Python vs. Node.js: Comparing the Pros, Cons, and Use Cases

12 min read

Business, Python, JS
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We love Python—that much is clear.

But is it a miracle drug to remedy all your software development challenges?

No, it’s not. And if I were you, I’d be suspicious of anyone telling you otherwise.

Whether it’s building software or doing just about anything in life, it’s rare that you can apply the same solution to every problem.

Each software project comes with its own unique set of needs and requirements. What works for one may not work for another at all. At STX Next, we use whatever tech stack fits a given project best.

That being said, comparisons are inevitable. After all, there are so many programming languages and frameworks to choose from that you can’t be faulted for wanting a little help in picking the one that is right for you.

One of the most frequently asked questions we’ve seen lately is Python vs. Node.js. We’re gonna shed some light on that.

Read on for our in-depth look at Python and Node.js to learn their differences and similarities, strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly: which is better?

Table of contents

1. What is Python and what is Node.js?

2. The advantages of Python

3. The advantages of Node.js

4. The problem with Node.js and JavaScript

5. 3 crucial aspects to consider

6. And the winner is…

7. The verdict

1. What is Python and what is Node.js?

Before we jump to specifics, we should clarify what it is we’re actually comparing.

Python is a programming language; Node.js is not. The language here is JavaScript, while Node.js is a runtime environment for JavaScript.

What this key difference between Python and Node.js means is that when you write in Node.js, you use the same language for both the frontend and the backend.

Without further ado, here’s a more detailed breakdown of both choices.

2. The advantages of Python

Python is much friendlier for junior developers

Inexperienced Node.js developers can easily slow down development by making mistakes common to people who don’t fully understand some of the more advanced concepts and workings of JavaScript.

This may be attributed to the way JavaScript has advanced over the years. Concepts like object-oriented programming received meaningful traction only after plenty of far less elegant code snippets and tutorials had spread online.

Python, on the other hand, is very beginner-friendly, which is likely why it’s currently the most popular introductory language at U.S. Universities. Most of the mistakes junior Python developers may make in some frameworks are more forgivable and less of a blocker moving forward.

Most Python frameworks don’t require a very high skill level from the developers

A good example of that is Django, which has a mature ecosystem and allows you to write quality code fast.

Python is more universal and versatile

While it can also be used for desktop apps, thanks to Electron, the main use case for Node.js is the web. The applications of Python, however, go far beyond the web.

Python is a major contender to become the leading programming language of data science. It’s a great asset to system administrators because it allows them to easily write small, one-off scripts, at the same time providing larger sysadmin tools like Ansible.

For an example, look no further than Dropbox, one of the most common desktop apps written in Python.

Python is simpler to use, better covered, and better documented

This gives Python an edge over Node.js, even though both technologies are admittedly very fast to write in.

Node.js is a JavaScript implementation, a language with a long history, and predominantly a frontend tool. Therefore, solutions found for Node.js online may be inadequate for backend use or rely on inaccessible interfaces.

This cannot be overstated, since each JavaScript framework or runtime environment tends to have slight deviations in how it implements JavaScript. The situation has admittedly improved over the years, but it’s still a far cry from Python, where CPython, a single implementation, is used in the vast majority of Python projects.

3. The advantages of Node.js

Node.js developers are more flexible

Because we have the same language on the frontend and the backend, you need to be a JavaScript developer to use Node.js. This interdisciplinarity can come in handy when you least expect it, especially when there’s a fire you need to put out quickly.

But let’s leave that eventuality aside for now. The fact remains that if you have solid project understanding and the right people to build it, you can’t go wrong with JavaScript and Node.js.

The ecosystem of Node.js is less opinionated

Many Node.js packages are simple single-purpose libraries and microframeworks forcing developers to make more conscious decisions what to use and when.

This makes Node.js more demanding and requires a higher level of advancement on the developers’ side than what it takes to write code in Python on top of Django, using built-in solutions for ORM, caching abstraction, and so on.

With Node.js, you can use JavaScript to code everything

Node.js allows you to code both the frontend and the backend using JavaScript. This means you don’t need that many different technologies, which in turn means you don’t need your developers to learn yet another implementation of the same programming paradigms.

At the stage of assembling the team, you often don’t know how many Python or JavaScript developers you’re going to need. Your needs also may differ in particular Sprints—if you’re working in Scrum, that is—depending on your goals.

Using the same language for whole project removes that risk from the equation. You can even share a part of the code between the front and the back. It’s a huge benefit, not having to waste time doing the same thing twice.

The Node.js community is large and JavaScript is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing programming languages out there

JavaScript has been growing at an exponential rate, with over 500 new packages being produced every day

Python no longer has the advantage of numerous libraries and frameworks it used to enjoy for many years, as JavaScript has caught up to it on that front by now.

Alas, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for JavaScript.

4. The problem with Node.js and JavaScript

JavaScript may be developing super fast now, but that wasn’t always the case.

In the beginning, the language was written haphazardly, and to this day it is still struggling with issues caused by its old versions and their compatibility.

JavaScript’s recent rise in popularity has brought with it another curious downside.

So many developers have turned to the language in such a short period of time lately that it’s pretty difficult to keep up with all the new updates and tech intricacies. See for yourself!

The rapid growth of JavaScript libraries brings with it documentation problems, which consequently results in poor quality for Node.js. That is precisely why more skilled developers are necessary for the backend—handling it well requires more preparation beforehand.

Sadly, this is nothing new for JavaScript; it’s actually quite typical. If history has taught us anything, it’s that Python has always been more reliable.

5. 3 crucial aspects to consider

Comparing technologies is always a challenge, and the question of Python vs. Node.js is no different.

Here are 3 main points, each focusing on a different side of the story, that will help you make an informed decision.

Speed and performance

Here’s the thing about Node.js: it can’t do too many things at the same time unless you write very well in it. Both Python and Node.js only pretend to be able to do a whole lot of stuff at once, but Python applications tend to use simpler, more traditional multiprocessing model instead of a more advanced asynchronous paradigm.

Use Node.js poorly, and you might easily end up with a slow-working, low-performance product. If your project involves a particularly time-consuming task, it’ll put all the focus there while other functionalities will lag behind.

When written correctly, your software will send information to the operating system that it needs to perform a certain function and move on, while the system works on that. But if you write that poorly, the app will wait for the system to complete that task, doing nothing else in the meantime.

For the end user, this will seem like your software is slow. Such problems notoriously occur when a lot of people use your product at the same time.

A huge benefit of Python is that some of its frameworks are specifically designed to spare you that trouble. Django, for example, has built-in solutions to handle high load. That is only one of many instances when Python puts fewer technical expectations on the developers.

The main difference is that Node.js is designed to use a small number of workers. This is why it may slow down easily when some of the workers hang. However, it may also perform much better due to not wasting time on context switching between them.

The opposite approach is to use many workers. In this case, when some of them hang, the users served by the rest of them don’t suffer. The most recent Node.js releases also support worker threads, for CPU-bound workloads, though it is still an experimental feature.

New technologies

Python is perfectly suited for new technologies, especially machine learning.

Here’s why:

  • Python is a major player in the world of data science and offers several tried and tested libraries that support ML;
  • it’s easier to find machine learning experts who are well versed in Python than JavaScript;
  • MicroPython—a lighter and smaller version of Python—can be run with less power and fewer resources, making it a perfect fit for IoT devices (JavaScript has an equivalent in the form of Espurino, but it’s significantly less popular).

On the other hand, Node.js is more comfortable to use for the Internet of Things, when you compare the most popular libraries for Python or JavaScript.

As always, the choice is yours, and it depends on what you’re trying to build.

Team composition

Like we said before, each project is special and has its own needs. You need to understand those needs to build it successfully.

Truth is, Python is better suited for some projects and JavaScript for others. Let’s not forget that building a software product is a fluid process. You often end up adapting your tech stack as you go along—usually the frameworks, but sometimes the language, too.

However, the most important thing is your team composition.

Do you have good Python developers? Use Python!

Do you have good Node.js developers? Use Node.js!

Some team members work on one part of the project, some on the other. Sometimes team composition is decided upfront, but needs to be changed on the go, both on the frontend and the backend.

Who you have on your team dictates both the choice of language and the choice of frameworks, above everything else.

6. And the winner is…

…neither?

We do get that you were hoping for a short-and-sweet takeaway to help you make your choice, so here it goes:

If you only have a group of junior developers with little experience on hand, go with Python; if your team is more skilled and accomplished, choose Node.js.

But there’s more to it than that.

Even though Node.js favors seasoned players in the software engineering game, expert developers claim that it doesn’t actually offer them a whole lot in return. Yes, they need to call upon their expertise to use Node.js effectively, but it doesn’t really matter to them which of the two technologies they pick.

So in the grand scheme of things, you could say that Python wins, because it doesn’t discriminate against junior developers.

However…

7. The verdict

The bottom line is what the expert developers say: at the end of the day, it doesn't make that much of a difference whether you choose Python or Node.js.

Some Python frameworks, like asyncio, allow you to work in Python the same way you would in Node.js. It’s possible to make the experience really similar if you care about it enough.

The journey may differ, but the destination can be very much the same. From a certain point of view, comparisons such as “Python vs. Node.js” are maybe just a little bit… pointless.

Why? Because it all comes down to your team.

The language and the frameworks you choose may not necessarily be better, but it won’t matter as long as you have the right people on the team.

Talk to your team members. Ask them questions.

How do they feel about the choice of language?

Would they prefer to work in Python or Node.js?

Don’t pay that much attention to tool selection; pay all the attention to team composition.

Your team is what makes or breaks your software project.


Thanks a lot for reading our article.

Since you’ve taken an interest in learning about Python vs. Node.js, why don’t you check out our comparison of Python and Golang, too?

Or maybe you’re already sold on Python and would like to get started on your first Python project? If so, we have an ebook with your name on it.

Also, while Python may be our bread and butter—we are a Python Powerhouse, after all—we also have Node.js experience. We’ve used it to deliver software for clients such as Credit Rubric, Key Ingredient, or TBSeen. Click on any of those links to head over to our Portfolio for more information.

And if you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop us a line; we’ll get right back to you!

The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Software Developers
Author

Jacek Mirowski

Full-Stack Developer

Author

Adam Stempniak

Content Writer

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