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Building a Static API with Node.js

Learn how to build a static API with Node.js. We'll write a node build script that converts local YAML files into a set of structured JSON output files.

This is one of several tutorials on how to build a static API. For links to the other tutorials, and for some background on this tutorial, see the introduction article.

If you'd like further background on what a static API is and why we're going through this exercise, check out Let's Talk about Static APIs.

This tutorial is going to walk through how you can build a static API without a static site generator, using a Node.js script.

Shout out! I was inspired to go back to the basics for this particular tutorial (i.e. no static site generator) by an article I read from Eduardo Bouças. The tutorial you're currently reading aims to provide only a glimpse of what you can do with Node-built static APIs. If you find it valuable, I'd suggest checking out Eduardo's article, too, as it goes into much more detail.

Okay, let's get to it!

Step 1: Project Setup

Since we're using a plain old node script here, there's no fancy command for getting everything setup. So let's begin by creating a directory for our project:

$ mkdir project-name
$ cd project-name

Create package.json

Next, create a package.json file. You could do this manually, or with an interactive process:

$ npm init

You don't have to fill anything out when going through the init prompts. If you hit return through the steps, Yarn will fill in sensible defaults.

After completing that step, take a look at the package.json file. You should see the values you filled in (or the defaults).

Install Dependencies

We're going to use three libraries (plus a couple built-in Node libraries) for our build script. Install them:

$ npm install js-yaml glob http-server

Add .gitignore

Now we have a ton of files in node_modules. Assuming you're using Git, add a .gitignore file. (Note: We're adding the build directory here at this time, but won't use that until a little later.)


# Installed packages

# Build output

Step 2: Data Files

It's time to add our source data. These files come from the introductory article.


id: 1
date: 2020-03-29
title: Perfect Illusion
artist: Lady Gaga
spotify_url: https://open.spotify.com/track/56ZrTFkANjeAMiS14njg4E?si=oaaJCMbiTw2NqYK-L7CSEQ


id: 2
date: 2020-03-30
title: Into the Unknown
artist: Idina Menzel
spotify_url: https://open.spotify.com/track/3Z0oQ8r78OUaHvGPiDBR3W?si=__mISyOgTCy0nzyoumBiUg


id: 3
date: 2020-03-31
title: Wait for It
artist: Leslie Odom Jr.
spotify_url: https://open.spotify.com/track/7EqpEBPOohgk7NnKvBGFWo?si=eceqQWGATkO1HJ7n-gKOEQ

Step 3: The Build Script

First, let's get setup. We're going to add two scripts to our package.json file. We do this to abstract the build and serve commands so that all you have to worry about is running npm run build or npm run serve, which are easier to remember (and can be consistent from project to project).


// ...
"scripts": {
"build": "node bin/build.js",
"serve": "http-server build -p 8000"

The build command will run our build script, which we haven't created yet. And the serve command will run a web server in the build directory, which also doesn't exist yet. So let's make that happen.

The Build Script

Here's the full build script, with comments so you can follow what's happening. There's not a ton to it, really. It runs through our data files and parses them. Then it prepares our build directories and writes the parsed data as JSON files in the appropriate location.

Note: I like to put scripts in a bin directory so they are tucked away from the rest of the code. You're welcome to put this script anywhere you'd like, but will need to adjust the build script in your package.json file to point to the correct location.


const fs = require("fs")
const glob = require("glob")
const path = require("path")
const yaml = require("js-yaml")

// ---------------------------------------- | Parse Data

// Object to store parsed data.
const data = []
// Get filenames of all the YAML files in the data/earworms directory.
const dataFiles = glob.sync(path.join(__dirname, "../data/earworms/*.yml"))
// Loop through the files, read each one, parse it, and store it in the data
// object.
for (const file of dataFiles) {
const content = fs.readFileSync(file, { encoding: "utf-8" })

// ---------------------------------------- | Build Directories

// Create main build directory if it doesn't exist.
const buildDir = path.join(__dirname, "../build")
if (!fs.existsSync(buildDir)) fs.mkdirSync(buildDir)
// Create the directory to house the individual records, if it doesn't exist.
const indivDir = path.join(__dirname, "../build/earworms")
if (!fs.existsSync(indivDir)) fs.mkdirSync(indivDir)

// ---------------------------------------- | Index Page

// Path to the index page in the build dir.
const indexPath = path.join(buildDir, "earworms.json")
// Data for the index page.
const indexData = JSON.stringify({
results: data,
meta: { count: data.length }
// Write the file.
fs.writeFileSync(indexPath, indexData)

// ---------------------------------------- | Individual Pages

// Loop through the individual data records.
for (const result of data) {
// Path to the individual file.
const indivPath = path.join(indivDir, `${result.id}.json`)
// Data for the individual file.
const indivData = JSON.stringify({ result: data, meta: {} })
// Write the individual file.
fs.writeFileSync(indivPath, indivData)

Making it Executable

You'll notice that in the package.json we have the build script running node bin/build.js. If you want to run it directly, you can make the file executable. On Unix and Unix-like systems, you can use the chmod command to achieve this:

$ chmod +x bin/build.js

Then you'll want to add a hashbang to the top of your build script file:


#!/usr/bin/env node

# ...

Once that's in place, you can run the command directly:

$ ./bin/build.js

Note: There isn't a ton of benefit from that in this case because we're abstracting the command in a package.json script anyways.

Run the Command!

Okay, now you can run the script:

$ npm run build

If everything went successfully, you should now see a build directory with the earworms.json file, along with the individual files.

Check in the Browser

And you can check that everything is looking good by running the server in your build directory and checking the output. To start the server, run the serve command:

$ npm run serve

And then navigate to the appropriate place in your browser. Your index page is at localhost:8000/earworms.json and the individual pages are nested under earworms, e.g. localhost:8000/earworms/1.json.

Next Steps

As you can see, there's a lot of power here without doing a ton of work. This just gives you a taste of it.

If this was something I would eventually take into production, I'd likely do a bit more with it first. Here are some ideas:

  1. Clean up builds: Add a script that cleans (i.e. deletes) built files. This will help ensure you don't end up with stale data in the build output. You could do this as part of the build script, but I like to keep them separate.
  2. Account for errors: You should account for errors in the build script. One option for this is to wait until you run into an error before catching it. Another is to proactively research the commands we've used and ensure you're catching errors. Being proactive will help your future self know what went wrong without as much digging.
  3. Print output: As you make progress throughout the build step, it's nice to log some output. This doesn't mean printing every data file you process — that would really slow you down. Maybe you just have a before and after message, like Processing ## ear worms ... and then Done..

Following those steps, I'd feel comfortable enough to use the script to build and deploy the API, via a service like Netlify or ZEIT.

But if you wanted to take it a step further, here are a couple other ideas for adjustments you could make to the code:

And there's so many more places you could go from there. This is only a start.

So, what are you waiting for? Get building!

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