Understanding middleware and route handler in Express.js

I am trying to understand how middleware and route handlers work in Express. In Web Development with Node and Express, the author gives and example of a interesting route and middleware in action, but does not give the actual details.

Can some one please help me understand what happens at each step in the following example so that I can be sure that I thinking correctly about it? Here's the example (with my understanding and questions in comments):

//get the express module as app
var app = require('express')();

//1. when this module is called, this is printed to the console, always.
app.use(function(req, res, next){ 
  console.log('\n\nALLWAYS');
  next();
});

//2. when a route /a is called, a response 'a' is sent and the app stops. There is no action from here on
app.get('/a', function(req, res){ console.log('/a: route terminated'); res.send('a');
});

//3. this never gets called as a consequence from above
app.get('/a', function(req, res){
            console.log('/a: never called');
});

//4. this will be executed when GET on route /b is called
//it prints the message to the console and moves on to the next function
//question: does this execute even though route /a (2) terminates abruptly?
app.get('/b', function(req, res, next){
            console.log('/b: route not terminated');
next();
});

//5. question: this gets called after above (4)?
app.use(function(req, res, next){ 
  console.log('SOMETIMES');
  next();
});

//6. question: when does this get executed? There is already a function to handle when GET on /b is called (4)
app.get('/b', function(req, res, next){
  console.log('/b (part 2): error thrown' );
  throw new Error('b failed');
});

//7. question: I am not sure when this gets called... ?
app.use('/b', function(err, req, res, next){
  console.log('/b error detected and passed on');
  next(err);
});

//8. this is executed when a GET request is made on route /c. It logs to the console; throws an error.
app.get('/c', function(err, req){
  console.log('/c: error thrown');
  throw new Error('c failed');
});

//9. question: this catches the above error and just moves along?
app.use('/c', function(err, req, res, next) {
  console.log('/c: error deteccted but not passed on');
  next();
});

//10. question: this follows the above and prints an error based on above?
//This also sends a 500 reponse?
app.use(function(err, req, res, next){
  console.log('unhandled error detected: ' + err.message);
  res.send('500 - server error');
});

//11. question: this is the catch all for something that falls through and sends a 404?
app.use(function(req, res){
  console.log('route not handled');
  res.send('404 - not found');
});

//12. This app listens on the 3000 port.
app.listen(3000, function(){
            console.log('listening on 3000');
});

Answers:

Answer

In express, sequence middleware are registered make a lot of difference, When express receives a request, it just executes middleware registered and which match the requested url.

express middleware has following signature

function(req,res,next){}

req: request object.
res: response object.
next: next middleware thunk.

Special error handling middleware

function(err, req,res,next){}

err: error that was caught
req: request object.
res: response object.
next: next middleware thunk.

I'm updating the comments in the code itself

    //get the express module as app
    var app = require('express')();

    //1. when this *middleware* is called, this is printed to the console, always.
    //As this is first registered middleware, it gets executed no matter what because no url match were provided. This middleware does not stop the middleware chain execution as it calls next() and executes next middleware in chain.

    app.use(function(req, res, next){ 
      console.log('\n\nALLWAYS');
      next();
    });

    //2. when a route /a is called, a response 'a' is sent and 
    //the app stops. There is no action from here on
    //chain stops because this middleware does not call next()
    app.get('/a', function(req, res, next){ 
         console.log('/a: route terminated'); 
         res.send('a');
    });

    //3. this never gets called as a consequence from above
    //because (2) never calls next.
    app.get('/a', function(req, res){
                console.log('/a: never called');
    });

    //4. this will be executed when GET on route /b is called
    //it prints the message to the console and moves on to the next function
    //question: does this execute even though route /a (2) terminates abruptly?
    //app.get('/b' ... does not depend in any way on (2). as url match criteria are different in both middleware, even if /a throws an exception, /b will stay intact. but this middleware will get executed only at /b not /a. i.e. if /a calls next(), this middleware will not get executed.
    app.get('/b', function(req, res, next){
                console.log('/b: route not terminated');
    next();
    });

    //5. question: this gets called after above (4)?
    //Yes, as (4) calls next(), this middleware gets executed as this middleware does not have a url filter pattern.
    app.use(function(req, res, next){ 
      console.log('SOMETIMES');
      next();
    });

    //6. question: when does this get executed? There is already a function to handle when GET on /b is called (4)
   //As (4) calls next(), (5) gets called, again (5) calls next() hence this is called. if this was something other '/b' like '/bbx' this wouldn't get called --- hope this makes sense, url part should match.
    app.get('/b', function(req, res, next){
      console.log('/b (part 2): error thrown' );
      throw new Error('b failed');
    });

    //7. question: I am not sure when this gets called... ?
    // This happens (4) calls next() -> (5) calls next() -> (6) throws exception, hence this special error handling middleware that catches error from (6) and gets executed. If (6) does not throw exception, this middleware won't get called.
    //Notice next(err) this will call (10). -- as we are passing an error
    app.use('/b', function(err, req, res, next){
      console.log('/b error detected and passed on');
      next(err);
    });

    //8. this is executed when a GET request is made on route /c. It logs to the console; throws an error.
    app.get('/c', function(res, req){
      console.log('/c: error thrown');
      throw new Error('c failed');
    });

    //9. question: this catches the above error and just moves along?
    //Yes, as this middleware calls next(), it will move to next matching middleware. so it will call (11) and not (10) because (10) is error handling middleware and needs to be called like next(err)
    app.use('/c', function(err, req, res, next) {
      console.log('/c: error deteccted but not passed on');
      next();
    });

    //10. question: this follows the above and prints an error based on above?
    //Which ever middleware from above calls next(err) will end up calling this one. ie. (7) does so.
    //This also sends a 500 response?
    //This just sends text as '500 - server error'
    //in order to set status code you'll need to do res.status(500).send ...
    app.use(function(err, req, res, next){
      console.log('unhandled error detected: ' + err.message);
      res.send('500 - server error');
      //Also set status code
      //res.status(500).send('500 - server error');
    });

    //11. question: this is the catch all for something that falls through and sends a 404?
    //No, this does not catch error, as in (7). This route will get elected       when non of the above middleware were able to respond and terminate the chain. So this is not an error handling route, this route just sends 404 message if non of the above routes returned a response and stopped chain of execution
    app.use(function(req, res){
      console.log('route not handled');
      res.send('404 - not found');
      //Also set status code
      //res.status(400).send('404 - not found');
    });

    //12. This app listens on the 3000 port.
    app.listen(3000, function(){
                console.log('listening on 3000');
    });

Hope this helps you understand the flow.

Let me know if you need any more clarification.

Answer

middleware can be great to use, and a bit difficult to understand, at first. The most important thing to remember in middleware is

  • Sequence
  • next() function
  • Sequence
    As mentioned in the earlier answers, sequencing is very important in middleware. Since middleware is executed one after the other, try to understand the code strictly top-bottom

    app.use(function(req,res,next){
    

    Since the above code does not specify any route, like, /a or /b, this type of middleware will be executed for everytime your API is hit. So this middleware will always be executed.`

    app.use(function(err,req,res,next){
    

    Understand that when app.use has 4 arguments, Express identifies this as an error handling middleware. So any errors thrown or created on execution will pass through this middleware.
    Therefore , #11 is NOT a error handling middleware. It simply stops the chain of middleware, since it has no next() function AND it is the last middleware in the sequence.
    You should also understand now that #7 is a error handling middleware, and it gets it's error from #6, for the /b route. #7 handles the error passed in err, and then passes the error parameter to the next() function.

    next()
    next() is simply the function that passes control along the chain. If you feel that one middleware is not enough for that particular route (or even for no route), you can invoke the next() function, which will pass control to the next valid middleware.
    You can specify the validity using the routes, or make it universal in nature, For example, #9 and #10. The error from #9 will not be passed to #10. This is because your next() in #9 did not pass an err argument, and hence #10, which is an error handling middleware, will not catch it. #9 will got to #11

    Answer

    You should look at the Express documentation. It's full of resources you'll find useful, especially if you are new to Express. Here are a few links to the relevant sections of the documentation regarding your question.

    Hope this helps.

    Tags

    Recent Questions

    Top Questions

    Home Tags Terms of Service Privacy Policy DMCA Contact Us

    ©2020 All rights reserved.