Node Streams: The Complete Guide

I am using node.js version v11.3.0, and your version might be v10, but it does not matter here. The Stream is an abstract interface working with streaming data in Node.js.

The stream module provides the base API, making it easy to build the objects that implement the stream interface.

Node Streams

Node streams are collections of data just like arrays or strings. The difference between arrays and streams is that streams might not be available all at once, and they don’t have to fit in the memory.

This feature makes streams more powerful when working with massive amounts of data or data from the external source one chunk at a time. Many of the built-in modules in Node implement the streaming interface.

So Stream data are not available at once, but they are available at some point in time in the form of chunk data. That is why developing a streaming web application like Netflix or Youtube is beneficial.

Streams can be readable, writable, or both.  All streams are instances of EventEmitter.

The following statement can access the stream module.

const stream = require('stream');

Why Streams

Streams primarily provide the following advantages.

  1. Memory efficiency: You don’t need to carry massive amounts of data in memory before you can process it.
  2. Time efficiency: It takes way less time to start processing the data as soon as you have it, rather than waiting till the whole data payload is available to start the process.

Types of Streams

There are four fundamental stream types in Node.js:

Let us take a basic simple example of filesystem module streams.

Create a project folder using the following command.

mkdir streams

Go inside that folder, create a file called the server.js and add the following code.

// server.js

const http = require('http')
const fs = require('fs')

const server = http.createServer(function (req, res) {
  fs.readFile('data.txt', (err, data) => {
server.listen(3000, () => {
  console.log('server is running')

Here, we used the http module to create a web server and imported the fs, the filesystem module for node.js applications.

When the server starts, we are reading the content of the file data.txt and send the response to that data to a client.

So, we can see the output inside the browser.

Save that file and create one more file inside the root called data.txt and add the following code.

// data.txt

node streams
file streams

Go to the terminal and start the node server using the following command.

node server

Switch to the browser and go to this URL: http://localhost:3000/

We can see the content of the data.txt file.

Here, one thing you can note is that when the reading of the file is completed, it will send a response. So, if the file is huge, it takes some time to read the whole file and send it back to the client.

We can overcome this problem by using the Stream. As we have discussed earlier, streams can emit chunks of data to the client at some time intervals.

Once some chunk of data is read, it will be emitted to the client.

We can use the Streams in the above example like this.

// server.js

const http = require('http')
const fs = require('fs')

const server = http.createServer((req, res) => {
  const stream = fs.createReadStream('data.txt')
server.listen(3000, () => {
  console.log('Node.js stream on port 3000');

Instead of waiting until the file is read, we can start streaming it to the HTTP client as soon as we have the chunk of data ready to be sent.

Example 2

Let us take a second example of Node.js Stream. Write the following code inside a server.js file.

// server.js

const fs = require('fs')

let data = ''

const readerStream = fs.createReadStream('data.txt')


readerStream.on('data', (chunk) => {
   data += chunk

readerStream.on('end',() => {

readerStream.on('error', (err) => {

console.log('Node readerStream');

Here, we get the output inside the terminal because we have not used any web server. This example is an instance of a node eventemitter.

  • data − This event is fired when there is data available for reading.

  • end − This event is fired when there is no more data to read.
  • error − This event is fired when an error receives or writes data.
  • finish − This event is fired when all the data has been flushed to the underlying system.

Writable Streams

Write the following code inside a server.js file.

// server.js

const fs = require('fs')

const data = 'Writable Stream Example'

const writerStream = fs.createWriteStream('write.txt')



writerStream.on('finish', function() {
   console.log('Writing completed');

writerStream.on('error', function(err) {

console.log('Streaming Ended')

When the server starts, if the file is not there, it will create it and write the data inside it, and then when the writing is over, we can see the output inside the terminal and the newly created file.

Piping the Streams

Piping is a mechanism where we provide the output of one stream as the input to another stream. It is usually used to get data from one stream and pass that stream’s output to another stream.

// server.js

const fs = require('fs')

const readerStream = fs.createReadStream('data.txt')

const writerStream = fs.createWriteStream('data2.txt')


console.log('Piping ended')

So, here, we are reading the data from the data.txt file and writing the data to the other file called data2.txt.

We have piped the readerStream to writerStream.

Difference between fs.readFile() and fs.createReadStream()

The fs.readFile() loads the file and reads it into memory, and then writes it to respond, whereas fs.createReadStream() sends chunks of file like writing small chunks of file, dividing the entire process into that chunk size of file writing which reduces memory load and memory wastage/garbage reduction.

That’s it.

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