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.

What are the advantages of Python?

Python is much friendlier to 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.


What are 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.

"Node.js is a perfect tool if you want to rapidly develop your application. That's because you can use the same language (JavaScript) to develop the backend and the frontend sides of the app. Therefore, one programmer can implement the whole feature easily on their own, without the need to know another language. This also implies a reduction in development costs."

—David Solomon, Node.js developer at STX Next 

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.

"What I like about Node.js is that it uses the same language that I use on the frontend. This allows me to use the same libraries and tools (including TypeScript!) for both parts of my application, which results in a smaller tech stack. Additionally, I don't need to do almost any request data processing, as it is most often in JSON format, which is just JavaScript objects, ready to be used. That is what makes Node.js cooperation with frontend applications perfectly splendid."

—Przemysław Lewandowski, Senior JavaScript developer at STX Next

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 the 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.

"What I like most about Node.js is that it's JavaScript. There is one language for the frontend and the backend. Another advantage of Node.js is that it's easy and popular, and it comes with plenty of packages, which actually also applies to Python."

 —Bartosz Marciniec, Node.js developer at STX Next

Alas, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for JavaScript—but we’ll get to that in a second. First, an infographic!

Node.js vs. Python: an infographic

Okay, let’s take a breather for a quick recap before we go on with our comparison of Python and Node.js.

Here’s a visual summary of everything we’ve covered so far:

Node.js vs. Python infographic

Python vs. Node.js

There; all caught up!

Let us now move on to discussing a particular issue that JavaScript—and, by extension, Node.js—is facing.

Problems with JavaScript and Node.js

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.

What should you especially consider when comparing Node.js and Python?

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.

Trending technologies

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

  • 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.

Node.js allows you to use new technological trends earlier, though it comes with a risk: you may need to rewrite your entire project later. For long-term projects, Python is far less risky.

Why is that the case? Because the ecosystem of JavaScript seems like anarchy when compared to Python. Each JavaScript user is pulling in their own direction, in a sense, which results in substantial trend fluidity. Because of that, technologies like Isomorphic JavaScript or Meteor become outdated much quicker.

It’s different with Python. Significant changes are introduced slowly, sometimes incredibly so. What other way is there to call the 10-year-long support for Python 2.7?

This instability and unpredictability of JavaScript is precisely why Python is the safer choice.

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 a 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 the trouble. Granted, Django will also work slowly if written poorly, but it has built-in solutions to handle high load that make it easier to prevent that outcome. 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.

"Node.js is really good for developing real-time applications. It’s also quite easy to learn, which makes it straightforward to become a full-stack developer thanks to JavaScript. Unfortunately, Node.js is single-threaded so we have some cases when it’s not advisable to use that environment. Besides, Node.js is slow when we compare it to, for instance, Go."

—Kacper Małkowski, Node.js developer at STX Next

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.

Naturally, the problem solves itself if you’re lucky enough to have full-stack developers with both Python and JavaScript on your team. Those, however, are in short supply and it’s much more common to be working with people who are well versed in one or the other.


Is Python or Node.js better?

Now, that’s the million-dollar question!

Truth be told, 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.


Final thoughts on Node.js and Python

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 comparisons of Python and other programming languages, 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 RubricKey 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!