both tools are designed for and how they work for their purposes, let’s go through the criteria where Go and Node.js can be compared before you choose the right tool for your project.

    Golang vs Node.js performance

    The parameter that greatly influences customer satisfaction as it determines the load and response times of the site.

    Go is a compiled language. Compiled languages (C, C++, Haskell, Rust) directly convert human-readable code into computer-readable code for the processors to execute. They are more efficient and faster than interpreted languages (PHP, Ruby, Python, JavaScript) that use an intermediary interpreting program to convert into machine code. Node.JS uses V8 which interprets JS code on-the-fly, while Golang has ahead-of-time compilation phase (compile before executing), this makes execution with Go significantly faster even compared to other compiled languages.

    Code reusability

    Code reusability contributes to consistent development and provides for better testability and increased developers productivity. 

    In case with Node.js, JavaScript allows for easy sharing of code between system components. Go was created in line with good software engineering practices and has simple syntax and fewer structures. In terms of code reuse, Go uses packages which are containers of source code for some specific purpose. This allows writing concise code in a structured manner.

    Scalability 

    If you plan long-term development for your product, with regular delivery of new features, growing number of users and increasing data volumes, and without any drops in performance or development speed, then scalability options are of vital importance.

    Both Node.js and Go allow for creating scalable apps. Node.js can be easily broken down into microservices, has an event-based architecture with asynchronous input/output operations that run out of the thread, and do not block it. Go scalability is more functional and it provides better support for concurrency. A major aspect of Go are goroutines that are functions or methods and can be perceived as lightweight threads (but cheaper) that run concurrently. As a result, Go applications have thousands of goroutines running at the same time, being handled effectively and reliably, without any harm to the final result. That makes Go more recommended for large-scale projects.

    Prototyping

    Whatever you start to develop, you start with prototypes. Node.js codebase is a great fit for fast prototyping, thus speeding up time to market due to fast delivery of a minimum viable product (MVP). 

    On the other hand, quickly created prototypes, as a rule, have to be thrown away because they are not robust. Go was intended for creating robust software, reliable and safe. The prototypes written with Go turn out to be more production-ready, though some of Go features make it less flexible for fast prototyping. So, if you plan to build your future product on the prototype, then it’s recommended to think of Go as a tool. But if you need just a quick test of a business model, there’s no need to choose a more expensive way.

    Debugging

    No secret that bugs and defects have a direct impact upon the success of your future product. Therefore, it’s critical to have a possibility to detect and resolve them at the earliest possible stage. With Node.js, debugging is more complicated as JavaScript is a dynamically typed language where variable errors are inevitable. Golang is a statically typed language where developers tend to make fewer errors related to variables as they are known at compile time. Thus, Go provides for early bug detection.

    Go and Node.js developers’ salary

    It goes without saying that the language-related challenges (for example, as above mentioned debugging in Node.js) can be and are being solved by experienced and skilled programmers who have sufficient expertise and are well-aware of the essence of the language or platform. But here comes the question of cost and you shall choose how much you are ready to pay depending on your project parameters.

    According to Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2021 (based on feedback of 83,439 software developers from 181 countries around the world), the median salary of Go developers is $75,669 as compared to Node.js with $54,672.

    In the USA, the average Go developer salary makes up $135,000 per year ($69.23 hourly rate) where entry level positions start at $120,000 per year, and experienced workers make up to $170,000 per year.  To compare: the average Node.js developer salary is $119,997 per year ($61.54 hourly rate). With entry level positions starting at $100,000 per year and experienced workers making up to $149,375 per year.

    Learning curve

    If you decide to hire Go developers or Node.js developers, you will find out that both are popular among developers. One of the reasons is the quite easy learning curve. 

    Node.js uses JavaScript which is beginner-friendly and easy to learn. Besides, Node.JS opened the way for JavaScript front-end developers to shift to full-stack developers.

    According to Statista, JavaScript is the fist on the list of the most used languages

    Go’s popularity with developers rests on its neat and clean syntax. It is easy to get started with. According to The State of Developer Ecosystem 2021 report by JetBrains, 61% of responding Go developers are not planning to adopt or migrate to other languages. And this is the highest value as compared to other languages. 

    Summing up

    Summing the things up, we can say that Node.js and Go have much in common: 

    • Both have been actively developed within the ecosystem. Go is supported by Google and has already gained popularity among developers, while Node.js has one of the largest and most active communities in the world. 

    For example, the recent Go 1.18 offers generics support which was the most often requested and most awaited feature and its absence often was referred to as Go disadvantage. 

    • Both are open-source and offer various libraries and tools in abundance.
    • Both have been successfully used in production by global-scale companies.

    But still, there some scope where each of the two tools suits better:

    • Node.js is a good match if you need to create a lightweight middleware over a database, or for similar tasks. But development of complex apps with a lot of concurrency processes would require skilled and experienced programmers.
    • Go is a good choice when you need to develop high load or distributed systems, where the performance is critical. But may not be the best idea for simple concepts and is an overkiller for writing simple middleware. 

    If you hesitate what tech stack to use for your project or need some additional information about Go web development services and approaches that we practice at Surf, drop us a line, and we’ll be glad to discuss your questions and ideas.