by Paul Breslin

How to write beautiful Node.js APIs using async/await and the Firebase Database

This tutorial will cover the typical use cases you’ll come across when writing RESTful API endpoints to read and write to a Firebase Database instance.

There will be a focus on beautiful asynchronous code, which makes use of the async/await feature in Node.js (available in v7.6 and above).

(Feel free to smile sweetly as you wave goodbye to callback hell ?)

Prerequisites

I’ll assume that you already have a Node.js application set up with the Firebase Admin SDK. If not, then check out the official setup guide.

Writing data

First off, let’s create an example POST endpoint which will save words to our Firebase Database instance:

This is a very basic endpoint which takes a userId and a word value, then saves the given word to a words collection. Simple enough.

But something’s wrong. We’re missing error handling! In the example above, we return a 201 status code (meaning the resource was created), even if the word wasn’t properly saved to our Firebase Database instance.

So, let’s add some error handling:

Now that the endpoint returns accurate status codes, the client can display a relevant message to the user. For example, “Word saved successfully.” Or “Unable to save word, click here to try again.”

Note: if some of the ES2015+ syntax looks unfamiliar to you, check out the Babel ES2015 guide.

Reading data

OK, now that we’ve written some data to our Firebase Database, let’s try reading from it.

First, let’s see what a GET endpoint looks like using the original promise-based method:

Again, simple enough. Now let’s compare it with an async/await version of the same code:

Note the async keyword added before the function parameters (req, res) and the await keyword which now precedes the db.ref() statement.

The db.ref() method returns a promise, which means we can use the await keyword to “pause” execution of the script. (The await keyword can be used with any promise).

The final res.send() method will only run after the db.ref() promise is fulfilled.

That’s all well and good, but the true beauty of async/await becomes apparent when you need to chain multiple asynchronous requests.

Let’s say you had to run a number of asynchronous functions sequentially:

Not pretty. This is also known as the “pyramid of doom” (and we haven’t even added error handlers yet).

Now take a look at the above snippet rewritten to use async/await:

No more pyramid of doom! What’s more, all of the await statements can be wrapped in a single try/catch block to handle any errors:

Parallel async/await requests

What about cases where you need to fetch multiple records from your Firebase Database at the same time?

Easy. Just use the Promise.all() method to run Firebase Database requests in parallel:

One more thing

When creating an endpoint to return data retrieved from a Firebase Database instance, be careful not to simply return the entire snapshot.val(). This can cause an issue with JSON parsing on the client.

For example, say your client has the following code:

The snapshot.val() returned by Firebase can either be a JSON object, or null if no record exists. If null is returned, the response.json() in the above snippet will throw an error, as it’s attempting to parse a non-object type.

To protect yourself from this, you can use Object.assign() to always return an object to the client:

Thanks for reading!

Interested in seeing a real-world project built on top of Firebase and Node.js? Check out Vocabify, the vocabulary builder that helps you remember the words you come across.