How to Install Node.js and Nginx on Debian

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Node.js is a JavaScript platform which can serve dynamic, responsive content. JavaScript is usually a client-side, browser language like HTML or CSS. However, Node.js is a server-side, JavaScript platform, comparable to PHP. Node.js often works with other popular server applications like NGINX or Apache. In this guide, NGINX is configured to handle front-end, static file requests, and Node.js is configured to handle back-end file requests.

Install and Configure NGINX

This guide can be started immediately after terminal login on a new Linode, it’s written for the root user. However, before installation you might want to make sure the Linode is up-to-date with our Getting Started guide and secured with our Securing Your Server guide.

  1. Install:

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    apt-get install nginx
    
  2. Start NGINX:

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    service nginx start
    
  3. Change the working directory to the NGINX sites-available directory:

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    cd /etc/nginx/sites-available/
    
  4. Create a new sites-available file, replacing example.com with your domain or IP address:

    /etc/nginx/sites-available/example.com
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    #Names a server and declares the listening port
    server {
      listen 80;
      server_name example.com www.example.com;
    
      #Configures the publicly served root directory
      #Configures the index file to be served
      root /var/www/example.com;
          index index.html index.htm;
    
      #These lines create a bypass for certain pathnames
      #www.example.com/test.js is now routed to port 3000 
      #instead of port 80
      location /test.js {
          proxy_pass http://localhost:3000;
          proxy_set_header Host $host;
      }
    }
    
  5. Change the working directory to the NGINX sites-enabled directory:

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    cd /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/
    
  6. Create a symlink to the new example sites-available file:

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    ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/example.com
    
  7. Remove the default symlink:

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    rm default
    
  8. Load the new NGINX configuration:

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    service nginx reload
    

Create the Directories and HTML Index File

NGINX is now configured. However, the example.com server block points to directories and files that still need to be created.

  1. Create the /var/www and /var/www/example.com directories:

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    mkdir -p /var/www/example.com
    
  2. Change the working directory:

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    cd /var/www/example.com
    
  3. Create the HTML index file:

    /var/www/example.com/index.html
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      <!DOCTYPE html>
      <html>
      <body>
    
      <br>
      <br>
    
      <center>
      <p>
      <b>
      If you have not finished the <a href="https://linode.com/docs/websites/nodejs/nodejs-nginx-debian">guide</a>, the button below will not work.
      </b>
      </p>
      </center>
    
      <center>
      <p>
      The button links to test.js. The test.js request is passed through NGINX and then handled by the Node.js server.
      </p>
      </center>
    
      <center>
      <a href="test.js">
      <button type="button">Go to test.js</button>
      </a>
      </center>
    
      </body>
      </html>
    

Install Node.js and Write a Web Server

NGINX is now listening on port 80 and serving content. It’s also configured to pass /test.js requests to port 3000. The next steps are to install Node.js, then write a server with Node.js. The new server listens on port 3000.

  1. Install the Node Version Manager:

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    curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/creationix/nvm/v0.20.0/install.sh | bash
    
  2. Close and reopen your terminal.

  3. Install Node.js:

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    nvm install 0.10
    
  4. While still in the /var/www/example.com directory, create a Node.js server:

    /var/www/example.com/server.js
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      //nodejs.org/api for API docs
      //Node.js web server                         
      var http = require("http"),                           //Import Node.js modules
          url = require("url"),                             
          path = require("path"),
          fs = require("fs");
    
      http.createServer(function(request, response) {       //Create server 
      var name = url.parse(request.url).pathname;           //Parse URL
      var filename = path.join(process.cwd(), name);        //Create filename
      fs.readFile(filename, "binary", function(err, file) { //Read file
          if(err) {                                         //Tracking Errors
              response.writeHead(500, {"Content-Type": "text/plain"});
              response.write(err + "\n");
              response.end();
              return;
          }
          response.writeHead(200);                          //Header request response 
          response.write(file, "binary");                   //Sends body response
          response.end();                                   //Signals to server that 
       });                                                  //header and body sent
      }).listen(3000);                                      //Listening port 
      console.log("Server is listening on port 3000.")      //Terminal output
    
  5. Run a new screen session:

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    screen
    
  6. Press return and run the Node.js server:

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    node server.js
    
  7. Exit the screen by pressing Ctrl+a then d.

Create the Test.js File

NGINX is listening on port 80 and passing any /test.js requests to port 3000. Node.js is listening on port 3000 and serving any file requests. Next, write a /test.js file.

  1. Create the file:

    /var/www/example.com/test.js
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      <!DOCTYPE html>
      <html>
      <body>
            
      <center>
      <h2> 
      Your Node.JS server is working.
      </h2>
      </center>
                    
      <center>
      <p>
      The below button is technically dynamic. You are now using Javascript on both the client-side and the server-side. 
      </p>
      </center>
      <br>
            
      <center>
      <button type="button"
      onclick="document.getElementById('sample').innerHTML = Date()">
      Display the date and time.
      </button>
      <p id="sample"></p>
      </center>
            
      </body>
      </html>
    
  2. Test the NGINX server at the IP address or domain. Use the “Go to test.js” button to test that the Node.js server is serving files. On the test page, the “Display the date and time” button will execute a client-side snippet of javascript to return the current time.


Node.js and NGINX are now working together. Route requests to one server or the other depending on your needs. Node.js offers a large API with many tools. With Node.js, a developer can stay within the JavaScript language while working client-side or server-side.

For next steps, look into technologies like WebSockets, iframes, or framesets. And for developing in JavaScript, try Express.js, Ember.js, jQuery, or the Node Package Manager for modules.

More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

This guide is published under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.