NestJS vs Express: Which Framework is Right for You?

· Milan Kovacic


When it comes to building server-side applications in Node.js, and choosing a javascript backend framework, two frameworks often come to mind: NestJS and Express.js. While they both have their strengths, they differ in terms of complexity, scalability, and development speed.

In this blog post, we will dive deep into NestJS vs Express and compare their features, performance, and use cases. By the end of this comparison, you should have a clear understanding of which framework suits your project best.

Understanding NestJS

NestJS is a Node.js framework for building server-side applications that prioritizes productivity. It uses TypeScript, which offers developers more reliable and elegant code compared to just using JavaScript. The architecture of NestJS is influenced by Angular.

Features of NestJS:

  • Modular Structure: NestJS promotes a modular approach, dividing the application into different sections to improve organization and maintainability.
  • Dependency Injection: This feature simplifies the development process by managing dependencies, resulting in a more efficient codebase.
  • Extensible: It allows flexibility through its use of decorators and the ability to integrate with other libraries seamlessly.

Benefits of Using NestJS for Backend Development:

  • Scalability: The framework is designed to handle growing applications, making it suitable for projects with future expansion plans.
  • TypeScript Support: NestJS utilizes TypeScript, providing type safety and reducing errors during runtime.
  • Angular-like Syntax: For developers already comfortable with Angular, the learning curve is significantly reduced due to similar design patterns and syntax.
  • Comprehensive Documentation: The framework has well-documented features that help speed up the development process.

NestJS is a comprehensive solution for backend development that caters to both small-scale projects and large enterprise systems. It provides the necessary tools for building modern web applications while keeping the development process simple and straightforward.

Exploring Express.js

Express.js is a popular Node.js web application framework known for its simplicity and efficiency. It is commonly used for building APIs and web applications in Node.js development.

Why Choose Express.js?

Here are some key features that make Express.js stand out:

  1. Minimalistic by Design: Express.js has a basic structure that allows you to add only the components you need. This simplicity makes it easy to set up and reduces complexity during development.
  2. Flexibility and Simplicity: Unlike other frameworks that enforce specific patterns or structures, Express.js gives you the freedom to organize your application as you prefer.
  3. Rapid Development: With its straightforward setup process, you can quickly get an application running, making it ideal for projects with tight deadlines.
  4. Robust Routing Mechanism: Express.js provides powerful tools for handling URL routing, making it efficient to create dynamic page content.
  5. Middleware Support: Express.js supports middleware, which allows you to preprocess requests before they reach your routes. This is useful for handling different types of HTTP requests.
  6. Template Engine Support: Express.js works well with various templating engines like Pug (formerly Jade), EJS, and Handlebars, making it easy to generate HTML pages based on templates.

Is Express.js Right for Your Project?

Express.js is known for its performance and is especially suitable for projects where:

  • You need full control over the architecture
  • You are working on smaller applications where a more opinionated framework may be too heavy

Comparing NestJS and Express.js

When you delve into the world of backend development, an inevitable choice you face is selecting the right framework. In this section, we’ll compare NestJS and Express.js, focusing primarily on their approach: opinionated vs un-opinionated.

Opinionated vs Un-opinionated Approach

At the heart of the Nest vs Express comparison lies the difference in their approaches to structuring applications. Here’s a brief explanation:

  • An opinionated framework provides a specific guideline for application structure. It comes with preset conventions and best practices, which can expedite development but may limit flexibility.
  • An un-opinionated framework, on the other hand, offers greater flexibility but leaves more decisions to developers. This can lead to inconsistency if not managed properly.

Now, let’s see how these concepts apply to our contenders.

NestJS - The Opinionated Framework

NestJS is an opinionated framework. It has a strong architectural approach based on modules, controllers, services, and providers. This architecture streamlines application development by providing clear guidelines on how different parts of your application should interact.

For instance, NestJS encourages you to structure your code using modules and services. These encapsulate related functionalities together and make your code easier to maintain and test.

The dependency injection feature in NestJS also promotes clean code principles by managing dependencies for you. It handles creating and reusing instances of classes across your application, thereby reducing code duplication and improving testability.

Express.js - The Un-opinionated Framework

On the contrary, Express.js is an un-opinionated framework. It gives you the freedom to structure your application as you see fit. You decide how to organize your routes, where to place your business logic, or even which libraries or tools to use.

This adaptability might be beneficial when creating distinct applications that don’t abide by conventional structures. Nevertheless, without establishing and adhering to your own set of rules, it could result in a chaotic codebase.

In the NestJS vs Express.js comparison, both frameworks have their strengths and weaknesses. NestJS is a good choice when you need a solid structure, while Express.js stands out when you require flexibility. The selection depends on your project requirements and your comfort level with setting and following conventions.


Express.js is known for its lightweight and fast nature. It has less overhead compared to NestJS, which includes features like dependency injection and decorators. However, it’s worth noting that NestJS uses Express.js by default, but also gives developers the option to utilize Fastify as an alternative.

The difference in performance might not be significant unless you’re dealing with extremely high traffic or have specific performance requirements. In most cases, the choice between NestJS and Express.js should be based on factors like code maintainability, scalability, and development speed.

Ultimately, it’s important to consider your project’s unique needs and weigh the trade-offs before making a decision between these two frameworks.

Application Architecture and Scalability

When you’re building large-scale applications, the structure and underlying architecture of your chosen framework can be pivotal for long-term success. NestJS, with its opinionated approach, offers a comprehensive application architecture that aligns with enterprise patterns and scales efficiently.

Why Choose NestJS for Application Architecture?

NestJS is designed to address the challenges of building complex applications by providing a set of architectural principles and tools:

  1. Modular Organization: NestJS promotes a modular structure, allowing developers to organize code into separate modules that encapsulate related functionality. This modularity is not just beneficial for maintaining a clean codebase but crucial for scaling as it enables teams to work on different features simultaneously without causing conflicts.
  2. Code Reusability: Thanks to its modular system, NestJS enhances code reusability. You can easily share providers across different modules which is invaluable in large applications where certain functionalities are needed across various parts of the app.
  3. Dependency Injection: NestJS’s support for advanced dependency injection further simplifies unit testing and maintenance. By decoupling components, you ensure that each part of the application can be developed, tested, and debugged independently.
  4. Microservices Support: For truly scalable architectures, NestJS facilitates the development of microservices out-of-the-box. This is essential for applications that require high throughput and resilience by distributing workloads across multiple services.

The Benefits of NestJS Over Express.js

In contrast, Express.js’s un-opinionated framework provides simplicity and flexibility at the cost of lacking a predefined application structure. While this allows you to design the architecture as you see fit, it may require additional effort to establish patterns conducive to scalability.

NestJS utilizes Express.js by default, combining the robustness of its architecture with the simplicity of Express. However, it does so without limiting developers to Express alone; if required, you can switch out Express for another library like Fastify to fine-tune performance.

The Application Architecture in NestJS ensures that your application is built on a solid foundation, making it easier to expand and maintain as user base or feature set grows. Scalability in NestJS is not an afterthought but a fundamental aspect embodied through its architectural choices.

Developer Experience

In the NestJS vs Express.js comparison, developer experience plays a significant role. NestJS, an opinionated framework, offers an enriched and streamlined development environment. This is largely due to its comprehensive toolset and structured approach.

NestJS: A Comprehensive and Structured Approach

NestJS utilizes Express.js by default, combining the simplicity of Express with a robust set of features. The inbuilt Nest CLI supports developers with tasks such as project initialization, adding components or modules, and running unit tests. This aids in faster development cycles and easy maintenance.

NestJS’s architecture is inspired by Angular - a detail that Angular developers will appreciate as it allows for a smoother transition between frontend and backend development. Embracing TypeScript adds static typing and enhances code quality by preventing common JavaScript errors.

Express.js: Flexibility Without Constraints

On the other hand, Express.js is an un-opinionated framework, meaning it imposes no specific way of doing things. While this offers flexibility, it can result in more decisions for developers to make. Each new project can mean starting from scratch, which might not be ideal for larger projects requiring a standardized structure.

The choice between the battery-included NestJS or the simple Express.js depends on your project needs and personal preference for structure versus flexibility.

Next up, let’s dive into suitable use cases for both frameworks to further refine this comparison.

Use Cases

In the NestJS vs Express.js comparison, it’s crucial to dive into their respective use cases to understand where each framework shines.

NestJS Use Cases

NestJS, being a battery-included, opinionated framework, comes bundled with numerous features out of the box. This makes it a robust choice for:

  • Complex Enterprise Applications: Its modular architecture and support for TypeScript make NestJS ideal for developing large-scale enterprise applications that require robustness, long-term maintainability, and adherence to business complexities.
  • Microservices Architecture: With its built-in support for microservices patterns, NestJS is a go-to choice for projects looking to adopt a microservices architecture, enabling seamless development and scaling of individual service components.
  • API Gateways: NestJS’s comprehensive toolkit, including features like dependency injection and modularization, provides a solid foundation for building API gateways that manage authentication, authorization, and routing to various microservices.

Express.js Use Cases

On the other hand, Express.js, known for its simplicity as an un-opinionated framework, offers more flexibility and control over your application structure. This makes it more suitable for:

  • Prototyping and Small Projects: Its minimalistic core makes Express.js perfect for prototyping and building small to medium-sized projects where development speed and flexibility are key.
  • Custom Web Applications: For projects requiring a unique setup without the constraints of a full-fledged framework, Express.js offers the freedom to tailor your stack as needed, integrating only the libraries and middleware that your application requires.
  • Real-Time Applications: Express.js’s lightweight nature and efficient handling of HTTP requests make it suitable for real-time applications, such as chat apps or live notifications, where performance and low latency are critical.

Each of these frameworks presents unique advantages depending on the specific needs of your project. Remember, NestJS utilizes Express.js by default but also gives you the ability to switch over to Fastify if you require better performance. In this regard, understanding your project’s scope and requirements plays a significant role in determining which framework will serve you best.


Choosing the right framework is a crucial decision in any project, and its importance cannot be emphasized enough. Your choice can significantly impact the project’s development speed, scalability, and maintainability.

Your project requirements should be the guiding factor in this decision. Here’s a quick summary of when each framework might be the best fit:

  • NestJS: Ideal for enterprise-level applications or when you need a structured approach with a robust architecture.
  • Express.js: Perfect for simple APIs or when you value flexibility and minimalism.

Both frameworks have their strengths, so it’s essential to carefully consider your project’s needs before making a decision. Take the time to explore each framework and understand what they offer before finalizing this crucial choice.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is NestJS?

NestJS is a Node.js framework for building server-side applications, known for its comprehensive and structured approach.

Why choose Express.js?

Express.js is known for its performance and flexibility without constraints. It is especially suitable for small to medium-sized projects that require a lightweight and fast framework.

How does NestJS compare to Express.js?

NestJS is an opinionated framework with a strong architectural design, while Express.js is un-opinionated, providing more flexibility without imposing any specific structure or design pattern.

What are the benefits of using NestJS over Express.js?

NestJS offers a comprehensive and structured approach, addressing the challenges of building complex applications. It also provides a modular structure and built-in support for TypeScript, making it suitable for large-scale projects.

What are the use cases for NestJS and Express.js?

NestJS is suitable for building complex, large-scale applications due to its comprehensive architecture and scalability. On the other hand, Express.js is more suitable for smaller to medium-sized projects that require flexibility and speed.