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How To Develop a Node.js TCP Server Application using PM2 and Nginx on Ubuntu 16.04

PostedJuly 23, 2018 12.3k views Node.js JavaScript Nginx Ubuntu 16.04

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Introduction

Node.js is a popular open-source JavaScript runtime environment built on Chrome's V8 Javascript engine. Node.js is used for building server-side and networking applications.TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) is a networking protocol that provides reliable, ordered and error-checked delivery of a stream of data between applications. A TCP server can accept a TCP connection request, and once the connection is established both sides can exchange data streams.

In this tutorial, you'll build a basic Node.js TCP server, along with a client to test the server. You'll run your server as a background process using a powerful Node.js process manager called PM2. Then you'll configure Nginx as a reverse proxy for the TCP application and test the client-server connection from your local machine.

Prerequisites

To complete this tutorial, you will need:

Step 1 — Creating a Node.js TCP Application

We will write a Node.js application using TCP Sockets. This is a sample application which will help you understand the Net library in Node.js which enables us to create raw TCP server and client applications.

To begin, create a directory on your server in which you would like to place your Node.js application. For this tutorial, we will create our application in the ~/tcp-nodejs-app directory:

  • mkdir ~/tcp-nodejs-app

Then switch to the new directory:

  • cd ~/tcp-nodejs-app

Create a new file named package.json for your project. This file lists the packages that the application depends on. Creating this file will make the build reproducible as it will be easier to share this list of dependencies with other developers:

  • nano package.json

You can also generate the package.json using the npm init command, which will prompt you for the details of the application, but we'll still have to manually alter the file to add additional pieces, including a startup command. Therefore, we'll manually create the file in this tutorial.

Add the following JSON to the file, which specifies the application's name, version, the main file, the command to start the application, and the software license:

package.json
{
  "name": "tcp-nodejs-app",
  "version": "1.0.0",
  "main": "server.js",
  "scripts": {
    "start": "node server.js"
  },
  "license": "MIT"
}

The scripts field lets you define commands for your application. The setting you specified here lets you run the app by running npm start instead of running node server.js.

The package.json file can also contain a list of runtime and development dependencies, but we won't have any third party dependencies for this application.

Now that you have the project directory and package.json set up, let's create the server.

In your application directory, create a server.js file:

  • nano server.js

Node.js provides a module called net which enables TCP server and client communication. Load the net module with require(), then define variables to hold the port and host for the server:

server.js
const net = require('net');
const port = 7070;
const host = '127.0.0.1';

We'll use port 7070 for this app, but you can use any available port you'd like. We're using 127.0.0.1 for the HOST which ensures that our server is only listening on our local network interface. Later we will place Nginx in front of this app as a reverse proxy. Nginx is well-versed at handling multiple connections and horizontal scaling.

Then add this code to spawn a TCP server using the createServer() function from the net module. Then start listening for connections on the port and host you defined by using the listen() function of the net module:

server.js
...
const server = net.createServer();
server.listen(port, host, () => {
    console.log('TCP Server is running on port ' + port +'.');
});

Save server.js and start the server:

  • npm start

You'll see this output:

Output
TCP Server is running on port 7070

The TCP server is running on port 7070. Press CTRL+C to stop the server.

Now that we know the server is listening, let's write the code to handle client connections.

When a client connects to the server, the server triggers a connection event, which we'll observe. We'll define an array of connected clients, which we'll call sockets, and add each client instance to this array when the client connects.

We'll use the data event to process the data stream from the connected clients, using the sockets array to broadcast data to all the connected clients.

Add this code to the server.js file to implement these features:

server.js

...

let sockets = [];

server.on('connection', function(sock) {
    console.log('CONNECTED: ' + sock.remoteAddress + ':' + sock.remotePort);
    sockets.push(sock);

    sock.on('data', function(data) {
        console.log('DATA ' + sock.remoteAddress + ': ' + data);
        // Write the data back to all the connected, the client will receive it as data from the server
        sockets.forEach(function(sock, index, array) {
            sock.write(sock.remoteAddress + ':' + sock.remotePort + " said " + data + '\n');
        });
    });
});

This tells the server to listen to data events sent by connected clients. When the connected clients send any data to the server, we echo it back to all the connected clients by iterating through the sockets array.

Then add a handler for close events which will be trigerred when a connected client terminates the connection. Whenever a client disconnects, we want to remove the client from the sockets array so we no longer broadcast to it. Add this code at the end of the connection block:

server.js

let sockets = [];
server.on('connection', function(sock) {

    ...

    // Add a 'close' event handler to this instance of socket
    sock.on('close', function(data) {
        let index = sockets.findIndex(function(o) {
            return o.remoteAddress === sock.remoteAddress && o.remotePort === sock.remotePort;
        })
        if (index !== -1) sockets.splice(index, 1);
        console.log('CLOSED: ' + sock.remoteAddress + ' ' + sock.remotePort);
    });
});

Here is the complete code for server.js:

server.js
const net = require('net');
const port = 7070;
const host = '127.0.0.1';

const server = net.createServer();
server.listen(port, host, () => {
    console.log('TCP Server is running on port ' + port + '.');
});

let sockets = [];

server.on('connection', function(sock) {
    console.log('CONNECTED: ' + sock.remoteAddress + ':' + sock.remotePort);
    sockets.push(sock);

    sock.on('data', function(data) {
        console.log('DATA ' + sock.remoteAddress + ': ' + data);
        // Write the data back to all the connected, the client will receive it as data from the server
        sockets.forEach(function(sock, index, array) {
            sock.write(sock.remoteAddress + ':' + sock.remotePort + " said " + data + '\n');
        });
    });

    // Add a 'close' event handler to this instance of socket
    sock.on('close', function(data) {
        let index = sockets.findIndex(function(o) {
            return o.remoteAddress === sock.remoteAddress && o.remotePort === sock.remotePort;
        })
        if (index !== -1) sockets.splice(index, 1);
        console.log('CLOSED: ' + sock.remoteAddress + ' ' + sock.remotePort);
    });
});

Save the file and then start the server again:

  • npm start

We have a fully functional TCP Server running on our machine. Next we'll write a client to connect to our server.

Step 2 — Creating a Node.js TCP Client

Our Node.js TCP Server is running, so let's create a TCP Client to connect to the server and test the server out.

The Node.js server you just wrote is still running, blocking your current terminal session. We want to keep that running as we develop the client, so open a new Terminal window or tab. Then connect into the server again from the new tab.

  • ssh sammy@your_server_ip

Once connected, navigate to the tcp-nodejs-app directory:

  • cd tcp-nodejs-app

In the same directory, create a new file called client.js:

  • nano client.js

The client will use the same net library used in the server.js file to connect to the TCP server. Add this code to the file to connect to the server using the IP address 127.0.0.1 on port 7070:

client.js
const net = require('net');
const client = new net.Socket();
const port = 7070;
const host = '127.0.0.1';

client.connect(port, host, function() {
    console.log('Connected');
    client.write("Hello From Client " + client.address().address);
});

This code will first try to connect to the TCP server to ensure that the server we created is running. Once the connection is established, the client will send "Hello From Client " + client.address().address to the server using the client.write function. Our server will receive this data and echo it back to the client.

Once the client receives the data back from the server, we want it to print the server's response. Add this code to catch the data event and print the server's response to the command line:

client.js
client.on('data', function(data) {
    console.log('Server Says : ' + data);
});

Finally, handle disconnections from the server gracefully by adding this code:

client.js
client.on('close', function() {
    console.log('Connection closed');
});

Save the client.js file.

Run the following command to start the client:

  • node client.js

The connection will establish and the server will recieve the data, echoing it back to the client:

client.js Output
Connected Server Says : 127.0.0.1:34548 said Hello From Client 127.0.0.1

Switch back to the terminal where the server is running, and you'll see the following output:

server.js Output
CONNECTED: 127.0.0.1:34550 DATA 127.0.0.1: Hello From Client 127.0.0.1

You have verified that you can establish a TCP connection between your server and client apps.

Press CTRL+C to stop the server. Then switch to the other terminal session and press CTRL+C to stop the client. You can now disconnect this terminal session from your server and return to your original terminal session.

In the next step we'll launch the server with PM2 and run it in the background.

Step 3 — Running the Server with PM2

You have a working server that accepts client connections, but it runs in the foreground. Let's run the server using PM2 so it runs in the backgrand and can restart gracefully.

First, install PM2 on your server globally using npm:

  • sudo npm install pm2 -g

Once PM2 is installed, use it to run your server. Instead of running npm start to start the server, you'll use the pm2 command. Start the server:

  • pm2 start server.js

You'll see output like this:

[secondary_label Output
[PM2] Spawning PM2 daemon with pm2_home=/home/sammy/.pm2
[PM2] PM2 Successfully daemonized
[PM2] Starting /home/sammy/tcp-nodejs-app/server.js in fork_mode (1 instance)
[PM2] Done.
┌────────┬──────┬────────┬───┬─────┬───────────┐
│ Name   │ mode │ status │ ↺ │ cpu │ memory    │
├────────┼──────┼────────┼───┼─────┼───────────┤
│ server │ fork │ online │ 0 │ 5%  │ 24.8 MB   │
└────────┴──────┴────────┴───┴─────┴───────────┘
 Use `pm2 show <id|name>` to get more details about an app

The server is now running in the background. However, if we reboot the machine, it won't be running anymore, so let's create a systemd service for it.

Run the following command to generate and install PM2's systemd startup scripts. Be sure to run this with sudo so the systemd files install automatically.

  • sudo pm2 startup

You'll see this output:

Output
[PM2] Init System found: systemd Platform systemd ... [PM2] Writing init configuration in /etc/systemd/system/pm2-root.service [PM2] Making script booting at startup... [PM2] [-] Executing: systemctl enable pm2-root... Created symlink from /etc/systemd/system/multi-user.target.wants/pm2-root.service to /etc/systemd/system/pm2-root.service. [PM2] [v] Command successfully executed. +---------------------------------------+ [PM2] Freeze a process list on reboot via: $ pm2 save [PM2] Remove init script via: $ pm2 unstartup systemd

PM2 is now running as a systemd service.

You can list all the processes PM2 is managing with the pm2 list command:

  • pm2 list

You'll see your application in the list, with the ID of 0:

Output
┌──────────┬────┬──────┬──────┬────────┬─────────┬────────┬─────┬───────────┬───────┬──────────┐ │ App name │ id │ mode │ pid │ status │ restart │ uptime │ cpu │ mem │ user │ watching │ ├──────────┼────┼──────┼──────┼────────┼─────────┼────────┼─────┼───────────┼───────┼──────────┤ │ server │ 0 │ fork │ 9075 │ online │ 0 │ 4m │ 0% │ 30.5 MB │ sammy │ disabled │ └──────────┴────┴──────┴──────┴────────┴─────────┴────────┴─────┴───────────┴───────┴──────────┘

In the preceding output, you'll notice that watching is disabled. This is a feature that reloads the server when you make a change to any of the application files. It's useful in development, but we don't need that feature in production.

To get more info about any of the running processes, use the pm2 show command, followed by its ID. In this case, the ID is 0:

  • pm2 show 0

This output shows the uptime, status, log file paths, and other info about the running application:

Output
Describing process with id 0 - name server ┌───────────────────┬──────────────────────────────────────────┐ │ status │ online │ │ name │ server │ │ restarts │ 0 │ │ uptime │ 7m │ │ script path │ /home/sammy/tcp-nodejs-app/server.js │ │ script args │ N/A │ │ error log path │ /home/sammy/.pm2/logs/server-error-0.log │ │ out log path │ /home/sammy/.pm2/logs/server-out-0.log │ │ pid path │ /home/sammy/.pm2/pids/server-0.pid │ │ interpreter │ node │ │ interpreter args │ N/A │ │ script id │ 0 │ │ exec cwd │ /home/sammy/tcp-nodejs-app │ │ exec mode │ fork_mode │ │ node.js version │ 8.11.2 │ │ watch & reload │ ✘ │ │ unstable restarts │ 0 │ │ created at │ 2018-05-30T19:29:45.765Z │ └───────────────────┴──────────────────────────────────────────┘ Code metrics value ┌─────────────────┬────────┐ │ Loop delay │ 1.12ms │ │ Active requests │ 0 │ │ Active handles │ 3 │ └─────────────────┴────────┘ Add your own code metrics: http://bit.ly/code-metrics Use `pm2 logs server [--lines 1000]` to display logs Use `pm2 monit` to monitor CPU and Memory usage server

If the application status shows an error, you can use the error log path to open and review the error log to debug the error:

  • cat /home/tcp/.pm2/logs/server-error-0.log

If you make changes to the server code, you'll need to restart the application's process to apply the changes, like this:

  • pm2 restart 0

PM2 is now managing the application. Now we'll use Nginx to proxy requests to the server.

Step 4 — Set Up Nginx as a Reverse Proxy Server

Your application is running and listening on 127.0.0.1, which means it will only accept connections from the local machine. We will set up Nginx as a reverse proxy which will handle incoming traffic and direct it to our server.

To do this, we'll modify the Nginx configuration to use the stream {} and stream_proxy features of Nginx to forward TCP connections to our Node.js server.

We have to edit the main Nginx configuration file as the stream block that configures TCP connection forwarding only works as a top-level block. The default Nginx configuration on Ubuntu loads server blocks within the http block of the file, and the stream block can't be placed within that block.

Open the file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf in your editor:

  • sudo nano /etc/nginx/nginx.conf

Add the following lines at the end of your configuration file:

/etc/nginx/nginx.conf

...

stream {
    server {
      listen 3000;
      proxy_pass 127.0.0.1:7070;        
      proxy_protocol on;
    }
}

This listens for TCP connections on port 3000 and proxies the requests to your Node.js server running on port 7070. If your application is set to listen on a different port, update the proxy pass URL port to the correct port number. The proxy_protocol directive tells Nginx to use the PROXY protocol to send client information to backend servers, which can then process that information as needed.

Save the file and exit the editor.

Check your Nginx configuration to ensure you didn't introduce any syntax errors:

  • sudo nginx -t

Next, restart Nginx to enable the TCP and UDP proxy functionality:

  • sudo systemctl restart nginx

Next, allow TCP connections to our server on that port. Use ufw to allow connections on port 3000:

  • sudo sudo ufw allow 3000

Assuming that your Node.js application is running, and your application and Nginx configurations are correct, you should now be able to access your application via the Nginx reverse proxy.

Step 5 — Testing the Client-Server Connection

Let's test the server out by connecting to the TCP server from our local machine using the client.js script. To do so, you'll need to download the client.js file you developed to your local machine and change the port and IP address in the script.

First, on your local machine, download the client.js file using scp:

  • [environment local
  • scp sammy@your_server_ip:~/tcp-nodejs-app/client.js client.js

Open the client.js file in your editor:

  • [environment local
  • nano client.js

Change the port to 3000 and change the host to your server's IP address:

client.js
// A Client Example to connect to the Node.js TCP Server
const net = require('net');
const client = new net.Socket();
const port = 3000;
const host = 'your_server_ip';
...

Save the file, exit the editor, and test things out by running the client:

  • node client.js

You'll see the same output you saw when you ran it before, indicating that your client machine has connected through Nginx and reached your server:

client.js Output
Connected Server Says : 127.0.0.1:34584 said PROXY TCP4 your_local_ip_address your_server_ip 52920 3000 Hello From Client your_local_ip_address

Since Nginx is proxying client connections to your server, your Node.js server won't see the real IP addresses of the clients; it will only see Nginx's IP address. Nginx doesn't support sending the real IP address to the backend directly without making some changes to your system that could impact security, but since we enabled the PROXY protocol in Nginx, the Node.js server is now receiving an additional PROXY message that contains the real IP. If you need that IP address, you can adapt your server to process PROXY requests and parse out the data you need.

You now have your Node.js TCP application running behind an Nginx reverse proxy and can continue to develop your server further.

Conclusion

In this tutorial you created a TCP application with Node.js, ran it with PM2, and served it behind Nginx. You also created a client application to connect to it from other machines. You can use this application to handle large chunks of data streams or to build real-time messaging applications.

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