// Tutorial //

Make A Real-Time Chat Room Using Node Webkit, Socket.io, and MEAN

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By Chris Nwamba

Make A Real-Time Chat Room Using Node Webkit, Socket.io, and MEAN

This tutorial is out of date and no longer maintained.


Development folks work tirelessly to make building programs as easy as possible. The JavaScript, Web, and Mobile app developers communities have increased drastically since Node and Cordova were introduced. Developers who had web design skills could, with less effort, roll out a server using JavaScript for their applications, through the help of Node.js.

Mobile lovers can with the help of Cordova now build rich hybrid apps using just JavaScript. Today, although it is old news, I am excited to share the ability to use JavaScript to build desktop standalone applications.

Node WebKit normally written: “node-webkit” or “NW.js” is an app runtime based on Node.js and Chromium and enables us to develop OS native apps using just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Simply put, Node WebKit just helps you utilize your skill as a web developer to build a native application that runs comfortably on Mac, Windows, and Linux with just a grunt/gulp (if preferred) build command.

This article concentrates a lot more on using Node WebKit, but in order to make things more interesting, we will be including other amazing solutions and they will include:

  • Socket.io A realtime library for Node.js
  • Angular Material: Angular’s implementation of Google’s Material Design
  • MEAN: MEAN is just a concept of combining the features of Mongo, Express, Angular, and Node to build powerful apps

Furthermore, the application has three sections:

  • The server
  • The desktop (client)
  • The web (client)

The web section will not be covered here, but it will serve as a test platform but don’t worry, the code will be provided.


Level: Intermediate (Knowledge of MEAN is required)


We need to grab node-webkit and other dependencies for our application. Fortunately, there are frameworks that make workflow easy and we will be using one of them to scaffold our application and concentrate more on the implementation.

Yo and Slush are popular generators and any of these will work. I am going to be using Slush, but feel free to use Yo if you prefer to. To install Slush make sure you have node and npm installed and run

  1. npm install -g slush gulp bower slush-wean

The command will install the following globally on our system.

  • slush: a scaffolding tool
  • slush-wean: the generator for Node WebKit
  • gulp: our task runner
  • bower: for frontend dependencies

Just like YO, make your directory and scaffold your app using:

  1. mkdir scotch-chat
  2. cd scotch-chat
  3. slush wean

Running the below command will give us a glance of what we have been waiting for:

  1. gulp run

The image shows our app loading. The author of the generator was generous enough to provide a nice template with a simple loading animation. To look cooler, I replaced the loading text with Scotch’s logo.

If you are not comfortable with Slush automating things you can head right to Node WebKit on GitHub.

Now that we have set up our app, though empty, we will give it a break and prepare our server now.

The Server

The server basically consists of our model, routes, and socket events. We will keep it as simple as possible and you can feel free to extend the app as instructed at the end of the article.

Directory Structure

Setup a folder in your PC at your favorite directory, but make sure the folder content looks like the below:

    |- public
        |- index.html
    |- server.js
    |- package.json


In the package.json file located on your root directory, create a JSON file to describe your application and include the application’s dependencies.

      "name": "scotch-chat",
      "main": "server.js",
      "dependencies": {
        "mongoose": "latest",
        "morgan": "latest",
        "socket.io": "latest"

That will do. It is just a minimal setup and we are keeping things simple and short. Run npm install on the directory root to install the specified dependencies.

  1. npm install

Starting Our Server Setup

It is time to get our hands dirty! The first thing is to set up global variables in server.js which will hold the application’s dependencies that are already installed.

    // Import all our dependencies
    var express  = require('express');
    var mongoose = require('mongoose');
    var app      = express();
    var server   = require('http').Server(app);
    var io       = require('socket.io')(server);

Ok, I didn’t keep to my word. The variables are not only holding the dependencies, but some are configuring it for use.

To serve static files, express exposes a method to help configure the static files folder. It is simple:


    // tell express where to serve static files from
    app.use(express.static(__dirname + '/public'));

Next up is to create a connection to our database. I am working with a local MongoDB which obviously is optional as you can find it’s hosted by Mongo databases. Mongoose is a node module that exposes amazing API which makes working with MongoDB a lot much easier.



With Mongoose we can now create our database schema and model. We also need to allow CORS in the application as we will be accessing it from a different domain.


    // create a schema for chat
    var ChatSchema = mongoose.Schema({
      created: Date,
      content: String,
      username: String,
      room: String

    // create a model from the chat schema
    var Chat = mongoose.model('Chat', ChatSchema);

    // allow CORS
    app.all('*', function(req, res, next) {
      res.header("Access-Control-Allow-Origin", "*");
      res.header('Access-Control-Allow-Methods', 'GET,PUT,POST,DELETE,OPTIONS');
      res.header('Access-Control-Allow-Headers', 'Content-type,Accept,X-Access-Token,X-Key');
      if (req.method == 'OPTIONS') {
      } else {

Our server will have three routes in it. A route to serve the index file, another to set up chat data, and the last to serve chat messages filtered by room names:

    // route for our index file
    app.get('/', function(req, res) {
      //send the index.html in our public directory

    //This route is simply run only on first launch just to generate some chat history
    app.post('/setup', function(req, res) {
      //Array of chat data. Each object properties must match the schema object properties
      var chatData = [{
        created: new Date(),
        content: 'Hi',
        username: 'Chris',
        room: 'php'
      }, {
        created: new Date(),
        content: 'Hello',
        username: 'Obinna',
        room: 'laravel'
      }, {
        created: new Date(),
        content: 'Ait',
        username: 'Bill',
        room: 'angular'
      }, {
        created: new Date(),
        content: 'Amazing room',
        username: 'Patience',
        room: 'socet.io'

      //Loop through each of the chat data and insert into the database
      for (var c = 0; c < chatData.length; c++) {
        //Create an instance of the chat model
        var newChat = new Chat(chatData[c]);
        //Call save to insert the chat
        newChat.save(function(err, savedChat) {
      //Send a resoponse so the serve would not get stuck

    //This route produces a list of chat as filterd by 'room' query
    app.get('/msg', function(req, res) {
        'room': req.query.room.toLowerCase()
      }).exec(function(err, msgs) {

    /*||||||||||||||||||END ROUTES|||||||||||||||||||||*/

The first route I believe is easy enough. It will just send our index.html file to our users.

The second /setup is meant to be hit just once and at the initial launch of the application. It is optional if you don’t need some test data. It basically creates an array of chat messages (which matches the schema), loops through them, and inserts them into the database.

The third route /msg is responsible for fetching chat history filtered with room names and returned as an array of JSON objects.

The most important part of our server is the real-time logic. Keeping in mind that we are working towards producing a simple application, our logic will be comprehensively minimal. Sequentially, we need to:

  • Know when our application is launched
  • Send all the available rooms on connection
  • Listen for a user to connect and assign them to a default room
  • Listen for when they switch room
  • And, finally, listen for a new message and only send the message to those in the room at which it was created


    //Listen for connection
    io.on('connection', function(socket) {
      var defaultRoom = 'general';
      var rooms = ["General", "angular", "socket.io", "express", "node", "mongo", "PHP", "laravel"];

      //Emit the rooms array
      socket.emit('setup', {
        rooms: rooms

      //Listens for new user
      socket.on('new user', function(data) {
        data.room = defaultRoom;
        //New user joins the default room
        //Tell all those in the room that a new user joined
        io.in(defaultRoom).emit('user joined', data);

      //Listens for switch room
      socket.on('switch room', function(data) {
        //Handles joining and leaving rooms
        io.in(data.oldRoom).emit('user left', data);
        io.in(data.newRoom).emit('user joined', data);


      //Listens for a new chat message
      socket.on('new message', function(data) {
        //Create message
        var newMsg = new Chat({
          username: data.username,
          content: data.message,
          room: data.room.toLowerCase(),
          created: new Date()
        //Save it to database
        newMsg.save(function(err, msg){
          //Send message to those connected in the room
          io.in(msg.room).emit('message created', msg);
    /*||||||||||||||||||||END SOCKETS||||||||||||||||||*/

Then the traditional server start:

    console.log('It\'s going down in 2015');

Fill the index.html with any HTML that suits you and run node server.js. localhost:2015 will give you the content of your HTML.

The Node WebKit Client

Time to dig up what we left to create our server which is running currently. This section is quite easy as it just requires your everyday knowledge of HTML, CSS, JS, and Angular.

img2 –>

Directory Structure

We don’t need to create any! I guess that was the inspiration for generators. The first file you might want to inspect is the package.json.

Node WebKit requires, basically, two major files to run:

  1. an entry point (index.html)
  2. a package.json to tell it where the entry point is located

package.json has the basic content we are used to, except that its main is the location of the index.html, and it has a set of configurations under "window": from which we define all the properties of the app’s window including icons, sizes, toolbar, frame, etc.


Unlike the server, we will be using bower to load our dependencies as it is a client application. Update your bower.json dependencies to:

    "dependencies": {
      "angular": "^1.3.13",
      "angular-material" : "^0.10.0",
      "angular-socket-io" : "^0.7.0",

For a shortcut, just run the following command:

  1. bower install --save angular angular-material angular-socket-io angular-material-icons animate.css

Now that we have our frontend dependencies, we can update our views/index.ejs to:

        <link rel="stylesheet" href="css/app.css">
        <link rel="stylesheet" href="css/animate.css">
        <link rel="stylesheet" href="libs/angular-material/angular-material.css">

        <script src="libs/angular/angular.js"></script>
        <script src="http://localhost:2015/socket.io/socket.io.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="libs/angular-animate/angular-animate.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="libs/angular-aria/angular-aria.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="libs/angular-material/angular-material.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="libs/angular-socket-io/socket.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="libs/angular-material-icons/angular-material-icons.js"></script>

        <script src="js/app.js"></script>
    <body ng-controller="MainCtrl" ng-init="usernameModal()">
                    <md-subheader class="md-primary header">Room: {{room}} <span align="right">Userame: {{username}} </span> </md-subheader>

                    <md-whiteframe ng-repeat="m in messages" class="md-whiteframe-z2 message" layout layout-align="center center">
                        <md-list-item class="md-3-line">
                            <img ng-src="img/user.png" class="md-avatar" alt="User" />
                            <div class="md-list-item-text">
                                <h3>{{ m.username }}</h3>


            <div class="footer">

                    <textarea ng-model="message" columns="1" md-maxlength="100" ng-enter="send(message)"></textarea>



We included all our dependencies and custom files (app.css and app.js). Things to note:

  • We are using angular material and its directives are making our code look like “HTML 6”.
  • We are looping through our messages scope using ng-repeat and rendering its values to the browser
  • A directive which we shall see later helps us to send the message when the ENTER key is pressed
  • On init, the user is asked for a preferred username
  • There is an Angular library that is included to help to work with Socket.io in Angular easier.

The Application

The main part of this section is the app.js file. It creates services to interact with the Node WebKit GUI, a directive to handle the ENTER keypress and the controllers (main and dialog).

    //Load angular
    var app = angular.module('scotch-chat', ['ngMaterial', 'ngAnimate', 'ngMdIcons', 'btford.socket-io']);

    //Set our server url
    var serverBaseUrl = 'http://localhost:2015';

    //Services to interact with nodewebkit GUI and Window
    app.factory('GUI', function () {
        //Return nw.gui
        return require('nw.gui');
    app.factory('Window', function (GUI) {
        return GUI.Window.get();

    //Service to interact with the socket library
    app.factory('socket', function (socketFactory) {
        var myIoSocket = io.connect(serverBaseUrl);

        var socket = socketFactory({
            ioSocket: myIoSocket

        return socket;

Next up, we create three Angular services. The first service helps us get that Node WebKit GUI object, the second returns its Window property, and the third bootstraps Socket.io with the base URL.

    //ng-enter directive
    app.directive('ngEnter', function () {
        return function (scope, element, attrs) {
            element.bind("keydown keypress", function (event) {
                if (event.which === 13) {
                    scope.$apply(function () {


The above snippet is one of my favorites ever since I have been using Angular. It binds an event to the ENTER key, which thereby an event can be triggered when the key is pressed.

Finally, with the app.js is the almighty controller. We need to break things down to ease understanding as we did in our server.js. The controller is expected to:

  1. Create a list of window menus from using the rooms emitted from the server.
  2. The user on joining is expected to provide their username.
  3. Listen for a new message from the server.
  4. Notify the server of new messages when they are created by typing and hitting the ENTER key.

Create a List of Rooms

With our objectives defined let us code:

    //Our Controller
    app.controller('MainCtrl', function ($scope, Window, GUI, $mdDialog, socket, $http){

      //Menu setup

      //Modal setup

      //listen for new message

      //Notify server of the new message


That is our controller’s skeleton with all of its dependencies. As you can see, it has four internal comments which is serving as a placeholder for our codes as defined in the objectives. So let’s pick on the menu.

    //Global Scope
    $scope.messages = [];
    $scope.room     = "";

    //Build the window menu for our app using the GUI and Window service
    var windowMenu = new GUI.Menu({
        type: 'menubar'
    var roomsMenu = new GUI.Menu();

    windowMenu.append(new GUI.MenuItem({
        label: 'Rooms',
        submenu: roomsMenu

    windowMenu.append(new GUI.MenuItem({
        label: 'Exit',
        click: function () {

We simply created instances of the menu and appended some menu (Rooms and Exit) to it. The rooms menu is expected to serve as a drop-down and so we have to ask the server for available rooms and append it to the rooms menu:

    //Listen for the setup event and create rooms
    socket.on('setup', function (data) {
        var rooms = data.rooms;

        for (var r = 0; r < rooms.length; r++) {
            //Loop and append room to the window room menu

        //Handle creation of room
        function handleRoomSubMenu(r) {
            var clickedRoom = rooms[r];
            //Append each room to the menu
            roomsMenu.append(new GUI.MenuItem({
                label: clickedRoom.toUpperCase(),
                click: function () {
                    //What happens on clicking the rooms? Swtich room.
                    $scope.room = clickedRoom.toUpperCase();
                    //Notify the server that the user changed his room
                    socket.emit('switch room', {
                        newRoom: clickedRoom,
                        username: $scope.username
                    //Fetch the new rooms messages
                    $http.get(serverBaseUrl + '/msg?room=' + clickedRoom).success(function (msgs) {
                        $scope.messages = msgs;
        //Attach menu
        GUI.Window.get().menu = windowMenu;

The above code with the help of a function, loops through an array of rooms when they are available from the server and then append them to the rooms menu. With that, Objective #1 is completed.

Asking for a Username

Our second objective is to ask the user for username using angular material modal.

    $scope.usernameModal = function (ev) {
        //Launch Modal to get username
            controller: UsernameDialogController,
            templateUrl: 'partials/username.tmpl.html',
            parent: angular.element(document.body),
            targetEvent: ev,
        .then(function (answer) {
            //Set username with the value returned from the modal
            $scope.username = answer;
            //Tell the server there is a new user
            socket.emit('new user', {
                username: answer
            //Set room to general;
            $scope.room = 'GENERAL';
            //Fetch chat messages in GENERAL
            $http.get(serverBaseUrl + '/msg?room=' + $scope.room).success(function (msgs) {
                $scope.messages = msgs;
        }, function () {

As specified in the HTML, on init, the usernameModal is called. It uses the mdDialog service to get username of a joining user and if that is successful it will assign the username entered to a binding scope, notify the server about that activity and then push the user to the default (GENERAL) room. If it is not successful we close the app. Objective #2 completed!

    //Listen for new messages (Objective 3)
        socket.on('message created', function (data) {
            //Push to new message to our $scope.messages
            //Empty the textarea
            $scope.message = "";
        //Send a new message (Objective 4)
        $scope.send = function (msg) {
            //Notify the server that there is a new message with the message as packet
            socket.emit('new message', {
                room: $scope.room,
                message: msg,
                username: $scope.username


Listening For Messages

The third, and the last, objective is simple. #3 just listens for messages and if any push it to the array of existing messages and #4 notifies the server of new messages when they are created. At the end of app.js, we create a function to serve as the controller for the Modal:

    //Dialog controller
    function UsernameDialogController($scope, $mdDialog) {
        $scope.answer = function (answer) {

CSS and Animation

To fix some ugly looks, update the app.css.

    body {
        background: #fafafa !important;

    .footer {
        background: #fff;
        position: fixed;
        left: 0px;
        bottom: 0px;
        width: 100%;

    .message.ng-enter {
        -webkit-animation: zoomIn 1s;
        -ms-animation: zoomIn 1s;
        animation: zoomIn 1s;

Note the last style. We are using ngAnimate and animate.css to create a pretty animation for our messages.

I already wrote on how you can play with this concept here.

Closing Up

I can guess what you are worried about after looking at the image! The address bar, right? This is where the window configuration in the package.json comes in. Just change "toolbar": true to "toolbar": false.

I also set my icon to "icon": "app/public/img/scotch.png" to change the window icon to the Scotch logo. We can also add notification once there is a new message:

    var options = {
        body: data.content
    var notification = new Notification("Message from: "+data.username, options);

    notification.onshow = function () {

      // auto close after 1 second
      setTimeout(function () {
      }, 2000);

And even more fun…


I suggest you test the application by downloading the web client from Git Hub. Run the server, then the web client, and then the app. Start sending messages from both the app and the web client and watch them appear in real-time if you are sending them in the same room.

Go Further

If you want to challenge yourself further, you can try to add the following to our app

  1. Authentication with Facebook.
  2. Admin section to update rooms.
  3. Use a real user avatar.
  4. Deploy the app using gulp deploy --{{platform}} eg: gulp deploy --mac. * etc…


I am glad we made it to the end. Node WebKit is an amazing concept. Join the community and make building apps easier. Hope you had a lot of scotch today and that I made someone smile…

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