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Node.js: Scaffolding Modern Web Applications with Flatiron

After having used Express, Jade, Stylus, and Mongoose for quite some time we decided to try something new. Enter Flatiron, Union, Director, Plates, and Resourceful.

No one agrees on frameworks. It’s difficult to get consensus on how much or how little a framework should do. Flatiron’s approach is to package simple to use yet full featured components and let developers subtract or add what they want.

Flatiron supports application boilerplates as well as straight inclusion in your package.json file.

Getting started with a boilerplate

In order to get started with flatiron it needs to be installed on your system.

$ npm install flatiron -g

Once installed, the flatiron command line tool will be available. In order to start with a new web application boilerplate, issue the following command:

$ flatiron create <app-name> http

The boilerplate allows you to quickly start scaffolding a web application without a lot of custom development.

Advanced use of flatiron in your project

Our package.json file includes several other components used in conjunction with flatiron.

We decided to use flatiron, plates, resourceful, restful, and union for our example project.

Our application server gets bootstrapped and launched through the app.js file. The application uses Union middleware to integrate plates, resourceful, and restful into flatiron.

Application Configuration

The restful and resourceful components are configured in the configuration file. Our example uses CouchDB. If you do not wish to use Couch, simply change the engine option to memory and remove uri and auth from the resourceful block.

Controllers and Views

We decided to snag the plates plugin from the scaffolding branch in the flatiron/flatiron repository to allow us to easily render views in our application.

The controllers plugin serves as a new addition to flatiron and it’s based on the plates plugin.

The controllers plugin simplifies the inclusion of custom director routes. Each controller file contains all logic necessary for its routes to function.

The default controller serves up the index page.

Our views use the plates module and the plates plugin which supports layouts. This example contains a basic layout to get you started.

The index page automatically includes this layout and its contents replace the <div id="body"></div> tag.

Automatically generated REST API resources

By using the restful middleware plugin our application automatically discovers and makes resources available in the /api directory. The API prefix can be modified in the config.json file.

Our application now reports the following available resources:

GET     / 
GET     /api 
GET     /api/user 
POST    /api/user 
POST    /api/user/([._a-zA-Z0-9-]+) 
GET     /api/user/([._a-zA-Z0-9-]+) 
DELETE  /api/user/([._a-zA-Z0-9-]+) 
PUT     /api/user/([._a-zA-Z0-9-]+) 

Change the explore configuration option to false in order to not expose available API end-points.

Resources with Resourceful

We also wrote a user resource with a couple of helper methods to ease generation of PBKDF2 encrypted passwords for heightened security.

The packer used in the user resource resides in the utils.js file.

To quickly get started by inserting a user, utilize the snippet from the comment inside the user.js file.

With this custom boilerplate we are now ready to start cranking out pages as well as API end-points that can be consumed by our web application and mobile applications alike.

Feel free to fork our repository to add your own modifications. We greatly appreciate pull requests with improvements and new ideas!

Fork on Github

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