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Chapter 20
Node.js

A student asked ‘The programmers of old used only simple machines and no programming languages, yet they made beautiful programs. Why do we use complicated machines and programming languages?’. Fu-Tzu replied ‘The builders of old used only sticks and clay, yet they made beautiful huts.’

Master Yuan-Ma, The Book of Programming

So far, you have learned the JavaScript language and used it within a single environment: the browser. This chapter and the next one will briefly introduce you to Node.js, a program that allows you to apply your JavaScript skills outside of the browser. With it, you can build anything from small command-line tools to dynamic HTTP servers.

These chapters aim to teach you the important ideas that Node.js builds on and to give you enough information to write some useful programs for it. They do not try to be a complete, or even a thorough, treatment of Node.

Whereas you could run the code in previous chapters directly on these pages, since it was either raw JavaScript or written for the browser, the code samples in this chapter are written for Node and often won’t run in the browser.

If you want to follow along and run the code in this chapter, start by going to nodejs.org and following the installation instructions for your operating system. You can also find further documentation for Node.js there.

Background

One of the more difficult problems with writing systems that communicate over the network is managing input and output—that is, the reading and writing of data to and from the network, the hard drive, and other such devices. Moving data around takes time, and scheduling it cleverly can make a big difference in how quickly a system responds to the user or to network requests.

In such programs, asynchronous programming is often extremely helpful. It allows the program to send and receive data from and to multiple devices at the same time without complicated thread management and synchronization.

Node was initially conceived for the purpose of making asynchronous programming easy and convenient. JavaScript lends itself well to a system like Node. It is one of the few programming languages that does not have a built-in way to do in- and output. Thus, JavaScript could be fit onto Node’s rather eccentric approach to in- and output without ending up with two inconsistent interfaces. In 2009, when Node was being designed, people were already doing callback-based programming in the browser, so the community around the language was used to an asynchronous programming style.

The node command

When Node.js is installed on a system, it provides a program called node, which is used to run JavaScript files. Say you have a file hello.js, containing this code:

let message = "Hello world";
console.log(message);

You can then run node from the command line like this to execute the program:

$ node hello.js
Hello world

The console.log method in Node does something similar to what it does in the browser. It prints out a piece of text. But in Node, the text will go to the process’ standard output stream, rather than to a browser’s JavaScript console. When running node from the command line, that means you see the logged values in your terminal.

If you run node without giving it a file, it provides you with a prompt at which you can type JavaScript code and immediately see the result.

$ node
> 1 + 1
2
> [-1, -2, -3].map(Math.abs)
[1, 2, 3]
> process.exit(0)
$

The process binding, just like the console binding, is available globally in Node. It provides various ways to inspect and manipulate the current program. The exit method ends the process and can be given an exit status code, which tells the program that started node (in this case, the command-line shell) whether the program completed successfully (code zero) or encountered an error (any other code).

To find the command-line arguments given to your script, you can read process.argv, which is an array of strings. Note that it also includes the name of the node command and your script name, so the actual arguments start at index 2. If showargv.js simply contains the statement console.log(process.argv), you could run it like this:

$ node showargv.js one --and two
["node", "/tmp/showargv.js", "one", "--and", "two"]

All the standard JavaScript global bindings, such as Array, Math, and JSON, are also present in Node’s environment. Browser-related functionality, such as document and prompt, is absent.

Modules

Beyond the few bindings I mentioned, such as console and process, Node puts little functionality in the global scope. If you want to access built-in functionality, you have to ask the module system for it.

The CommonJS module system, based on the require function, was described in Chapter 10. This system is built into Node and is used to load anything from built-in modules to downloaded libraries to files that are part of your own program.

When require is called, Node has to resolve the given string to an actual file to load. Pathnames that start with "/", "./", or "../" are resolved relative to the current module’s path, where "./" stands for the current directory, "../" for one directory up, and "/" for the root of the file system. So if you ask for "./graph" from the file /tmp/robot/robot.js, Node will try to load the file /tmp/robot/graph.js.

The .js extension may be omitted, and Node will add it if such a file exists. On the other hand, if a required path refers to a directory, Node will try to load the file named index.js in that directory.

When a string that does not look like a relative or absolute path is given to require, it is assumed to refer to either a built-in module or a module installed in a node_modules directory. For example, require("fs") will give you Node’s built-in file system module, and require("robot") will try to load the library found in node_modules/robot/. A common way to install such libraries is by using NPM, which we’ll come back to in a moment.

To illustrate the use of require, let’s set up a small project consisting of two files. The first one is called main.js, and defines a script that can be called from the command line to reverse a string.

const {reverse} = require("./reverse");

// Index 2 holds the first actual command-line argument
let argument = process.argv[2];

console.log(reverse(argument));

The file reverse.js defines a library for reversing strings, which can be used both by this command-line tool and by other scripts that need direct access to a string-reversing function.

exports.reverse = function(string) {
  return Array.from(string).reverse().join("");
};

Remember that adding properties to exports adds them to the interface of the module. Since Node.js treats files as CommonJS modules, main.js can take the exported reverse function from reverse.js.

We can now call our tool like this:

$ node main.js JavaScript
tpircSavaJ

Installing with NPM

NPM, which was introduced in Chapter 10, is an online repository of JavaScript modules, many of which are specifically written for Node. When you install Node on your computer, you also get the npm program, which provides a convenient interface to this repository.

Its main use is downloading packages. We saw the ini package in Chapter 10. We can use NPM to fetch and install that package on our computer.

$ npm install ini
npm WARN enoent ENOENT: no such file or directory,
         open '/tmp/package.json'
+ ini@1.3.5
added 1 package in 0.552s

$ node
> const {parse} = require("ini");
> parse("x = 1\ny = 2");
{ x: '1', y: '2' }

After running npm install, NPM will have created a directory called node_modules. Inside that directory will be an ini directory, which contains the library. When we run node and call require("ini"), this library is loaded, and we can call its parse property to parse a configuration file.

By default NPM installs packages under the current directory, rather than in a central place. If you are used to other package managers, this may seem unusual, but it has advantages—it puts each application in full control of the packages it installs, and makes it easier to manage versions and clean up when removing an application.

Package files

In the npm install example, there is a warning that the package.json file does not exist. It is recommended to create such a file for each project, either manually or by running npm init. It contains some information about the project, such as its name and version, and lists its dependencies.

The robot simulation from Chapter ?, as modularized in Exercise 10.1, might use a package.json file like this:

{
  "author": "Marijn Haverbeke",
  "name": "eloquent-javascript-robot",
  "description": "Simulation of a package-delivery robot",
  "version": "1.0.0",
  "main": "run.js",
  "dependencies": {
    "dijkstrajs": "^1.0.1",
    "random-item": "^1.0.0"
  },
  "license": "ISC"
}

When you run npm install, without naming a package to install, NPM will install all the dependencies listed in package.json. When you install a specific package that is not already listed as a dependency, NPM will add it to package.json.

Versions

A package.json file lists both the program’s own version, and versions for its dependencies. Versions are a way to deal with the fact that packages evolve separately, and code written to work with a package as it existed at one point may not work with a later, modified version of the package.

NPM demands that its packages follow a schema called semantic versioning, which encodes some information about which versions are compatible (don’t break the old interface) in the version number. A semantic version consists of three numbers, separated by dots. Every time new functionality is added, the middle number has to be incremented. Every time compatibility is broken, the first number has to be incremented.

A caret character (^) in front of the version number for a dependency in package.json indicates that any version compatible with the given number may be installed. So for example "^2.3.0" would mean that any version greater than or equal to 2.3.0 and less than 3.0.0 is allowed.

The npm command is also used to publish new packages or new versions of packages. If you npm publish in a directory that holds a package.json file, it will publish a package with the name and version listed in the JSON file to the registry. Anyone can publish packages to NPM—though only under a new name, since it would be somewhat scary if random people could update existing packages.

Since the npm program is a piece of software that talks to an open system—the package registry—there is nothing unique about what it does. Another program, yarn, which can be installed from the NPM registry, does largely the same things as npm, in a slightly different way.

This book won’t delve further into the details of NPM usage. Refer to npmjs.org for further documentation and for an easy way to search for packages.

The file system module

One of the most commonly used built-in modules in Node is the fs module, which stands for file system. This module provides functions for working with files and directories.

For example, there is a function called readFile, which reads a file and then calls a callback with the file’s contents.

let {readFile} = require("fs");
readFile("file.txt", "utf8", (error, text) => {
  if (error) throw error;
  console.log("The file contains:", text);
});

The second argument to readFile indicates the character encoding used to decode the file into a string. There are several ways in which text can be encoded to binary data, but most modern systems use UTF-8, so unless you have reasons to believe another encoding is used, passing "utf8" when reading a text file is a safe bet. If you do not pass an encoding, Node will assume you are interested in the binary data and will give you a Buffer object instead of a string. This is an array-like object that contains numbers representing the bytes in the files.

const {readFile} = require("fs");
readFile("file.txt", (error, buffer) => {
  if (error) throw error;
  console.log("The file contained", buffer.length, "bytes.",
              "The first byte is:", buffer[0]);
});

A similar function, writeFile, is used to write a file to disk.

const {writeFile} = require("fs");
writeFile("graffiti.txt", "Node was here", err => {
  if (err) console.log(`Failed to write file: ${err}`);
  else console.log("File written.");
});

Here, it was not necessary to specify the encoding since writeFile will assume that if it is given a string to write, rather than a Buffer object, it should write it out as text using its default character encoding, which is UTF-8.

The fs module contains many other useful functions: readdir will return the files in a directory as an array of strings, stat will retrieve information about a file, rename will rename a file, unlink will remove one, and so on. See the documentation at nodejs.org for specifics.

And most of these take a callback function as last parameter, which they call that either with an error (the first argument), or a successful result (the second). As we saw in Chapter 11, there are downsides to this style of programming—the biggest one being that error handling becomes awkward and error-prone.

Though promises have been part of JavaScript for a while, at the time of writing work to integrate them in Node.js is still in progress. There is a promisify in the built-in util module, which you can call on a callback-style function to create a promise-returning function. But since this is a little awkward, there are also packages on NPM like mz, which provide their own, promise-style version of built-in Node modules.

const {readFile} = require("mz/fs");
readFile("file.txt", "utf8")
  .then(text => console.log("The file contains:", text));

Sometimes you don’t need asynchronicity, and it just gets in the way. Many of the functions in fs also have a synchronous variant, which has the same name with Sync added to the end. For example, the synchronous version of readFile is called readFileSync.

const {readFileSync} = require("fs");
console.log("The file contains:",
            readFileSync("file.txt", "utf8"));

Do note that while such a synchronous operation is being performed, your program will be stopped entirely. If it should be responding to the user or to other machines on the network, being stuck on a synchronous action might produce annoying delays.

The HTTP module

Another central module is called http. It provides functionality for running HTTP servers and making HTTP requests.

This is all it takes to start a simple HTTP server:

const {createServer} = require("http");
let server = createServer((request, response) => {
  response.writeHead(200, {"Content-Type": "text/html"});
  response.write(`
    <h1>Hello!</h1>
    <p>You asked for <code>${request.url}</code></p>`);
  response.end();
});
server.listen(8000);

If you run this script on your own machine, you can point your web browser at http://localhost:8000/hello to make a request to your server. It will respond with a small HTML page.

The function passed as argument to createServer is called every time a client connects to the server. The request and response bindings are objects representing the incoming and outgoing data. The first contains information about the request, such as its url property, which tells us to what URL the request was made.

So when you open that URL in your browser, the browser sends a request to your own computer. This causes the server function to run, and send back a response, which you can then see in the browser.

To send something back, you call methods on the response object. The first, writeHead, will write out the response headers (see Chapter 18). You give it the status code (200 for “OK” in this case) and an object that contains header values. Here we use the Content-Type header to inform the client that we’ll be sending back an HTML document.

Next, the actual response body (the document itself) is sent with response.write. You are allowed to call this method multiple times if you want to send the response piece by piece, for example to stream data to the client as it becomes available. Finally, response.end signals the end of the response.

The call to server.listen causes the server to start waiting for connections on port 8000. This is the reason you have to connect to localhost:8000 to speak to this server, rather than just localhost, which would use the default port 80.

When you run this script, the process just sits there and waits. When the script is still listening for events—in this case, network connections—node will not automatically exit after it reaches the end of the script. To close it, press Ctrl-C.

A real web server usually does more than the one in the example—it looks at the request’s method (the method property) to see what action the client is trying to perform and at the request’s URL to find out which resource this action is being performed on. You’ll see a more advanced server later in this chapter.

To act as an HTTP client, we can use the request function in the http module.

const {request} = require("http");
let requestStream = http.request({
  hostname: "eloquentjavascript.net",
  path: "/20_node.html",
  method: "GET",
  headers: {Accept: "text/html"}
}, response => {
  console.log("Server responded with status code",
              response.statusCode);
});
requestStream.end();

The first argument to request configures the request, telling Node what server to talk to, what path to request from that server, which method to use, and so on. The second argument is the function that should be called when a response comes in. It is given an object that allows us to inspect the response, for example to find out its status code.

Just like the response object we saw in the server, the object returned by request allows us to stream data into the request with the write method and finish the request with the end method. The example does not use write because GET requests should not contain data in their request body.

There’s a similar request function in the https module, which can be used to make requests to https: URLs.

But making request with Node’s raw functionality is rather verbose and error-prone. There are much more convenient wrapper packages available on NPM. For example node-fetch provides the promise-based fetch interface that we know from the browser.

Streams

We have seen two instances of writable streams in the HTTP examples—namely, the response object that the server could write to and the request object that was returned from http.request.

Writable streams are a widely used concept in Node. Such objects have a write method, which can be passed a string or a Buffer object, to write something to the stream. Their end method also optionally takes a value to write to the stream, and will close the stream after writing—or right away if none is given. Both of these methods can also be given a callback as an additional argument, which they will call when the writing to or closing of the stream has finished.

It is possible to create a writable stream that points at a file with the createWriteStream function from the fs module. Then you can use the write method on the resulting object to write the file one piece at a time, rather than in one shot as with writeFile.

Readable streams are a little more involved. Both the request binding that was passed to the HTTP server’s callback function and the response binding passed to the HTTP client are readable streams. (A server reads requests and then writes responses, whereas a client first writes a request and then reads a response.) Reading from a stream is done using event handlers, rather than methods.

Objects that emit events in Node have a method called on that is similar to the addEventListener method in the browser. You give it an event name and then a function, and it will register that function to be called whenever the given event occurs.

Readable streams have "data" and "end" events. The first is fired every time data comes in, and the second is called whenever the stream is at its end. This model is most suited for streaming data, which can be immediately processed, even when the whole document isn’t available yet. A file can be read as a readable stream by using the createReadStream function from fs.

This code creates a server that reads request bodies and streams them back to the client as all-uppercase text:

const {createServer} = require("http");
createServer((request, response) => {
  response.writeHead(200, {"Content-Type": "text/plain"});
  request.on("data", chunk =>
    response.write(chunk.toString().toUpperCase()));
  request.on("end", () => response.end());
}).listen(8000);

The chunk value passed to the data handler will be a binary Buffer. We can convert this to string by decoding it as UTF-8 encoded characters with its toString method..

The following piece of code, when run with the uppercasing server active, will send a request to that server and write out the response it gets:

const {request} = require("http");
request({
  hostname: "localhost",
  port: 8000,
  method: "POST"
}, response => {
  response.on("data", chunk =>
    process.stdout.write(chunk.toString()));
}).end("Hello server");
// → HELLO SERVER

The example writes to process.stdout (the process’ standard output, a writable stream) instead of using console.log. We can’t use console.log because it adds an extra newline character after each piece of text that it writes, which isn’t appropriate here since the response may come in as multiple chunks.

A file server

Let’s combine our newfound knowledge about HTTP servers and working with the file system to create a bridge between the two: an HTTP server that allows remote access to a file system. Such a server has all kinds of uses. It allows web applications to store and share data or give a group of people shared access to a bunch of files.

When we treat files as HTTP resources, the HTTP methods GET, PUT, and DELETE can be used to read, write, and delete the files, respectively. We will interpret the path in the request as the path of the file that the request refers to.

We probably don’t want to share our whole file system, so we’ll interpret these paths as starting in the server’s working directory, which is the directory in which it was started. If I ran the server from /tmp/public/ (or C:\tmp\public\ on Windows), then a request for /file.txt should refer to /tmp/public/file.txt (or C:\tmp\public\file.txt).

We’ll build the program piece by piece, using an object called methods to store the functions that handle the various HTTP methods. Methods are async functions that get the request object as argument and return an object that describes the response, wrapped in a promise.

const {createServer} = require("http");

const methods = Object.create(null);

createServer((request, response) => {
  let handler = methods[request.method] || notAllowed;
  handler(request)
    .catch(error => {
      if (error.status != null) return error;
      return {body: String(error), status: 500};
    })
    .then(({body, status=200, type="text/plain"}) => {
       response.writeHead(status, {"Content-Type": type});
       if (body && body.pipe) body.pipe(response);
       else response.end(body);
    });
}).listen(8000);

async function notAllowed(request) {
  return {
    status: 405,
    body: `Method ${request.method} not allowed.`
  };
}

This starts a server that just returns 405 error responses, which is the code used to indicate that a given method isn’t handled by the server.

When a request handler’s promise is rejected, the catch call translates the error into a response object, if it isn’t already, so that the server can send back an error response to inform the client that it failed to handle the request.

The status field of the response description may be omitted, in which case it defaults to 200 (OK). The content type, in the type property, can also be left off, in which case the response is assumed to be plain text.

When the value of body is a readable stream, it will have a pipe method, which is used to forward all content from a readable stream to a writable stream. If not, it is assumed to be either null (no body), a string, or a buffer, and is passed directly to the response’s end method.

To figure out which file path corresponds to a request URL, the urlPath function uses Node’s built-in url module to parse the URL. It takes its pathname, which will be something like "/file.txt", decodes that to get rid of the %20-style escape codes, and resolves it relative to the program’s working directory.

const {parse} = require("url");
const {resolve} = require("path");

const baseDirectory = process.cwd();

function urlPath(url) {
  let {pathname} = parse(url);
  let path = resolve(decodeURIComponent(pathname).slice(1));
  if (path != baseDirectory &&
      !path.startsWith(baseDirectory + "/")) {
    throw {status: 403, body: "Forbidden"};
  }
  return path;
}

As soon as you set up a program to accept network requests, you have to start worrying about security. In this case, it is likely that we’ll accidentally expose our whole file system to the whole network if we aren’t careful.

File paths are strings, in Node, but to map such a string to an actual file, there is a nontrivial amount of interpretation going on. Paths may, for example, include "../" to refer to a parent directory. So one obvious source of problems would be requests for paths like /../secret_file.

To avoid such problems, urlPath uses the resolve function from the path module, which resolves relative paths. It then verifies that the result is “below” the working directory, which it found with process.cwd (where “cwd” stands for “current working directory”). When the path doesn’t start with the base directory, the function throws an error response object, using the HTTP status code that indicates that access to the resource is forbidden.

We’ll set up the GET method to return a list of files when reading a directory and to return the file’s content when reading a regular file.

One tricky question is what kind of Content-Type header we should set when returning a file’s content. Since these files could be anything, our server can’t simply return the same content type for all of them. NPM can help us again here. The mime package (content type indicators like text/plain are also called MIME types) knows the correct type for a huge number of file extensions.

The following npm command, in the directory where the server script lives, installs mime and mz. We’ll use the latter as a source of promise-based fs functions.

$ npm install mime@2.2.0 mz@2.7.0

When a requested file does not exist, the correct HTTP status code to return is 404. We’ll use the stat function, which looks up information about a file, to find out both whether the file exists and whether it is a directory.

const {createReadStream} = require("fs");
const {stat, readdir} = require("mz/fs");
const mime = require("mime");

methods.GET = async function(request) {
  let path = urlPath(request.url);
  let stats;
  try {
    stats = await stat(path);
  } catch (error) {
    if (error.code != "ENOENT") throw error;
    else return {status: 404, body: "File not found"};
  }
  if (stats.isDirectory()) {
    return {body: (await readdir(path)).join("\n")};
  } else {
    return {body: createReadStream(path),
            type: mime.getType(path)};
  }
};

Because it has to touch the disk and thus might take a while, stat is asynchronous. Since we’re using promises, rather than callback style, it has to be imported from mz/fs instead of fs.

When the file does not exist, stat will throw an error object with a code property of "ENOENT". These somewhat obscure, Unix-inspired codes are how you recognize error types in Node.

The stats object returned by stat tells us a number of things about a file, such as its size (size property) and its modification date (mtime property). Here we are interested in the question of whether it is a directory or a regular file, which the isDirectory method tells us.

We use readdir to read the array of files in a directory and return it to the client. For normal files, we create a readable stream with createReadStream return that as the body, along with the content type that the mime package gives us based on the file’s name.

The code to handle DELETE requests is slightly simpler.

const {rmdir, unlink} = require("mz/fs");

methods.DELETE = async function(request) {
  let path = urlPath(request.url);
  let stats;
  try {
    stats = await stat(path);
  } catch (error) {
    if (error.code != "ENOENT") throw error;
    else return {status: 204};
  }
  if (stats.isDirectory()) await rmdir(path);
  else await unlink(path);
  return {status: 204};
};

When an HTTP response does not contain any data, the status code 204 (“no content”) can be used to indicate this. Since the response to deletion doesn’t need to transmit any information beyond whether the operation succeeded, it is a sensible thing to return here.

You may be wondering why trying to delete a nonexistent file returns a success status code, rather than an error. When the file that is being deleted is not there, you could say that the request’s objective is already fulfilled. The HTTP standard encourages people to make requests idempotent, which means that making the same request multiple times produces the same result as making it once. In a way, if you try to delete something that’s already gone, the effect you were trying to do has been achieved—the thing is no longer there.

This is the handler for PUT requests:

const {createWriteStream} = require("fs");

function pipeStream(from, to) {
  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    from.on("error", reject);
    to.on("error", reject);
    to.on("finish", resolve);
    from.pipe(to);
  });
}

methods.PUT = async function(request) {
  let path = urlPath(request.url);
  await pipeStream(request, createWriteStream(path));
  return {status: 204};
};

We don’t need to check whether the file exists this time—if it does, we’ll just overwrite it. We again use pipe to move data from a readable stream to a writable one, in this case from the request to the file. But since pipe isn’t written to return a promise, we have to write a wrapper, pipeStream that creates a promise around the outcome of calling pipe.

When something goes wrong when opening the file createWriteStream will still return a stream, but that stream will fire an "error" event. The output stream to the request may also fail, if the network goes down, for example. So we wire up both streams’ "error" events to reject the promise. When pipe is done, it will close the output stream, which causes it to fire a "finish" event. That’s the point where we can successfully resolve the promise (returning nothing).

The full script for the server is available at eloquentjavascript.net/code/file_server.js. You can download that and, after installing the dependencies, run it with Node to start your own file server. And of course, you can modify and extend it to solve this chapter’s exercises or to experiment.

The command-line tool curl, widely available on Unix-like systems (such as OS X and Linux), can be used to make HTTP requests. The following session briefly tests our server. The -X option is used to set the request’s method and -d is used to include a request body.

$ curl http://localhost:8000/file.txt
File not found
$ curl -X PUT -d hello http://localhost:8000/file.txt
$ curl http://localhost:8000/file.txt
hello
$ curl -X DELETE http://localhost:8000/file.txt
$ curl http://localhost:8000/file.txt
File not found

The first request for file.txt fails since the file does not exist yet. The PUT request creates the file, and behold, the next request successfully retrieves it. After deleting it with a DELETE request, the file is again missing.

Summary

Node is a nice, small system that lets us run JavaScript in a nonbrowser context. It was originally designed for network tasks to play the role of a node in a network. But it lends itself to all kinds of scripting tasks, and if writing JavaScript is something you enjoy, automating everyday tasks with Node works very well.

NPM provides libraries for everything you can think of (and quite a few things you’d probably never think of), and it allows you to fetch and install those libraries with the npm program. Node comes with a number of built-in modules, including the fs module for working with the file system and the http module for running HTTP servers and making HTTP requests.

All input and output in Node is done asynchronously, unless you explicitly use a synchronous variant of a function, such as fs.readFileSync. You provide callback functions, and Node will call them at the appropriate time, when the I/O you asked for has finished.

Exercises

Search tool

On Unix systems, there is a command line tool called grep that can be used to quickly search through files for a regular expression.

Write a Node script that can be run from the command line and acts somewhat like grep. It treats its first command line argument as a regular expression, and any further arguments as files to search for. It should output the names of any file whose content matches the regular expression to the console.

When that works, extend it so that when one of the arguments is a directory, it searches through all files in that directory and its subdirectories.

Use asynchronous or synchronous file system functions as you see fit. Setting things up so that multiple asynchronous actions are requested at the same time might speed things up a little, but not a huge amount, since most file systems can only read one thing at a time.

Your first command line argument, the regular expression, can be found in process.argv[2], and the rest come after that. You can use the RegExp constructor to go from a string to a regular expression object.

Doing this synchronously, with readFileSync, is more straightforward, but if you use mz again to get the promise-returning functions and write an async function, the code looks similar.

To figure out whether something is a directory, you can again use stat (or statSync) and the stats object’s isDirectory method.

Exploring a directory is a branching process. You can do it either with a recursive function or by keeping an array of work (files that still need to be explored). To find the files in a directory, you can call readdir or readdirSync (note the strange capitalization—Node’s file system function naming is based on standard Unix functions, such as readdir, which are all lowercase).

To go from a file name read with readdir to a full path name, you have to combine it with the name of the directory, putting a slash character (/) between them.

Directory creation

Though the DELETE method in our file server is able to delete directories (using rmdir), the server currently does not provide any way to create a directory.

Add support for a method MKCOL (“make column”), which should create a directory by calling mkdir from the fs module. MKCOL is not a widely used HTTP method, but it does exist for this same purpose in the WebDAV standard, which specifies a set of conventions on top of HTTP that make it suitable for creating documents.

You can use the function that implements the DELETE method as a blueprint for the MKCOL method. When no file is found, try to create a directory with mkdir. When a directory exists at that path, you can return a 204 response so that directory creation requests are idempotent. If a nondirectory file exists here, return an error code. The code 400 (“bad request”) would be appropriate.

A public space on the web

Since the file server serves up any kind of file and even includes the right Content-Type header, you can use it to serve a website. Since it allows everybody to delete and replace files, it would be an interesting kind of website: one that can be modified, improved, and vandalized by everybody who takes the time to create the right HTTP request.

Write a basic HTML page that includes a simple JavaScript file. Put the files in a directory served by the file server and open them in your browser.

Next, as an advanced exercise or even a weekend project, combine all the knowledge you gained from this book to build a more user-friendly interface for modifying the website—from inside the website.

Use an HTML form to edit the content of the files that make up the website, allowing the user to update them on the server by using HTTP requests as described in Chapter 18.

Start by making only a single file editable. Then make it so that the user can select which file to edit. Use the fact that our file server returns lists of files when reading a directory.

Don’t work directly in the code on the file server, since if you make a mistake you are likely to damage the files there. Instead, keep your work outside of the publicly accessible directory and copy it there when testing.

You can create a <textarea> element to hold the content of the file that is being edited. A GET request, using fetch, can be used to get the current content of the file. You can use relative URLs like index.html, instead of http://localhost:8000/index.html, to refer to files on the same server as the running script.

Then, when the user clicks a button (you can use a <form> element and "submit" event), make a PUT request to the same URL, with the content of the <textarea> as request body, to save the file.

You can then add a <select> element that contains all the files in the server’s top directory by adding <option> elements containing the lines returned by a GET request to the URL /. When the user selects another file (a "change" event on the field), the script must fetch and display that file. When saving a file, use the currently selected filename.