April 8th, 2011 Mike Driscoll
This decision was driven by a realization: the LAMP stack is dead. In the two decades since its birth, there have been fundamental shifts in the web’s make-up of content, protocols, servers, and clients. Together, these mark three ages of the web:
I. 1991-1999: The HTML Age.
The HTML Age was about documents, true to Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of a “big, virtual documentation system in the sky.” The web was dominated by static, hand-coded files, which web clients crudely formatted (with defaults that offend even the mildest of typographiles). Static documents were served to static clients.
II. 2000-2009: The LAMP Age.
The LAMP Age was about databases. Rather than documents, the dominant web stacks were LAMP or LAMP-like. Whether CGI, PHP, Ruby on Rails, or Django, the dominant pattern was populating an HTML template with database values. Content was dynamic server-side, but still static client-side.
The secondary role of the server is to listen in on a stream for events (a new edit, a message, or ticker change) and efficiently push responses back to clients.
With regard to responding to event streams, node.js is ideal. Its asynchronous, non-blocking architecture means it’s incredibly fast. It uses HTTP 1.1, keeps its connections open, and a single server can handle thousands of open connections at once.
Finally, it’s worth considering that events are simply packets of data, and the emerging lingua franca of data on the web is JSON. This is what client-side applications receive when a ticker moves, or a message arrives. This is, again, a native format for node.js.