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Which one is right for your project?

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Node.js is a long-running framework that allows you to write server-side code in JavaScript. First released in 2009, the framework has experienced considerable growth and an explosion of usage over the last few years.


Although Deno has differences in formatting style, import syntax, and package management, the same engineers built these competing frameworks on the same engine.

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Today, Deno has been around long enough to earn a place in many developer stacks. If you’re starting a new JavaScript project, you may be wondering which is the right choice.


Node and Deno features

Almost nine years after Node’s release, its developer, Ryan Dahl, announced a new project, Deno. Node was our only option for server-side JavaScript, but Deno provided us with an alternative.

Node.js and Deno are very similar in many ways. Most of the differences between the two occur internally. Node runs on the V8 JavaScript engine, while Deno runs on top of a custom-written engine built in Rust with a focus on performance.

Developer setup with keyboard and laptop on desk.

Most of the main differences between the two are based on the features each language supports. Modules, linting, typescript, and package management are all handled quite differently between the two.

Importing modules: CommonJS and ES

Node.js uses CommonJS modules that use require() syntax by default. In Node, you can change this by modifying the configuration file to use ECMAScript modules with the import() syntax instead if desired.

 
var _ = require("lodash");


import _ from 'lodash';

Interoperability between the two types of ES module loading is limited, and some ECMAScript modules can be included using the require() syntax. Each import type handles modules slightly differently, but in most cases either will work.

This allows you to choose how to include external modules when creating a project.

Deno takes a different approach when including external modules in your project. Deno uses the include() syntax for all modules, but unlike Node imports, modules imported into Deno can come from anywhere. These locations can also include remote Content Delivery Networks (CDNs).

 
import "https://deno.land/x/lodash@4.17.19/dist/lodash.js";

This allows you to import dependencies from any location, local or remote, giving you a lot of flexibility. If you prefer to use the traditional require syntax of Node.js, you can create your own polyfill require function in Deno as a workaround.

Support for TypeScript code

TypeScript has grown in popularity over the last few years and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Attempts to bring type-safe code dynamics to JavaScript have been very successful.

Currently, setting up a new TypeScript project, or converting an existing Node.js project to TypeScript is easy, but takes some time.

Adding TypeScript support is common enough, most modern frameworks now have some form of TypeScript support. Angular has taken the lead with its out-of-the-box TypeScript support. Nowadays React also has a method to set up TypeScript support.

A developer writing React code on a laptop.

Deno is designed to include TypeScript support to improve your productivity. With out-of-the-box TypeScript support, Deno doesn’t even have the minimal setup required to start developing typed JavaScript code in Node.js.

If you like TypeScript, Deno’s support makes it quick and easy to get started, but you may find that some of the standard Node.js libraries are missing. Deno offers a quicker setup, but the lack of a developed ecosystem can hinder the build process.

Linting that produces cleaner code

Node.js has a variety of linters to choose from. It has a lot of well-developed options that are quick and easy to install and configure. However, as with TypeScript, getting started with your linter of choice requires a little preparation.

Deno has taken a slightly different route in code formatting with its own built-in linting solution for .js, .ts and .md files. Running the “deno fmt” command will automatically format all files in the current working directory.

If you don’t like the default linter, you have the option to install and run your formatting system of choice, just like with Node.js. Deno’s linter is run via an external command rather than as part of the default build pipeline, so switching between systems is easy.

If you are considering replacing Deno’s linter with a newer system, you should be aware of potential compatibility issues and keep them in mind. Most JavaScript linters require Node to be installed and running, even if it’s not the system the project being formatted is running on.

package management

Node Package Manager (npm) is very popular among modern developers. Building on the success of similar systems such as Python’s Pip and Ruby’s RubyGems, npm quickly gained popularity.

Lingering concerns lead to the development of competing managers such as pNPm and Yarn. You may choose to install and use his manager for multiple packages with Node.js.

If you choose to develop with Node.js today, you have a few choices when it comes to package management. Node boasts a thriving ecosystem with many options for installing packages. There are currently over 1.3 million on the main npm registry.

Npm allows you to publish your own packages, creating a surprisingly large library.

React to the code on the screen.

Deno has taken a completely different approach to package management. No package management system required. Instead, Deno allows importing external libraries directly from anywhere that accepts HTTP requests, not just the developer’s system.

This allows you to import libraries directly from your code base from Deno’s repositories or any CDN online.

Deno’s official package registry is not as fully developed as Node’s, thanks to Node’s head start in almost nine years. Libraries can be imported from anywhere, so you don’t suffer the consequences of an ecosystem that hasn’t had the chance to grow to full size yet.

Community involvement in Node and Deno

First released by Ryan Dahl in 2009, Node had plenty of time for the developer community to get involved. With many early adopters and a sizable library of packages housed in its official repositories at their disposal, the general public has a lot of say in the growth of Node.js.

The platform itself is fully open source and maintained by the OpenJS Foundation and many contributors.

Deno was released in 2018, about nine years after Node.js. It was developed primarily to address concerns and regrets Ryan Dahl had with his Node implementation. Now Deno is also open source under his MIT license.

With many contributors and a growing repository of its own, Deno has received a lot of interest from the community.

Two Framework Performance Concerns

For coders interested in the relative performance differences between the two frameworks, there is little difference between them. Deno’s customized engine, written in Rust, overlays the core framework, which is still the V8 engine. Ultimately, Deno and Node are comparable in performance in almost all cases.

A desk with many monitors.

This seems to be the case regardless of whether the resulting code is run on the server or the client. You are free to choose the framework you are most comfortable with, as performance will not be a factor in your decision.

Ryan Dahl, creator of both frameworks, cites various reasons for creating Deno. He mentioned several factors, but performance was not included in his build system of choice, as many APIs failed to incorporate promises properly.

Node vs Deno: Which is the Right Choice?

Internally, Node.js and Deno are very similar frameworks. Both run JavaScript using the V8 engine with similar performance and features. There are some differences in syntax, package management, and built-in support, but the choice of which one to use is primarily based on preference.

Node boasts a surprisingly large ecosystem, but Deno can pull dependencies from any source. Ultimately, you should take a good look at your development style and decide which platform is right for you.

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