10 min readUpdated Nov 29, 2023

Best NodeJS frameworks for seamless backend development

Best NodeJS frameworks for seamless backend development
Tooba JamalTooba Jamal

NodeJS is a JavaScript runtime environment for running JavaScript applications outside the browser environment. It’s asynchronous and event-driven, meaning it doesn't block the event loop - making NodeJS highly suitable for the development of server-side web applications.

With around 50,000 open source packages available through npm (Node Package Manager), NodeJS facilitates the seamless backend extension. The GitHub repository has 99k stars and 27.5k forks demonstrating an active community. Furthermore, there are 468,194 questions tagged 'node.js' on Stackoverflow, while an active Discord community comprises 13,714 members.

Due to its popularity, there are now hundreds of NodeJS frameworks but some outperform others when it comes to their performance, community support, and ease of use. In this article, we’ll explore the top NodeJS frameworks including those that enable you to add realtime features to Node applications. We will also look at some tips to help you choose the best framework for your app.

What are NodeJS frameworks?

NodeJS frameworks are a set of libraries, templates, and tools built on top of the Node environment. These frameworks offer a basic structure for applications including routes, middleware, and templates that streamline the development process. As discussed above, a significant number of NodeJS frameworks are available, each with its own unique features, strengths, and weaknesses.

Realtime frameworks in NodeJS simplify the development of a crucial aspect of modern web development, encompassing realtime features such as chat, notifications, data streaming, and more. Amongst the numerous realtime NodeJS frameworks available, there are a few notable ones including Socket.IO, Feathers.js, Meteor.js, and Sails, which we will explore in this article.

Why use NodeJS frameworks?

NodeJS frameworks provide syntactic sugar (easier syntax), simplifying the development process with added functionality.

To understand the syntactic sugar, have a look at the code snippet below that showcases the displaying of a <h2> tag on the home route using NodeJS and Express framework respectively. Note that in NodeJS, we create an ‘http’ server, use ‘setHeader’ to manually set the response content type and write all the required HTML tags to be able to display the <h2> tag. On the other hand, in Express, we only need to create an Express application and send the <h2> tag as a response on the home route:

const server = http.createServer((req, res) => {
    res.setHeader('Content-Type', 'text/html');
    res.write('<head><title>Best NodeJS Frameworks</title><head>');
    res.write('<body><h2>Hello from the Ably Blog</h2></body>');

// Express
const express = require('express');
const app = express();
app.get('/', (req, res) => {
    res.send('<h2>Hello from the Ably Blog</h2>');

7 Best NodeJS Frameworks

General purpose NodeJS frameworks

1. Express

Express is the most popular and minimalistic web framework for NodeJS. Express is designed to simplify the backend application development with a robust set of features including routing, middleware, error handling, and templating.

Key features:

  • Minimal and easy to use: Express makes the development process easy and fast with its set of core features. Built on top of JavaScript, it's easy to learn, and includes several NodeJS features as functions like routing and middleware.
  • Middleware integration: Express allows developers to include important functionalities with the help of middleware in their projects.
  • MVC architecture: Express has MVC architecture which allows dividing a larger complex application into smaller parts making it easier to understand and navigate.

Community stats:
The official Express GitHub repository has 62.1k stars and 11.7k forks. The Express mailing list has over 5000 discussions which can be used as an issue library when you encounter a bug while developing an Express application.

Use cases and applications:
Building APIs, backend mobile and web servers, realtime applications, are use cases for Express. Companies using Express include:

  • X (Twitter): Twitter uses Express to build its API.
  • Accenture: Accenture uses Express to build its API and share data among stakeholders.
  • Trustpilot: Trustpilot uses Express to build its application and API.

2. Fastify

Fastify is a lightweight web framework for NodeJS built on top of Express. It emphasizes low overhead and responsive user experience.

Key features:

  • Lightweight: Fastify is a light framework which ensures better functionality with low overhead.
  • Schema based: Fastify recommends using JSON schema for the validation and serialization of routes.
  • Easy to use: Fastify has a straightforward API which makes it easy to learn and use for production-ready projects.

Community stats:
Fastify has a community of 28.8k stars and 2.2k forks on GitHub.

Use cases and applications:
Fastify can be used to build fast and scalable server-side applications. Companies using Fastify include:

  • Compressor: Compressor uses Fastify for the development of fast applications.
  • Joggr: Joggr uses Fastify for a fast and low-overhead responsive application.

Is Fastify better than Express?

There is an ongoing discussion among developers regarding whether Fastify is better than Express. Both Fastify and Express are NodeJS frameworks with similar functionalities. However, Fastify performs faster than Express, while Express provides more robust routing and is preferred by most developers. The choice of a framework depends on your requirements. You can check out this discussion on Reddit where developers share their viewpoints on this dilemma. We will talk about considerations while picking a NodeJS framework later in the article.

3. NestJS

NestJS is a progressive framework for NodeJS for building server-side applications with JavaScript and TypeScript. NestJS follows a modular architecture enabling developers to create complex applications by organizing components into separate, independent modules, ensuring maintainability and reusability across various parts of the application.

Key features:

  • Modular architecture: NestJS offers a modular architecture which allows isolating parts and layers of an application for increased maintainability and scalability.
  • TypeScript support: NestJS supports TypeScript while allowing developers to code in JavaScript.
  • CLI tool: The Nest CLI allows easier setup and development of applications through simple commands.

Community stats:
NestJS has a large community with 60.5k stars and 7.2k forks on GitHub. 12,033 are tagged 'nestjs' on StackOverflow and an active discord community of 43,436 is also there to support fellow developers.

Use cases and applications:
Like other NodeJS frameworks, NestJS can be used to develop server-side applications. Companies using NestJS include Adidas and graph data platform, Neo4j.

Realtime NodeJS frameworks

Realtime frameworks provide features and functions to enable simplified development of realtime applications. Realtime applications require realtime flow of information, like with instant messaging or for data analytics dashboards.

Here are some of the best realtime NodeJS frameworks to consider.

4. Socket.IO

Socket.IO is a NodeJS framework built on top of WebSockets that enables realtime client-server communication. Socket.IO is event-driven and compatible with older browsers and environments.

Key features:

  • Automatic reconnection: Socket.IO automatically reconnects if a connection between the client and server is interrupted.
  • Old browser support: Socket.IO offers a fallback HTTP long-polling mechanism allowing it to work on older browsers as well.
  • Packet buffering: In the event of a disconnection, Socket.IO buffers packets which are sent to the client upon reconnection, ensuring that no data is lost.

Community stats:
Socket.IO has a community with 59.2k stars and 10.2k forks on GitHub.

Use cases and applications:
Chat applications, realtime multiplayer games, social media apps, and realtime dashboards are some of the use cases of Socket.IO. Companies using Socket.IO include:

  • Slack: Slack uses Socket.IO to enable realtime communication between users.
  • Twitter: Twitter uses Socket.IO to enable realtime updates to user feeds, notifications, and search results.

Read more about Socket.IO and when to use it.

5. Feathers.js

Feathers.js is a web framework built on top of Express which provides a simple way to develop a scalable and reliable application. Feathers.js supports many databases and works with any frontend technology including iOS, Android, and React Native.

Key features:

  • Microservices architecture: Feathers.js offers a microservices architecture which allows dividing an application into smaller independent services that can be deployed separately.
  • Realtime Support: Feathers.js uses Socket.IO enabling the development of realtime applications.

Community stats:
Feathers.js has a small but active community with 14.8k stars and 761 forks on GitHub.

Use cases and applications:
Feathers.js can be used for building realtime applications and APIs. Chatbot Plus uses Feather.js for the integration of realtime features in their application.

6. Meteor.js

Meteor.js is a fullstack NodeJS framework built specifically for JavaScript which allows easy development of realtime features with its straightforward API.

Key features:

  • Remote Procedure Call (RPC) system: Meteor.js allows easy frontend and backend integration with its RPC API methods.
  • Built-in accounts: Ready to use login and account package not requiring developers to build their own authentication system.
  • Pub/Sub method: Easy development of realtime features using publications and subscriptions.

Community stats:
The Meteor.js GitHub repository has an active community with 43.8k stars and 5.4k forks.

Use cases and applications:
Meteor.js allows building applications for browsers, web, and application servers including realtime features such as chat and data updates. Companies using Meteor.js include:

  • Azumuta: Azumuta application is developed using Meteor.js along with other technologies.
  • Forage: The Forage website is developed using Meteor.js.

7. Sails:

Sails is a realtime MVC framework for NodeJS built on top of Express. Sails has a flexible routing system and comes with built-in realtime communication support.

Key features:

  • ORM (Object Relational Mapping): Sails provides a simple data access layer allowing data access from any database.
  • Auto-generate REST APIs: Sails provides blueprints for REST APIs which can be generated using a simple `sails generate api dentist` command.
  • WebSockets support with no additional code: Sails allows realtime feature development using WebSockets without having to write additional code.

Community stats:
Sails GitHub repository has an active community with 22.78k stars and 2k forks. They also have a YouTube channel with a library of useful tutorial videos.

Use cases and applications:
Sails is suitable for building realtime chat applications, APIs, fullstack mobile or web applications. Sails is a relatively new framework with limited information on what companies are using it. However, according to some online sources the following companies use Sails:

  • Anybot: A platform to create custom AI bots.
  • The Canero Group: A real estate brokerage and development company.

How to choose the Best NodeJS framework

Choosing the best NodeJS framework depends on the project needs and scope, and company requirements. A few considerations you can make while shortlisting the NodeJS frameworks are:

Project requirements

Understand your project requirements such as the realtime features, scalability, and complexity. For example, you might consider using Express for backend server with Socket.IO to enable realtime communication. This combination will allow you to develop a robust and scalable application however, some developers might find it difficult and prefer using one framework that allows developing both an API and realtime features like Sails, Meteor.js, or Feathers.js. Applications that only need a backend server without realtime functionalities can be built in other frameworks like Express or Fastify.

Community support and documentation

A framework that has an active community can help you in many ways. An active community indicates a well-maintained and continuously improved framework. Community can become your support if you encounter issues while developing your application asking them for tested tips and tricks. An active and large community also means you can find a larger number of resources, tutorials, and guides for a framework as compared to others. For example, Express and NestJS have larger active communities compared to Meteor.js with only 280 discord members and a deactivated Slack channel.

Common limitations

Each framework comes with its own limitations. It's essential to consider those limitations and tradeoffs you might have to make while considering different frameworks. For example, Socket.IO offers a fallback mechanism for environments where WebSockets are not supported while Sails only comes with the option of WebSockets for realtime features.


Throughout this article, we explored some of the widely used NodeJS frameworks including Express, NestJS, Fastify, Socket.IO, Feathers.js, Meteor.js, and Sails including their key features and the companies that are leveraging their capabilities. We also discussed tradeoffs that you might have to make while choosing frameworks and the tips to pick the best framework for your needs.

We'd love to hear about your experiences and see the innovative projects you are building using NodeJS - share your projects with us on X (Twitter) or Reddit.

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