How to Set up a Basic Node/Express Application

March 11, 2020

Node.js and Express are the cornerstore tools used to build Backend and Full-stack applications using JavaScript.


Node is a JavaScript runtime that operates outside of the browser using Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine.


Express is web application framework for Node.js which can be used to setup a backend API.

What is an API

An API or applied programming interface is a computing interface exposed by a software program or internet services to allow third party use of its functionality. APIs can be used both privately and publicy to consume or provide data.

Why build one?

An API is required to interface with most modern databases. A Node-Express server is able to talk with both the client and the database. This setup will allow for persistent data storage, and the ability to create a user system with login.

Note: This tutorial will show you how to setup a basic Exprses Server and connect it to a React application but does not connect with any databases. Check out this Full stack tutorial if you want to connect your app with a database. This tutorial is a good overview if you are new to full-stack development.

Getting Started

In this tutorial we will be setting up a basic Node and Express application. This application will not be connected to a database, however it will contain all of the logic needed to perform db operations.


First, make sure you have Node installed on your computer. Next create a new project folder and navigate into it

mkdir demo-server
cd demo-server

In the project folder, initiate a new node application with the following

npm init -y

This will create a package.json file that will specify your project’s start scripts and dependencies. Add the following 2 start scripts to your package.json file now

  "scripts": {
    "dev": "nodemon server.js",
    "server": "node server.js"


As with all JavaScript, there is usually a 3rd party library to make your life easier. In the root of your project folder, install the following dependencies in your project

npm install express cors body-parser

also enter

npm install --save-de nodemon
Package Description
express web framework for HTTP requests
body-parser node body-parsing middleware
cors middleware to allow CORS
nodemon restarts dev server on save

There are plenty of other useful packages in node development, however this will be enough to setup a simple server.


Now that we have our start scripts ready and our depencies installed, we can setup our server code. In server.js add the following

const express = require("express");
const cors = require("cors");
const bodyParser = require("body-parser");

const movies = require("./api/movies");
const app = express();

app.use(bodyParser.urlencoded({ extended: false }));

app.use("/api/movies", movies);

const port = process.env.PORT || 5000;
server = app.listen(port, () => console.log(`Server running on port ${port}`));

At the top we import our dependencies and routes (explained soon). We also intialize the express application with app. The next few lines apply the middleware (boilerplate code) and specify where the movies route exists. Lastly, we specify the port which is 5000 in development for us. Lastly we setup the server, which will listen to the routes we specified to make HTTP requests.

Creating API Routes

Next, create a folder called api with a movies.js file in it. This file will contain our server’s endpoints or routes. Add the following code to the movies.js file

const express = require("express");
const router = express.Router();

router.get("/test", (req, res) => res.json({ msg: "server works" }));

// @ route GET api/movies
// @ Get Movies (public)
router.get("/", (req, res) => {
  res.json({ movies: "array of movies" });

// @ route POST api/movies
// @ Add Movie (public)"/", (req, res) => {
  console.log(req.body.title, "movie added")
  res.json({ movies: "movie added" });

// @ route DELETE api/movies
// @ Delete Movie (public)
router.delete("/", (req, res) => {
  res.json({ movies: "movie deleted" });

module.exports = router;

With that we should be able to access our application in the browser. Enter the following start script

npm run dev

and open up the browser at http://localhost:5000/api/movies/test to see if it is working correctly.

Setup a frontend (React)

We can also setup a frontend application to interface with out application using React. Create an application now using

npx create-react-app demo-client
cd demo-client


Since we are using the same machine for both servers while in development mode, we can use a proxy. In the demo-client’s package.json add the following proxy entry

"proxy": "http://localhost:5000",


Also install the package axios which simplifies HTTP requests

npm install axios

Clientside Requests

Next, open app.js in your react application and add the following

import React, { useState, useEffect } from "react";
import "./App.css";
import axios from "axios";

function App() {
  const [movies, setMovies] = useState([]);

  // On Component Mount
  useEffect(() => {
  }, []);

  // Create
  const onSubmitBook = async e => {
    const { movie } =;
    await"/api/movies", {
      title: movie.value
    movie.value = "";

  // Read
  const getMovies = async () => {
    const res = await axios.get("/api/movies");
    const data =;
  if (movies.length === 0) return <div>loading...</div>;
  return (
    <div className="App">
      <form onSubmit={e => onSubmitBook(e)}>
        <label htmlFor="movie">Movie Title:</label>
        <input type="text" name="movie" />
        <button>Add Movie</button>
export default App;

Next run the demo-client application while demo-server is running (port 5000) using

npm start

Applications Connected

If you open the browser for your clientside application you will see that the message "array of movies" was sent from the express API. If you try typing in the name of a movie and submit you will be able to view the browser input in your already running demo-server terminal. The demo-server Node server is communicating with the demo-client React client.

Next Steps - Database

This tutorial was meant to be a basic introduction to how Express servers work, and how you can use them to setup APIs. There are numerous options you can use for databases including SQL and mongoDB. Check out this full stack setup tutorial to create a full-stack application with React and Node.

Other Node Tutorials


Node File System Basics


How to Build a Full Stack MERN App (Node/React)