Django vs. Node.js

Django vs. Node.js

When you start thinking about how to bring your project to life, one of the biggest discussions you’ll have is how to build the backend.

There are several coding languages you can use to do this, and lots of great frameworks built off these. You’re not short of choice, which is in some ways a great thing – but it can make that initial decision overwhelming. That’s before you add Node.js into the equation, which offers another approach to backend development and complicates things further.

To help ease that decision along, we’ve created a side-by-side comparison of Django, one of the most popular backend frameworks out there, and Node.js. We’ll cover:

  • The basics of how each works
  • In-depth comparisons in performance, cost and scalability
  • Which type of apps work well on each
  • Success stories – which big names are using Django and Node.js today?

Django vs Node.js: the basics

Let’s start at the beginning.

In some ways, it’s difficult to compare frameworks like Django to Node.js because they’re fundamentally different things.

Django is a high-level Python framework designed for fast development and quick scalability, marketing itself as “the web framework for perfectionists with deadlines”. It’s open source, and works in the same way that other development frameworks do – by providing pre-built components, libraries and tools to eliminate the need to code everything from scratch.

Node.js isn’t a development framework – instead, it’s a runtime environment that developers can use to execute front-end JavaScript code as a backend programming language. Whilst there are third-party libraries you can use, there’s no equivalent to the ready-made components that frameworks like Django offer – it’s pure, no-frills JavaScript coding.

Both are well-regarded, with active communities and regular releases. Which one is best for you will depend on a few specific factors.

Django vs Node.js: the specifics

Whilst both Django and Node.js are solid choices for backend development, their different attributes mean that one might be better suited to your project than the other.

When making your decision, consider:

1. The architecture

Let’s get technical for a minute.

Django runs on a Model View Template (MVT). This is similar to a Model View Controller architecture (MVC), which divides your code into three separate functions (‘model’ – data and/or code for separate components of the app, ‘view’ – code that controls how users see and interact with your app, and ‘controller’ – code that controls the interaction between the two). Django is a battery-included framework and one has to follow its framework philosophy/structure. Heavy customization can be difficult, as going deep into internal code is required.

As Node.js uses frontend JavaScript for backend development, it’s built around event-driven programming. One can build backend modules interacting with OS, external APIs, File I/O, Databases, and etc. This allows writing backend code from Node.js runtime while still leveraging the same JavaScript language in the frontend.

This means sharing static code between the backend and frontend is also possible. As iterated before, Node.js is not a framework. Node.js packages tend to be very small and modular. Node.js also has a package management problem that is well known.

The verdict? No major advantages or disadvantages either way – just something to be aware of when you’re making your decision. Do you want a faster startup or gradual tool buildup? Another minor point is that your team might be less used to event-driven programming if they’re traditional backend devs, but this is nothing a good software engineer can’t overcome.

2. Security

Python is one of the most secure coding languages out there because of its well-defined approach to task execution, extensive security-based libraries, and scalability. This makes it easier to create code without building in structural weaknesses that hackers can take advantage of – or creating them as you scale.

JavaScript tends to be more fragile due to language design. You can absolutely create secure applications in JavaScript, but due to its structure it’s much easier to miss potential holes than in Python. If you’re building your app in Node.js, it will be susceptible to this weakness – you’ll need to be very careful around third-party add-ons and keep a close eye on malicious code snippets, especially if your app requires Type A security (mobile banking, for example).

3. Performance speed

Node.js offers fantastic performance, hemmed in by the usual JavaScript caveats. JavaScript tends to be too slow for computation-heavy apps due to the nature of its event loop, and as there’s no support for decimals either it limits its use slightly.

Despite Python’s Global Interpreter Lock, Django is also pretty fast, and Python is great for large-scale data analysis and calculation. All in all it’s a tie here – unless your app relies on something JavaScript really struggles with.

Both Node.js and Django can have faster performance by multi-process approaches in order to overcome single-threaded runtime.

4. Development speed

As a framework, Django takes a code-light approach to app development. This means that there are a number of pre-built modules set up for different functions – developers can use these rather than coding everything they want from scratch. Combined with the fact that it’s based on Python, which is a fairly straightforward programming language, this makes for a brilliantly fast time-to-market. Bitbucket launched on Django in just one month back in 2008.

We’d venture to say that Django wins hands-down here. There’s an argument to be made that you’ll save time integrating Node.js with your frontend due to working off one coding language, but even taking this into account we reckon Django is quicker.

5. Flexibility

Want to get creative?

If you’re less set on a fast development speed and want more freedom to play around with your ideas, Node.js is probably your better option here. This is because Django is:

  1. A code-light framework that works off a number of pre-built modules
  2. Built on Python, which has a reputation for ‘forcing’ you to code certain things in certain ways.

These are absolutely some of Django’s strong points when talking about speed of development, but it can limit your devs creatively. No-frills JavaScript development isn’t the fastest way to go about things, but if you’re more concerned about flexibility in how you code it’s definitely the better option.

6. Cost

A moderate victory for Node.js here. The standard market-rate JavaScript salaries tend to be a fraction lower than Python salaries – but the real cost saving comes in not having to hire a separate set of frontend developers.

If you build your backend with Django, you might need to bring in more developers to create your app’s frontend if your Python people don’t have the skills to double up. With Node.js, all you need is JavaScript – no need for extra pairs of hands outside of this.

Hiring software engineers? Check out our guide.

7. Scalability

This is one of the biggest points you should consider before choosing between Django and Node.js. How big do you envision your app getting, and how will the stack you choose help you achieve this?

You could argue that it’s possible to scale with most major programming languages given the right time, budget and development talent. Still, this is time, money and development talent that you could spend elsewhere, and there are few things more frustrating than being held back by scalability issues just as your app is taking off.

Your question shouldn’t be “will it scale?” but “how easy is it to scale?”

Django is usually deployed with gunicorn or uWSGI as a python app server. This can pair well with NGINX, the popular web server. Gunicorn, uWSGI, and NGINX provide a wide array of configurations for network I/O scaling. Gunicorn and uWSGI also have multi-process approaches to spawn more Django app instances.

Node.js follows a similar approach to Django above. It can either spawn more processes or add more RAM to handle concurrent requests by event loop.

The verdict? It’s a tie here. Obviously, for either to scale well you’ll need devs that know how to create stable, secure code and optimize it, but there’s nothing inherent in either Django or Node.js that will hold you back.

Putting it all together – which is better for your project?

There’s a lot of information to process above!

To break it down, here are some general guidelines to follow when deciding between your backend build options.

Django is the stronger option if:

  • You need to build your app very quickly – Django’s code-light approach is perfect for this.
  • You’re looking for watertight security built into the code structure itself.
  • You think you might integrate new technologies like machine learning at some point in the future.

Node.js might be a better shout if:

  • You prioritize flexibility and creativity over speed in the development process.
  • You’re looking for lightning fast performance and your app isn’t CPU heavy.
  • Your frontend is written in JavaScript and you’d like the cost and productivity gains that come from everyone working off the same language.
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Who uses Django and Node.js?

Which companies use Django and Node.js, and with what are the results?

Both options boast some impressive, A-list names amongst their success stories. More than anything else, this demonstrates that you can build and maintain wildly successful apps with both – it’s about making the choice that suits your organization’s circumstances and needs.

Apps that are built on Django

  • Instagram: Instagram boasts one of the largest Django deployments in the world. Their developers were instantly attracted to the simplicity of Python and how it aligned with their “do the simple thing first” approach. 
  • Spotify: the world’s most famous streaming service loves using Django for its speed, as well as for the machine learning possibilities Python-based frameworks offer.
  • Youtube: originally built on PHP, Youtube turned to Django to improve performance, scale more effectively, and add new features quicker. 
  • Bitbucket: Bitbucket has always been a Django shop, right from when it started in May 2008. Its official launch just one month later shows how fast you can move using the framework. 
  • The Washington Post: given Django was originally developed for use at online publishers, it’s no surprise that big names like The Washington Post still use it for its capacity to deal with high-volume web traffic. 

Apps that are built with Node.js

  • PayPal: The payments giant adopted Node.js so that developers were all using a single language. They reported that their Node.js application was built in half the time as past projects, with a reduction of 33% in the lines of code needed. 
  • NASA: NASA were attracted by the ease of developing data transfer applications using JavaScript, as well as the productivity gains offered by front and backend teams working off the same language. 
  • Ebay: the world’s biggest auction site fell in love with Node.js’ scalability benefits back in 2016, and also cited the ease of real-time monitoring offered by Node as a major plus point.  
  • Uber: Uber uses Node.js because it’s quick to deploy and can process large amounts of data quickly and reliably.
  • Netflix: the internet’s biggest subscription streaming service has used Node.js to decrease build times, enable user customization, and improve load time by 70%.