Developing and Deploying Nodejs (Express) apps on Heroku

Heroku is an amazing platform for getting quick development up and running in a smart virtual instances. There is no hussle to get additional services you may need for a quick and dirty app to ground up. I’ve already wrote about how to use heroku for quick development environment before: https://mfyz.com/using-heroku-for-a-quick-development-environment/

This short article will be about specifically developing and deploying node.js and express apps on heroku. There is actually not much difference for deploying a node.js app than a php application or in another language. Heroku CLI tool automatically detects the application type from the package.json file for a node.js application and it’s entry point from there.

For the express related parts, just go ahead and see the very simple example I put up in github the past:
http://github.com/mfyz/heroku-nodejs-express-helloworld

Another more detailed express example that uses pug template engine for it’s layouts and views:
https://github.com/mfyz/express-pug-boilerplate

Aside of the application itself, there are few key points I found helpful when creating and deploying node.js apps. 

Use environment variables

Using environment variables is the best way to set configuration details for your application.

Setting which node.js version your app will use

As simple as adding “engines” object in package.json and having your node.js version defined in “node” property inside engines object like:

Same applies for npm and yarn versions to be defined within engines object as well.

Use prebuild and postbuild steps to prepare additional steps needed for your application build

By default, heroku will build your application on every deployment. This is not very meaningful for pure node.js applications but you app may need build. Like gulp, grunt, webpack builds. For this, heroku will read “build” npm script if exists in package.json. Aside of this, heroku will always install dependencies with npm install as a minimum build step. If you need additional steps before or after the build, you can define these in npm scripts as heroku-prebuild and heroku-postbuild named scripts.

Utilize heroku add-ons

Remember, Heroku comes with tons of 3rd party services which a lot of them have free packages that will be enough to try things out and start coding stuff up quickly. One of my favorite is heroku’s internal database service providing postgresql database with single command line command:

Wrapping up

All in all, heroku is a great cloud platform allow developers to kick off ideas, starting with simple code to grow into complex distributed applications very easily. In my opinion, it should be in the go-to tools for every engineer’s arsenal.

Using Heroku for a quick development environment

Heroku is an industry-changing service that is established in 2007. It transformed how developers create and deploy apps today. With its add-ons marketplace, Heroku became the development hub that you can easily enable 3rd party cloud services. These services can be in many different categories that a web application may require. From database services, caching, image processing to mail delivery and so on…

Heroku supports many modern development languages that are actively used with big communities like PHP, nodejs, ruby, python, go, java… The beauty of the Heroku applications is that, managed by Heroku and very very easy to understand. They are also very easy to scale, deploy apps in Heroku infrastructure… All Heroku apps are deployed to given app name’s subdomain under herokuapp.com or can be easily set to have a custom domain for free.

Essentially, Heroku runs on a command line interface and an internal git repository to manage versions of your code. When you set up a new project folder, Heroku CLI tool registers your app and assigns a git repository. Heroku CLI doesn’t initiate git repository on your folder, so if it’s a non-git folder, you need to git init on your project folder first.

I highly suggest all developers adapt Heroku in their workflow, at least for the sandbox & playground purposes.

I have created some boilerplate repositories in the past:

PHPStorm: Most advanced PHP IDE so far

I’ve been using PHPStorm from day one of their beta release, and very happy with it.
They enhanced Java based NetBeans in the beginning, but it’s completely boosted with a lot of features.

Biggest problem developing web projects using PHP is the lack of tools and big effort requirements for creating a stable integrated development environment. There are very good simple and clean editors but none of them is not farther than a code intellisense enabled editors. What I mean is there are debuggers, advanced editors, database management tools, but all of them has their own ways, not communicating and not integrated. And it varies on different operating systems.

When I first tested phpstorm in the beta times, they had this minimal advanced editor with some half working hard to configure add-ons like svn support, debugger integration etc but wasn’t easy to get it up running. But they improved the initial configuration steps much easier, they touched lots of add-ons to get them more integrated with less configuration and they started to support modern languages for different web technologies (html5, less, sass, haml). Here is a couple of features that I like and probably you’ll find them very usefull as well.

Code Intellisense is not just for PHP, also most of the languages that you use for general PHP based web project (HTML, Javascript, CSS, XML). Also, code intelligence supports most of the PHP, Javascript frameworks and helps you to get faster coding.

Debugging PHP runtime with xdebug, you can catch, stop and debug your PHP app while it’s running. Also, makes the error handling way easier.

Version control system integration allows you to integrate your svn, git projects, access versions and manage working copy.

Database connectors support all SQL engines that Java not just allows to browse, alter your database structure also there is a database console that you can use code IntelliSense when you develop your SQL. This is a common feature for most IDEs so far but PHPStorm also uses database connections for every project when you write/browse or debug your PHP code if it’s running a SQL. You can run or use code IntelliSense when you’re writing your SQL in your code.

Also, PHPStorm has other ton of features like automatic deployment, automatic upload over FTP/SFTP protocols, zen coding, code snippets etc…

They released 6 major versions in 3 years that was basically touched version of NetBeans in the beginning but now it gives totally enhanced and different coding experience. Unfortunately, you need to pay $100, the first time and it gives free updates in minor releases. But if you want to update in major releases you need to upgrade your license in 1 year periods for $50. But it’s nothing compared to what you get.

JetBrains also develops most of the features in PHPStorm for their common product base which you can have similar or same features in their other IDEs for Ruby and Python developers. If you develop Python or Ruby, you should check PyCharm and RubyMine out.

PHPStorm’s homepage: http://www.jetbrains.com/phpstorm/