Express Middleware

2017-04-14

What is middleware

In Express, a middleware is a function like this:

Let’s read every word in the picture above, and see how it works.

HTTP method can be get, post, put, delete etc, and if we wanna apply the middleware in all methods, we should use use or all.

There is a tiny difference between use and all. When we use use, it matches all the requests whose path begins with the path parameter. When we use all, it only matches the requests whose path equals to the path, just like get behaves.

The path can be any of:

We use method and path as a filter to decide whether a middleware should be applied. If path parameter is missing, the middleware will be applied for all paths.

We use middleware to perform the following tasks:

What is req

The parameter req inherits from ClientRequest, so we can use all features of ClientRequest.

From req we can read IP address, url, headers, cookies, parameters, etc.

When the request is coming, we can add some fields to the req object. For example, if the authentication is passed, we can let req.user be an object that contains the user’s information.

What is res

The parameter res inherits from ServerResponse, so we can use all features of ServerResponse.

We can set any part of an HTTP response, status code, headers, body, etc.

We use res.json to send a JSON response, res.render to send a web page, res.redirect to tell the client to go to a new address.

What is next

Middleware are connected one by one to form a chain. When we call next(), it will pass the control from the current middleware to the next. But what is the next middleware exactly? Let’s see the code below.

let middleware1 = function(req, res, next){
next()
}
let middleware2 = function(req, res, next){
next()
}
let middleware3 = function(req, res, next){}

app.use(middleware1, middleware2)
app.use(middleware3)

In middleware1, the next is middleware2. In middleware2, the next is middleware3. You may have noticed the order: left to right, then top to bottom, be careful about the filter conditions(method and path).

Pitfall of next

There are exceptions those can break the middleware chain. First we need to know error-handling middleware. It looks like this:

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

It takes four arguments, the first is an Error object. In practice, we usually put an error-handling middleware at the end of the chain, to catch all errors.

How to enter an error-handling middleware? When we pass anything into next function, it will skip all non-error-handling middleware, and jump into the subsequent first error-handling middleware.

function (err, req, res, next){
next(new Error('oops'))
}
function (err, req, res, next){
next('oops') // equals to next(new Error('oops'))
}
function (err, req, res, next){
next(123) // equals to next(new Error()), no error message
}

NOTICE! There is one exception: when the argument is a string whose content is router, it will not be regarded as an error. It has other meaning: skip all subsequent middleware in the current router, and pass the control back to its parent.

See the example:

const router = express.Router()

let middleware1 = function(req, res, next){
console.log(1)
next('router') // go out of this router
}
let middleware2 = function(req, res, next){
console.log(2) // will not execute
next()
}
let middleware3 = function(req, res, next){
console.log(3) // will not execute
next()
}

router.use(middleware1, middleware2)
router.use(middleware3)

The special “router” string is an ugly design. I refuse to use this shit.

Write middleware

One of the most exciting moment is to write your own middleware. Recently I have written three middleware and put them on GitHub:

Configurable middleware

Middleware is more powerful if we can configure it. The way makes a middleware configurable is simple: export a function which accepts an options object or other parameters, the function returns the middleware implementation based on the input configurations. Like this:

module.exports = function(options) {
return function(req, res, next) {
// Implement the middleware function based on the options
next()
}
}

Take express-params-checker as example, we’ll see how to write a real configurable middleware, and how to use it.

The middleware code:

const _ = require('lodash')

module.exports = (...requiredFields) => {
const checkFunc = (req) => {
let parameters = _.extend({}, req.query, req.body, req.params)
for(let i = 0; i < requiredFields.length; i++){
if(!_.has(parameters, requiredFields[i])){
let err = new Error(`Missing parameter: ${requiredFields[i]}`)
err.status = 400
return err
}
}
req.data = parameters
}

return (req, res, next) => {
let err = checkFunc(req)
next(err)
}
}

Usage code:

const paramChecker = require('express-params-checker')

router.post('/full-name',
paramChecker('firstName', 'lastName'),
function (req, res) {
res.send(req.data.firstName + ' ' + req.data.lastName)
}
)

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