Nedy Udombat Software Engineer

Building lightning-fast APIs with FeatherJS

4 min read 1207

Feather JS logo against a space background.

Introduction

Feathers is a lightweight web framework built over Express for creating applications. Feathers can be used with JavaScript or TypeScript. Users say prototype applications can be built in a matter of minutes with FeathersJS, and production ready applications in a matter of days.

So why FeathersJS?

For those of us that are curious about why we should consider trying out new tools, here are a couple of reasons you should give FeathersJS a shot:

  • It is light-weight web-framework.
  • It can be used in creating real-time applications.
  • It works with JavaScript or TypeScript (they have got everyone covered)
  • Feathers is can work almost anywhere
  • It can work with any backend technology — it comes with out-of-the-box support and configuration for Socket.io and Primus depending on your preference
  • It works on the server with Node
  • It supports over a lot of different databases such as Postgres, Mongo, MySql, NeDB, File System, LocalStorage, SQLite, MSSQL, Cassandra, etc.
  • It works on the browser via JavaScript and which means it can be used with a lot of frontend technologies like Vanilla JavaScript, React, VueJS, Angular
  • It works on mobile too(who would have thought?), it can be used with React Native, Ionic, Android or iOS
  • And yes you can build prototype applications in minutes

What we will build

In this article, we will be building a simple prototype version of an API with authentication in minutes using FeathersJS and an in-memory database called NeDB. So go ahead and ensure you have all the prerequisites installed so we can get to the fun stuff.

Prerequisites

  • Basic knowledge of JavaScript
  • Knowledge of creating RESTful API’s with Express
  • The latest version Node.js installed on your machine
  • A terminal such as ITerm2 (Mac OS), Git bash(Windows)
  • RestAPI client such as Postman, Insomnia, etc.

Installing FeathersJS

The only step to installing and setting up FeathersJS is to install the CLI application globally by running the following command:

npm install -g @feathersjs/cli

Creating your API

With these simple steps, we will get our API up and running with authentication:

mkdir api-app && cd api-app

The command above basically creates a folder where our API will live, and it changes your current directory to that folder:

feathers generate app

After running this command, you will be asked a couple of questions to determine how your API will be built, and what technologies it will use.

Here is a list of the options I went with:

The code to build our prototype app.

Viola! Our API is ready.

We made a custom demo for .
No really. Click here to check it out.

After installation, you can open your preferred REST API client and test this out.

Run the command below to start up the API server:

npm start

If you try visiting the base route http:localhost:3030 in your REST API clients you should see this response:

A screenshot of our postman response

Or, if you try visiting that route with your browser, you would be greeted with this page:

A screenshot of our browser request.

At this point, registration, authentication, and authorization is pretty much setup. You can sign up by sending a POST request with your details to the /users route.

You can login via the /authentication route and a token will be returned in the response. This token can then be used as authorization to access other routes such as sending a GET request to /users to retrieve all users.

Generate a service

Now that we have authentication all set up, let’s create a new service that performs CRUD operations on contacts (i.e creates, reads, updates, and deletes contacts).

In a typical REST API CRUD project, we would have to write each method to handle each of the CRUD operations. Well, not with FeathersJS.

With FeathersJS, a single command creates a service that performs all the CRUD operations on a model and the code is abstracted. Let me show you.

In your terminal, run the command below:

feathers generate service

You will be asked a couple of questions here.

For the purposes of this article, these are the options I went with:

A screenshot of our Feathers generate service.

Once all the packages are installed, you can go ahead and perform all CRUD operations on the contacts service via the /contacts route. But before we do that, let’s take a look at the generated files.

Contact model(/src/models/contacts.model.js): This is where we would define our schema and model to shape what data we collect and how it is stored in the database. NeDB on the other hand does not support schemas, so our model files looks like this:

An image of the contract model.

In a situation where a database that allows schema such as MongoDB or Postgres is used, this is the schema that would be defined.

Contact class(/src/services/contact/contacts.class.js): This is where the CRUD methods are written, but in this case this file is next to empty. This is because the CRUD methods are abstracted and the files just instantiates the contact class, which extends the service class.

The code for our contact class in FeatherJS.

Contact Hooks(/src/services/contact/contacts.hooks.js): This is what determines the workflow of our CRUD operations.

This is what a typical Hooks file looks like:

A typical contacts Hook file.

For this contacts Hooks, we can see that the before-all Hooks has the authenticate('jwt'). This means that before you perform any CRUD operations on the contacts service, you must provide a token.

In other words, you must be logged in.

Hooks functions can be used before, after, or when an error occurs during a CRUD operation.

For instance, if you want to validate that the contacts contain a full name, email, and phone number on creation, this would be done in the before Hook and it would look something like this:

before: {
  all: [ authenticate('jwt') ],
  find: [],
  get: [],
  create: [ function(context) {
    // perform validation 
    return context;
  }],
  update: [],
  patch: [],
  remove: []
},

If you also wish to do something after the data has been created, read, updated, or deleted, you will have to write that function in the after Hook. For Instance, if you want to send mail to the contact’s mail, it would look something like this:

after: {
  all: [],
  find: [],
  get: [],
  create: [ function(context) {
    // send email function
    return context;
  }],
  update: [],
  patch: [],
  remove: []
},

Same thing goes if you want to handle an error gotten in a certain manner. For instance, if you want to use an error logger like Sentry, that would be added in the error Hooks.

Contact service(/src/services/contact/contacts.service.js): This is where the single route service is defined, Hooks & model is registered, and the service is initialized. It looks somewhat like this:

Our initialized contacts service.

The code is pretty small. This is due to the fact that FeathersJS handles a lot of the lifting behind the scenes in the form of abstraction.

NOTE: FeathersJS uses different strategies to handle authentication such as Local, JWT, OAUTH, Google, Github, etc. When trying to make a POST request to /authentication please specify the strategy. See example below:

POST request to the /authentication route to login(generate an access token):

Post authentication using FeatherJS.

Conclusion

FeathersJS really makes it easy for us to prototype applications in minutes.

To build a production-ready application, you might need to opt for a more robust database such as MongoDB or Postgres as opposed to NeDB.

You might also want to check out their well written documentation for more on FeathersJS abilities and their Awesome Feathers page for all things Feathers.

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    Nedy Udombat Software Engineer

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