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Crash Course to CompoundJS

This guide demonstrates how to create a simple compound app using the included generators.

Goal: to build a working application without any knowledge of the express framework, learn how to structure a compoundjs app, use the tools that come with the compoundjs framework, and get a quick overview of compounds main features.

What is compound?

Before we start, let's take a look at the compound framework. Compound's formula is Express + structure + extensions. Where structure is the standard layout of directories, and extensions are node modules adding functionality to the framework. Compound's goal is to provide an obvious and well-organized interface for express compatible application development. This means that everything that works with express will work with compound.

Now we can start building our first app. Let's create a todo-list app with a RESTful API and a web interface.

First steps: install compound and generate app

  1. if not already installed, install nodejs (v 0.8.0+) - If you have node installed you can test your version with: node --version

  2. install compound using npm. Doing this globally enables the compound command line tool. You might need to sudo.

    npm install compound -g or sudo npm install compound -g

  3. generate the todo-list app using the compound command line. This creates an application with the default compoundjs structure.

    compound init todo-list-app

  4. install the dependencies (see package.json for default dependencies. They will be downloaded to the node_modules dir)

    cd todo-list-app && npm install

Now that we have the initial compound app structure, we can run your new compoundjs application.

Let's run the command node . and then open http://localhost:3000/ in a browser.

NOTE the node . command is simple way to run the application in the current directory. You also can run node server.js or coffee or even compound server. the result will be the same, we will learn the differences later.

After opening localhost:3000 in a browser we will see a welcome page with some links and debug info (this appears after you click on the corresponding link). This is a static file located ./public/index.html. Everything in the ./public dir will be available to your app as static content so client-side javascripts and stylesheets should be saved here.

NOTE some javascript files and stylesheets may be generated from coffee or sass / less / stylus. Sources for these files are located at ./app/assets and compiled automatically using co-assets-compiler extension module.

Generate scaffolding for Lists

Run this command:

`compound generate scaffold list name`

It will generate all necessary files for the List model.

if you haven't already done so, stop the server using the CTRL+C hotkey and restart it using node . (or your preferred startup command) so that you can review the changes in your browser.

In development mode every modification of an existing model, controller or view file will be updated automatically, but when you modify routes or schema you have to restart the server manually. Alternatively use the node-dev command (npm install node-dev first) to restart server automatically on every file change.

Now, visit http://localhost:3000/lists to see the new version of your app.

Now that we have some files in our application, it's time to explore the structure. Let's get a brief overview of the files we have to get our new lists CRUD functionality (create-read-update-delete) working.

Explore app structure


Let's start with routes because this is the first place in the compound stack where request handling happens. In other words, when you open http://localhost:3000/lists in your browser, the router should decide what part of the application should handle this request. Routes are configuration rules that explain to the application what paths your application can handle.

Routes are listed in the file config/routes.js which looks like this:

exports.routes = function (map) {

The line map.resources('lists'); was added by the list scaffolding generator. The command compound routes will generate a table that shows all the routes that are available to the app.
Note how the line "map.resources('lists');" generates a collection of predefined routes.

     lists GET    /lists.:format?          lists#index
     lists POST   /lists.:format?          lists#create
  new_list GET    /lists/new.:format?      lists#new
 edit_list GET    /lists/:id/edit.:format? lists#edit
      list DELETE /lists/:id.:format?      lists#destroy
      list PUT    /lists/:id.:format?      lists#update
      list GET    /lists/:id.:format?      lists#show
           ALL    /:controller/:action     undefined#undefined
           ALL    /:controller/:action/:id undefined#undefined

In this table the first column shows the route helper name, the second describes the method (aka verb) for the route, the third describes the route itself, and the last column shows the controller#action that handles the request. As you can see, a route is a pattern that defines what a resource request will look like in the address bar of a browser. When a browser asks the server for a route like /lists/1/ the router will test it against these patterns to determine how to handle it.

Note that the word Request has special meaning in Node programming.
It refers to the object created whenever a browser requests the server do anything. To anyone visiting your app in a browser the request is represented by the address in the address bar. To your app the request is represented by the req object. That object contains several properties including the address that the browser requested.

To make the process of including routes in pages easier, Compound includes router helpers. The helper name should be used to generate paths, and all route helpers are available as methods on the pathTo object. These next examples show the output of calling the list router helpers:

pathTo.lists() // '/lists'
pathTo.lists({format: 'json'}); // '/lists.json'
pathTo.list(1); // '/lists/1'
pathTo.list(1, {format: 'json'}); // '/lists/1.json'
pathTo.list({id: 1, format: 'json'}); // '/lists/1.json'
pathTo.new_list(); // '/lists/new'
pathTo.edit_list(1); // '/lists/1/edit'
pathTo.edit_list('my-list'); // '/lists/my-list/edit'

By default path helpers are generated with underscores as word separators. This behavior will be changed in future versions and it's highly recommended to add the line map.camelCaseHelperNames = true; to the top of the router file to generate the names in camelCase: newList and editList instead of new_list and edit_list


When a route is matched request handling is passed to the corresponding controller#action. Controllers are located in ./app/controllers. For example, our list controller is described in ./app/controllers/lists.js.

Please note that the name of the controller you've generated using the scaffolding generator ends with _controller. This is just a different format of a controller name. What this alternate name means is that the controller code will be evaled in controllerContext, this is called a 'eval-controller'. When the file doesn't end with _controller it is a 'noeval controller'. ControllerContext and the differences between eval and noeval controllers are explained in API docs for controller

The controller consists of a set of actions and hooks. Both actions and hooks should handle the request or call next() if the request could not be handled. If next() is called, control will be returned to the router which will then try to match the next route to handle this request. Otherwise, if the action could not handle the request because of an error, you can call next(err) and then control will be passed to error handler express middleware (skipping all routes).

Hooks allow you to prepare the environment before an action or do something additional after an action. For example, load a list before the edit, update, show actions.
This tool allows for DRYer controllers.

Other than next(err), the most common results of an action are render, send and redirect. Each of which return output to the broweser.

The most important thing to remember about controllers is that controllers should not contain any business logic. While you can validate your data, and do things to it before calling_create_ and update on your model, all other business logic is better left to the model. Best practice is to do everything in model, keep your controllers skinny and use a proper ORM module which ships validation and hooks.


In a controller, an action may decide to render a view. All the views in a compound application are located in ./app/views. There is also a special directory for layouts: ./app/views/layouts. Every view or layout inside app/views could be rendered using the render method within controllerContext. Note that you should omit the extention when calling render(). The last rule is be lazy; do not specify the view name when it is the same as the action name. For example, from within lists_controller.js a call like:

action('index', function() {

Will render the view 'lists/index' located in ./app/views/lists/index.ejs within the layout. The convention is that unless you are calling a view with a name other than the action name, you can omit it.


A layout is a view wrapping the target view, this pattern allows truly modular output. With Layouts & Views you can put all of the HTML that is consistant for a group of views inside one Layout. An example of this might be having the header and the footer for your app inside the layout and all the process or page specific pieces inside your views but it an be much more powerful than this as well. By convention, the layout called will share the same name as the controller. A rendered view is passed into a layout as the body variable. To render a view without layout you can specify {layout: false} as a param of the render method, or just this.layout = false inside controllerContext. You also can specify what layout you want to render using c.layout('name'); within controllerContext:

action('landing', function(c) {


Anatoliy Chakkaev

Daniel Lochrie