Node.js and Python- the two most popular and widely used technologies for backend development. The former has been around for more than a decade now but the latter is comparatively way older and more established; being in the market for three decades. Since both technologies are extremely popular, comparisons are drawn every now and then to decide which one dominates the other when it comes to developing the back-end of a web app. And we will be doing the same in this article. We will compare Node.js and Python based on a few factors and help you make the right choice between the two.

Honestly speaking, there is nothing such as good or bad, everything depends on what best suits your development needs. So, go through the complete article and then decide which server-side technology perfectly fits your project requirements. Every project demands different specifications. The programming language and the tech stack must be chosen as per the nature of the project. Ultimately, your choice of backend technology will determine how the product will operate, scale, and fulfill users’ requests.

Also read: React vs Angular: Which is better and Why?

What is Node.js?

Wikipedia defines Node.js as an open-source, cross-platform, back-end JavaScript runtime environment that runs on the v8 engine and executes JavaScript code outside a web browser. Its initial release took place 11 years back, in June 2009.

A point to mention- Node.js is not a programming language but a runtime environment for JavaScript. It allows developers to use JavaScript to write command-line tools and for server-side scripting and assists them in developing data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices. When you write in Node.js, you use the same language for both front-end and back-end development. 

Features of Nodejs

1. The APIs of the Nodejs library are asynchronous, i.e. non-blocking and event-driven which means a server based on Node.js never waits for the API to return data. The server shifts to the next API post calling it and a notification procedure of the Node.js events assists the server in receiving a response call from the previous API.

2. Node.js uses a single-threaded model with event looping. Event mechanism lets the server respond in a non-blocking way and makes it highly scalable.

3. Node.js library is extremely fast when it comes to code execution, the reason being it is built on Google Chrome V8’s JavaScript engine.

4. Node.js applications do not buffer any data and simply output the data in chunks.

What is Python?

Python is a dynamic, high-level, and object-oriented programming language that helps programmers write clear, logical code for small and large-scale projects. The language has been around since 1991 and contains a ton of libraries, APIs, and ancillary tools. Its syntax and dynamic typing with interpreted nature make it an ideal language for scripting. It is also ideal for most businesses who want to create apps for different and often uncorrelated use cases. This is because Python has a far-reaching community, libraries, and supporting platforms. It supports multiple programming paradigms including structured, object-oriented, and functional programming.

Features of Python

1. The language can be easily integrated with other languages like C, C++, etc.

2. Python is portable. The same python code can be run across platforms such as Windows, Linux, Unix, and Mac.

3. Python has a standard library that offers a rich set of modules and functions, and thus the developers need not worry about writing their own code for every single thing.

4. It’s an interpreted language- the code is executed one line at a time, which makes it easy to debug the code.

Python vs Nodejs

Let’s dig deep and look at the factors that you must consider before picking Node.js or Python for backend development.

1. Architecture

As discussed earlier, Node.js is a runtime environment that enables asynchronous input/output. Having server-side asynchronous programming, the input/output functionality is not blocked because a certain process is called as soon as a respective event takes place. Its event-driven architecture allows it to take up actions while an event occurs.

Python, on the other hand, doesn’t support multithreading or provide such functionalities. One has to run and complete one process before calling in the others, which makes Python a bit rigid. With the help of some tools, you can create asynchronous and event-driven apps using Python but they don’t make Python inherently asynchronous as they are not built in the Python framework.

Node.js has an upper hand over Python in this case.

2. Scalability

Scalability is a crucial factor to consider when choosing between Node.js and Python. When you create an MVP version of your product, you will have a light web application and more often than not, any language/coding environment will help you with the task. However, as the application evolves with more features and functionalities, the resource consumption would also grow by the same margin.

Node.js provides you with the flexibility to avoid creating a large monolithic core. Instead, you can create a set of microservices and modules which will dynamically run their own process when the app is scaled. In the case of Node.js, you can scale the app both horizontally and vertically by adding nodes to the existing ones and by adding resources, respectively.

In contrast, Python has issues related to scalability. Scaling an app requires multithreading to be enabled, and Python doesn’t support multi-threading. Python uses Global Interpreter Lock (GIL) which doesn’t permit operating multiple threads at once. Moreover, Python is a dynamically typed language, and such languages are usually not suitable for large-scale projects. As the project scales, the system counters more complexity and it gets challenging to maintain code.

3. Speed and Performance

Node.js delivers a remarkable performance because the JavaScript code in it is interpreted with Google Chrome’s V8 engine which is very fast and powerful. Also, thanks to its non-blocking architecture, that makes the execution process much faster and simpler. Moreover, Node.js executes the code outside of the web browser, and hence the app running on the web browser processes at a better speed and also becomes more resource-efficient. This also lets the application use features that are otherwise not available in the browsers, for instance, TCP sockets.

Contrary to Node.js, Python is single-flow and thus processes the requests very slowly as the processes don’t run parallelly. Thus, it is not an ideal choice for apps that give high priority to speed and performance or involves several complexities. It is also not fast enough for applications that recall data from the web servers at regular intervals.

4. Syntax

Syntax refers to the efficiency of a language to execute a set of operations with as few lines as possible. Easier the syntax, the easier the learning curve.

The syntax of Node.js is quite similar to the browser’s JavaScript. If one is familiar with the latter, they would not face much trouble with the former.

Python’s syntax, on the other hand, is considered to be one of its major benefits along with its universality. Compared to Node.js, developers write fewer lines of code while coding in Python. Its syntax is quite simple and free of curly brackets, which makes the code relatively easy to read and debug. Someone having a little bit of technical background can easily read the Python code.

Python wins over Node.js in this case.

5. Extensibility

Extensibility can be defined as a language’s capability to add features using third-party tools. More extensibility means the language can be modified more with additional features.

Speaking of Node.js, it can be easily extended, customized, and integrated with several tools. It can be extended with the assistance of in-built APIs for developing HTTPS or DNS servers. It can be integrated with Barbal for smoother frontend development. One can also use Jasmine and for unit-based testing and project management, respectively. PM2 and Webpack can help you with process management and data bundling. It can also be extended with frameworks such as Express, Meteor, Hapi, etc.

Python can be integrated with Sublime Text to edit codes. There is a Robot framework for test automation. There are a few other web development frameworks such as Web2Py, Django, Pyramid, etc.

Both offer great extensibility with several tools and frameworks and there is no clear winner, so both win a point here.

6. Error Handling Capability

Error-handling capability is also one of the important things to consider when choosing between Node.js and Python because nothing feels more satisfying than an error-free code.

In Node.js, identifying bugs and errors in the code is a tedious task because of its parallel-process running feature. On the other hand, Python’s syntax and because the processes don’t run parallelly, finding bugs and errors in the code is comparatively way easier. So, Python overtakes Node.js in the error-handling capability.

7. Universality

As we discussed earlier while defining what Node.js is, it uses JavaScript for both frontend and backend development. With Node.js, you can create websites, web apps, desktop applications, mobile apps along with Cloud and IoT solutions. Node.js is cross-platform as well, and thus one desktop application can work across Windows, Mac, Linux.

Python is apt for creating web and desktop applications but not mobile apps. As far as Cloud applications and IoT solutions are concerned, Python is quickly gaining a lot of traction among programmers. Like Node.js, Python is also cross-platform.

So, considering Universality, both Node.js and Python stand equally.

The Bottom Line

From the comparison that we made, Node.js has an edge over Python for backend development. But this doesn’t mean that it will always be the first choice. We said at the beginning of the article, and we are saying it again- it all depends on which technology best suits your project. So, consider all these factors and then make your choice.

To put it in a nutshell, Node.js is ideal to create messaging or chat applications. It also comes in handy to develop heavy load applications and eCommerce sites that have much to do with the processing speed. Apps that best suit Node.js include I/O bound applications, Data Streaming applications, Single Page applications, Data-Intensive Real-Time applications, etc.

Python is usually preferred for developing Big Data solutions, Scientific applications, or government projects. Apps that best suit Python comprise Business applications, Education applications, Desktop GUIs, etc.

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