Introduction – Node.js on Ubuntu 16.04

Node.js is an open source JavaScript runtime environment for easily building server-side and networking applications. The platform runs on Linux, OS X, FreeBSD, and Windows. Node.js applications can be run at the command line, but we’ll focus on running them as a service, so that they will automatically restart on reboot or failure, and can safely be used in a production environment.

In this tutorial, we will cover setting up a production-ready Node.js on Ubuntu 16.04 Server. This server will run a Node.js application managed by PM2, and provide users with secure access to the application through an Nginx reverse proxy.

Install Node.js

We will install the latest current release of Node.js, using the NodeSource package archives.

First, you need to install the NodeSource PPA in order to get access to its contents. Make sure you’re in your home directory, and use curl to retrieve the installation script for the Node.js 6.x archives:

  • cd ~
  • curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_6.x -o nodesource_setup.sh

You can inspect the contents of this script with nano (or your preferred text editor):

  • nano nodesource_setup.sh

And run the script under sudo:

  • sudo bash nodesource_setup.sh

The PPA will be added to your configuration and your local package cache will be updated automatically. After running the setup script from nodesource, you can install the Node.js package in the same way that you did above:

  • sudo apt-get install nodejs

The nodejs package contains the nodejs binary as well as npm, so you don’t need to install npmseparately. However, in order for some npm packages to work (such as those that require compiling code from source), you will need to install the build-essential package:

  • sudo apt-get install build-essential

The Node.js runtime is now installed, and ready to run an application! Let’s write a Node.js application.

Create Node.js Application

We will write a Hello World application that simply returns “Hello World” to any HTTP requests. This is a sample application that will help you get your Node.js set up, which you can replace with your own application–just make sure that you modify your application to listen on the appropriate IP addresses and ports.

Hello World Code

First, create and open your Node.js application for editing. For this tutorial, we will use nano to edit a sample application called hello.js:

  • cd ~
  • nano hello.js

Insert the following code into the file. If you want to, you may replace the highlighted port, 8080, in both locations (be sure to use a non-admin port, i.e. 1024 or greater):

hello.js
#!/usr/bin/env nodejs
var http = require('http');
http.createServer(function (req, res) {
  res.writeHead(200, {'Content-Type': 'text/plain'});
  res.end('Hello World\n');
}).listen(8080, 'localhost');
console.log('Server running at http://localhost:8080/');

Now save and exit.

This Node.js application simply listens on the specified address (localhost) and port (8080), and returns “Hello World” with a 200 HTTP success code. Since we’re listening on localhost, remote clients won’t be able to connect to our application.

Test Application

In order to test your application, mark hello.js executable:

  • chmod +x ./hello.js

And run it like so:

  • ./hello.js
Output
Server running at http://localhost:8080/

In order to test the application, open another terminal session on your server, and connect to localhostwith curl:
  • curl http://localhost:8080

If you see the following output, the application is working properly and listening on the proper address and port:

Output
Hello World

If you do not see the proper output, make sure that your Node.js application is running, and configured to listen on the proper address and port.

Once you’re sure it’s working, kill the application (if you haven’t already) by pressing Ctrl+C.

Install PM2

Now we will install PM2, which is a process manager for Node.js applications. PM2 provides an easy way to manage and daemonize applications (run them in the background as a service).

We will use npm, a package manager for Node modules that installs with Node.js, to install PM2 on our server. Use this command to install PM2:

  • sudo npm install -g pm2

The -g option tells npm to install the module globally, so that it’s available system-wide.

Manage Application with PM2

PM2 is simple and easy to use. We will cover a few basic uses of PM2.

Start Application

The first thing you will want to do is use the pm2 start command to run your application, hello.js, in the background:

  • pm2 start hello.js

This also adds your application to PM2’s process list, which is outputted every time you start an application:

Output
[PM2] Spawning PM2 daemon
[PM2] PM2 Successfully daemonized
[PM2] Starting hello.js in fork_mode (1 instance)
[PM2] Done.
┌──────────┬────┬──────┬──────┬────────┬─────────┬────────┬─────────────┬──────────┐
│ App name │ id │ mode │ pid  │ status │ restart │ uptime │ memory      │ watching │
├──────────┼────┼──────┼──────┼────────┼─────────┼────────┼─────────────┼──────────┤
│ hello    │ 0  │ fork │ 3524 │ online │ 0       │ 0s     │ 21.566 MB   │ disabled │
└──────────┴────┴──────┴──────┴────────┴─────────┴────────┴─────────────┴──────────┘
 Use `pm2 show <id|name>` to get more details about an app

As you can see, PM2 automatically assigns an App name (based on the filename, without the .jsextension) and a PM2 id. PM2 also maintains other information, such as the PID of the process, its current status, and memory usage.

Applications that are running under PM2 will be restarted automatically if the application crashes or is killed, but an additional step needs to be taken to get the application to launch on system startup (boot or reboot). Luckily, PM2 provides an easy way to do this, the startup subcommand.

The startup subcommand generates and configures a startup script to launch PM2 and its managed processes on server boots. You must also specify the platform you are running on, which is ubuntu, in our case:

  • pm2 startup systemd

The last line of the resulting output will include a command that you must run with superuser privileges:

Output
[PM2] You have to run this command as root. Execute the following command:
      sudo su -c "env PATH=$PATH:/usr/bin pm2 startup systemd -u sammy --hp /home/sammy"

Run the command that was generated (similar to the highlighted output above, but with your username instead of sammy) to set PM2 up to start on boot (use the command from your own output):

  • sudo su -c “env PATH=$PATH:/usr/bin pm2 startup systemd -u sammy –hp /home/sammy

This will create a systemd unit which runs pm2 for your user on boot. This pm2 instance, in turn, runshello.js. You can check the status of the systemd unit with systemctl:

  • systemctl status pm2

Set Up Nginx as a Reverse Proxy Server

Now that Node.js on Ubuntu 16.04 is running, and listening on localhost, you need to set up a way for your users to access it. We will set up an Nginx web server as a reverse proxy for this purpose. This tutorial will set up an Nginx server from scratch. If you already have an Nginx server setup, you can just copy the locationblock into the server block of your choice (make sure the location does not conflict with any of your web server’s existing content).

First, install Nginx using apt-get:

  • sudo apt-get install nginx

Now open the default server block configuration file for editing:

  • sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/default

Delete everything in the file and insert the following configuration. Be sure to substitute your own domain name for the server_name directive. Additionally, change the port (8080) if your application is set to listen on a different port:

/etc/nginx/sites-available/default
server {
    listen 80;

    server_name example.com;

    location / {
        proxy_pass http://localhost:8080;
        proxy_http_version 1.1;
        proxy_set_header Upgrade $http_upgrade;
        proxy_set_header Connection 'upgrade';
        proxy_set_header Host $host;
        proxy_cache_bypass $http_upgrade;
    }
}

This configures the server to respond to requests at its root. Assuming our server is available atexample.com, accessing http://example.com/ via a web browser would send the request tohello.js, listening on port 8080 at localhost.

You can add additional location blocks to the same server block to provide access to other applications on the same server. For example, if you were also running another Node.js application on port 8081, you could add this location block to allow access to it via http://example.com/app2:

Nginx Configuration — Additional Locations
    location /app2 {
        proxy_pass http://localhost:8081;
        proxy_http_version 1.1;
        proxy_set_header Upgrade $http_upgrade;
        proxy_set_header Connection 'upgrade';
        proxy_set_header Host $host;
        proxy_cache_bypass $http_upgrade;
    }

Once you are done adding the location blocks for your applications, save and exit.

Next, restart Nginx:

  • sudo systemctl restart nginx

Assuming that your Node.js application is running, and your application and Nginx configurations are correct, you should now be able to access your application via the Nginx reverse proxy. Try it out by accessing your server’s URL (its public IP address or domain name).

Conclusion

Congratulations! You now have your Node.js on Ubuntu 16.04 running behind an Nginx reverse proxy. This reverse proxy setup is flexible enough to provide your users access to other applications or static web content that you want to share. Good luck with your Node.js development!

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