Node.js 5: No rest between releases

A mere month after Version 4 dropped, Node.js 5 debuts with new features but only short-term support

Version 4 of the JavaScript-powered Node.js runtime was released only last month, but its developers have already whipped the covers off Node.js 5.

Why the new version, and why so soon? Mainly to provide late-breaking features that developers may want to adopt now -- but they come with a short-term (eight month) support cycle. For those who want or must use a version with a long-term (30 month) support cycle, version 6 is set for April 2016.

Most of the improvements in Node 5 are incremental, but two of the biggest changes reflect Node's renewed commitment to staying current. One is an upgrade from 4.5 to 4.6 of the v8 JavaScript engine, which supports new language features (the spread operator, for instance). The other is support for version 3.3.6 of Npm. Among other attributes, the new Npm professes to be many times faster than the 2.14.7 version.

The Node.js Foundation has good reason to maintain a snappy pace for releases. An earlier strategy, where releases were more stately and less predictable, sparked criticism and dissent within the community -- to the point where a separate incarnation of Node.js, io.js, emerged in response. Io.js and Node.js have since reconciled, and timely releases of Node.js are now part of the overall plan.

One of the irritations developers face with the faster pace of Node.js development is making sure that native add-ons work properly across versions. Node's solution, the Node Abstraction Layer, is guaranteed to work across at least the two most recent long-term support versions of Node.

It's unlikely that the changes in Node 5 will break common applications, but any medium-size to large enterprise deployment of Node will want to stick with the current 4.2.x branch for maximum compatibility.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.