A more sophisticated Bitcoin-powered crowdfunder.
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This is a simple template app for a Bitcoin-based crowdfunding site that adds even more server-side and client-side dynamic behavior over our earlier template. It uses three of the four technologies in the so-called MEAN stack: Express (E), Angular (A), and Node (N), and replaces MongoDB / Mongoose (M) with PostgreSQL / Sequelize. The app illustrates several of the following conceptual topics:

  • Implementing multiple routes (1, 2)

  • Factoring out constants/settings into separate files (1, 2)

  • Factoring out secure server-side configuration variables into .env files (1, 2)

  • Using async.series to force a database update, followed by a launch of the webserver (1)

  • Using async.mapLimit and async.eachLimit to limit the number of simultaneous queries to a remote API and to a database respectively (1, 2)

  • Using asynchronous code to set up a recurring background process (a "daemon") (1)

  • Visualizing ORM instances in the browser (1, 2)

  • Client-side templating with AngularJS (1, 2, 3)

  • Server-side templating with Embedded JS templates (1, 2, 3, 4)

  • Making a request to a remote API both on the server and in client-side code (1, 2, 3, 4)

  • Setting up a simple API (1, 2)

  • Reusing code by putting object manipulation code into instance/class methods (1, 2, 3)

  • Setting up a basic AngularJS controller (1, 2)

Let's install the app and then take a tour of the functionality.


To get the app up and running, execute the following commands on your EC2 instance:

curl https://raw.github.com/startup-class/setup/master/setup.sh | bash
exit # and then log in again
git clone https://github.com/startup-class/bitstarter-leaderboard.git
cd bitstarter-leaderboard

Running Locally on an EC2 Instance

Once you have done this you will need to :

  1. Copy the .env.dummy file into .env and include your API key from http://coinbase.com/account/integrations so that it looks like the snippet below. Note that COINBASE_API_KEY is a secure API key that should never be checked into a git repository; that's why we exclude it in the .gitignore.
$ cp .env.dummy .env
$ emacs -nw .env  # Add key from coinbase.com/account/integrations
$ cat .env
  1. Edit the constants.js file to include the preorder button from http://coinbase.com/merchant_tools. This is a non-secure code that is meant to be embedded in a public-facing webpage, so it's ok if you check this into git.
  COINBASE_PREORDER_DATA_CODE: "13b56883764b54e6ab56fef3bcc7229c",
  1. Now you can run the server locally and preview at a URL like http://ec2-54-213-131-228.us-west-2.compute.amazonaws.com:8080 as follows:
foreman start

You can determine the hostname of your EC2 instance conveniently with this command:

curl -s
# ec2-54-213-192-71.us-west-2.compute.amazonaws.com

Try placing some orders and then going to the "/orders" URL at the top to see them recorded. Also refresh the page to see the thermometer update. Note that you will get an error if you didn't do the .env step above.

Running Remotely

Once the app works via foreman start on your EC2 machine, you can deploy to Heroku and push the configuration variables defined in .env as follows:

git push heroku master
heroku config:push

Then you can go to a URL like http://safe-dawn-4440.herokuapp.com and submit orders to test it out. Note again that you will get an "invalid api key" error if you didn't do the .env step above.


File Structure

Let's begin by taking a quick look at the files in the app. First, the major differences from github.com/startup-class/bitstarter-ssjs-db are as follows:

  • index.html is now replaced by the more sophisticated views/homepage.ejs template
  • .pgpass has a newline added to it, and a corresponding
  • CSS and JS have been pulled out of index.html and into public/css and public/js
  • A good deal of content has been added to the static files directory to reduce the number of HTTP requests to external servers.

Now let's go file by file:

Path Description
.env.dummy Used as template for .env. Has COINBASE_API_KEY from coinbase.com/account/integrations
.pgpass Used by pgsetup.sh to instantiate the db
constants.js Several constants, including COINBASE_PREORDER_DATA_CODE from coinbase.com/merchant_tools
models/coinbase.js Define a set of functions that downloads and parses remote Order data from Coinbase
models/index.js Initialize the connection between Sequelize and the PostgreSQL db.
models/order.js Define an Order class that works with data from the "Order" table in the PostgreSQL db
package.json Specify dependencies for the app
pgsetup.sh Invoked by setup-ssjs.sh to create the Postgres DB.
Procfile Heroku file that determines which processes are run upon deployment
public/css/bitstarter-styles.css CSS styles for views/homepage.ejs
public/fonts/opensans-300.woff Google Font file
public/fonts/ubuntu-300.woff Google Font file
public/fonts/ubuntu-700.woff Google Font file
public/img/480x300.gif Placeholder image
public/img/favicon.ico Favorite icon ('favicon') for bookmarks/favorites
public/js/angular.min.js Angular JS file (see angularjs.org). Used for thermometer on frontpage.
public/js/coinbase-post-payment.js Stub code to use once Coinbase fixes the coinbase_payment_complete event.
public/js/controllers.js Angular JS controllers. Contains controller for the thermometer in homepage.ejs.
public/js/google-analytics.js One of the two Google Analytics scripts. For ga.js.
README.md Documentation
routes.js Define the routes for the app: functions executed when specific URLs are requested.
setup-ssjs.sh Set up an EC2 instance. Invokes pgsetup.sh
views/homepage.ejs Template for the index (served up for example.com/)
views/orderpage.ejs Template for the order page (served up for example.com/orders)
web.js Initialize express app, syncs db, and start HTTP server


Express ('E' in MEAN)

We use Express to set up our web server. Skim the Express documentation and then take a look at web.js and routes.js to see how we set up the app and the valid routes. We've also factored out many static assets into subdirectories into /public.

Recall again that static assets are files that do not change. When users request example.com/img/480x300.gif they will get the same file every time (a static response). By contrast, a web page with content that changes based on client- or server-side parameters is a dynamic web page; for example, when a user requests example.com/orders they will see something that depends on the state of the database and thus will vary over time.

Note that in routes.js, we try to separate the code that handles requests and responses from the code that actually manipulates instances of the Order class. This illustrates a general principle: as much as possible, you should ask objects to manipulate themselves with instance methods and/or class methods rather than try to work with an object's guts externally; see models/order.js for details of doing this. We'll talk more about how this is done in the ORM section below, but for now note that most request handlers have the form of asking global.db for some data and then packing that data into an HTTP response of some kind.

In sum, Express is used here to organize the functions that are executed on the server to generate an HTTP response from an HTTP request - that is, to structure our webapp.

Server-Side Templating

For illustrative purposes, we do two kinds of templating in this app: server-side templating of views/homepage.ejs and views/orderpage.ejs, and client-side templating in the thermometer on the homepage via Angular JS (also in views/homepage.ejs.

Let's talk about server-side templating first. The specific templating engine here is set up in web.js, where we tell Express that .ejs (Embedded Javascript) files are our templates of choice via the line app.set('view engine', 'ejs').

Consider indexfn in routes.js. This uses response.render to take the file views/homepage.ejs and populate it with a JSON data structure. Specifically, the response.render invocation looks for variables in views/homepage.ejs (like <%= coinbase_preorder_data_code %> ) and replaces them with the corresponding field of the JSON data structure as defined in constants.js. It then wraps this in an HTTP response and returns it to the client.

A slightly more complex example is in orderfn, also in routes.js. Here we use the orders_json JSON data structure to populate the views/orderpage.ejs file via response.render, similar to what we did in indexfn. The main difference is that we put this logic in a callback and send it into global.db.Order.allToJSON, executing it right after the orders variable is built up via ORM and database operations.

These two examples illustrate the basic idea of server-side templating. Rather than returning a fully static file like public/img/480x300.gif, we separate out the static and dynamic portions. We put the parts that don't change (the static parts) into a template like views/orderpage.ejs and then populate this template dynamically with the remainder, returning the response to the client. All of this is done on the server and the computation is invisible to the client; they can't view the orders variable directly, for example, by looking at Network Requests in the Chrome Developer Tools. They just see one HTTP response in response to their HTTP request.

DB/ORM: PostgreSQL and Sequelize (Replaces 'M' in MEAN)

In this app we have a simple PostgreSQL relational database underlying the app that keeps a local mirror of the remote order data on Coinbase's servers. We create the db by running setup-ssjs.sh, which in turn invokes pgsetup.sh. We interface with this database via the Sequelize Object-Relational Mapper (ORM), which provides a Javascript API to a relational database. The following figure provides an overview; take a look at it and then read the subsequent documentation:

While this kind of setup is canonical, it's worth asking a few questions about why a relational database and object-relational mapper combination is so common in web applications today.

  • Why use a DB? First, you might ask why we don't simply keep the order data in a simple .json file and then reload it when the app boots up. This is the so-called 'flatfile' approach. We could certainly do this, but as our app scales and we get more and more data this approach has issues. For one thing, we would find it painful to modify the .json file simultaneously if we had multiple web-servers writing to the same dataset. For another, a naive .json file saved on disk will be very slow to search. As a third point, we may wish to extract information from this .json file in a different manner from the way in which we saved it. Each of these things - parallelized reads/writes, rapid searching, and easy reporting via the Structured Query Language (SQL) - is facilitated by converting our data from flatfiles and keeping it in a relational database like PostgreSQL.

  • Why use an ORM with the DB? Second, given that we are using a relational database, you might then ask why we don't simply interface directly with the relational database via a low-level library like node-postgres, which allows us to run SQL statements directly against the database. Why take on the overhead of an Object-Relational Mapper like Sequelize? The answer is that the so-called 'Active Record Paradigm' is a good match for many webapps. In a nutshell, the idea is that it is often very useful to conceive of tables in a relational database as mapping directly to classes, while rows of these tables contain the data for instances. In this framework the entire database can be thought of as an elaborate serialization/deserialization apparatus for Javascript objects. You rehydrate individual instances of JS classes from disk during the life of a program, and then dehydrate them and put them in cold storage (the relational database) when no longer needed in memory. That said, it's important to keep in mind that an ORM is a convenience and not a panacea: just as with flatfiles it is true that sometimes the Active Record paradigm breaks down and you need to directly interface with the database via SQL statements, for performance reasons or because you're doing some sort of report or dashboard that accesses the data via columns even though you saved it across rows.

  • Why use a relational DB rather than a NoSQL DB? As a third point, you might note that this combination of Sequelize and PostgreSQL replaces the Mongoose/MongoDB combination which is the 'M' in the MEAN stack. Why don't we just use the so-called NoSQL Mongoose/MongoDB combo? Well, Mongoose/MongoDB is certainly one way to go if you really want a completely full-stack JS app. However, PostgreSQL has excellent support for JS and JSON nowadays, and is more mature than MongoDB. Moreover, the advantages of a so-called schemaless or NoSQL approach are greatest at the beginning of an app when the schema is changing rapidly, but eventually it actually becomes useful to have a schema to catch errors and prevent invalid operations. You will often find yourself reinventing a schema in code if you go down the MongoDB path, albeit without the extent of low-level schema support provided by a relational DB like PostgreSQL.

Once we've decided on an ORM/DB combination, in general we want to keep most code related to manipulating data from the database in the corresponding class or instance methods (in our case in models/order.js). As a rough rule of thumb, class methods operate on every instance in the class (e.g. counts and totals), while instance methods access data associated with particular instances. So as an example you'd use a class method (like Order.totals) to sum up the total amount of Bitcoin sent over all orders, while you'd use an instance method (like a hypothetical myorder.amountInUSD method) to determine the equivalent USD amount for a given order in BTC. The latter method call needs the amount data on a specific Order instance, so it should be an instance method (though you might request and cache the exchange rate itself via a class method).

We put these class and instance method definitions in order.js, within the the sequelize.define invocation (see here). The main tricky part here is the value of this. Within a class method it refers to the entire class (in this case Order) while within an instance method it refers to a particular instance (e.g. myorder). Sometimes you need to save this variable and pass it in to a callback; we do this in addFromJSON to make the Order class accessible within a callback that runs on each individual instance.

Finally, here are some examples of working with the ORM in the node REPL.

    // Execute from within the top level directory after pgsetup:
    > require('./models')
    > global.db.Order.numOrders()
    Executing: SELECT count(*) as "count" FROM "Orders";
    There are 25 Orders
    > var foo = [];
    > global.db.Order.findAll().success(function(_orders) { global['foo'].push(_orders);});
    > var orders = foo[0];
    > orders[0].repr()
    { coinbase_id: '84XZQO6L',
      amount: 0.0001,
      time: '2013-08-10T10:31:33-07:00',
      id: 131,
      createdAt: Fri Aug 10 2013 19:57:29 GMT+0000 (UTC),
      updatedAt: Fri Aug 10 2013 19:57:29 GMT+0000 (UTC) }


Client-Side Templating

We previously discussed server-side templating and how we combine a static template (from order.ejs or homepage.ejs) with dynamic JSON data to create a dynamic HTTP response that varies with the state of the database. If you recall, our homepage.ejs was partially templated on the server-side in the indexfn within routes.js by replacement of the portions surrounded by special brackets, like the value of name below.

      <span class="icon-bar"></span>
      <span class="icon-bar"></span>
    <a class="brand" href="#"><%= name %></a>
    <div class="nav-collapse collapse">
      <ul class="nav">
        <li class="active"><a href="#">Home</a></li>
        <li><a href="#about">About</a></li>

However, you might have noticed an alternative bracket syntax coexisting within the homepage.ejs file, as shown surrounding num_orders below:

    <div class="span5 actions" ng-controller="OrdersCtrl">
      <div class="row-fluid">
      <div class="span8 offset2">
        <div class="row-fluid statistics">
          <div ng-show="!error">
            <div class="span4">
              <!-- linediv-l and linediv-r give dividing lines that look
              different in horizontal and vertical layouts, illustrating
              media queries. -->
              <div class="linediv-l">
              <h3>{{num_orders}}</h3> <p>backers</p>

This is because in homepage.ejs we are also using a second kind of templating: client-side templating. It is similar in concept to server-side templating, except the population of the static template with the JSON data occurs on the client side. Among other things, this means the client has access to a JSON API that is returning some data.

In this app, the place that we're doing some client-side templating is in the thermometer element. The data that comes from /api/orders is being used to update the thermometer. If you submit an order in a separate window, and wait for the Coinbase data to be refreshed (via the setInterval daemon in web.js) or manually refresh it yourself (by requesting /refresh_orders), the thermometer will then update upon a homepage refresh. You can think of this client-side templating implementation as simply populating the template variables in homepage.ejs with data on the client-side rather than on the server.

Angular: Two-Way Data Binding ('A' in MEAN)

But things are a little more complicated than that. We're actually using a client-side framework called AngularJS which offers something much more sophisticated than simple templating. It actually does full-on two-way databinding; see here for the concept and here for a worked example. The basic difference between one-way templating and two-way databinding is that in one-way templating the data is just used to populate variables in a template (e.g. homepage.ejs). In two-way databinding, however, actions on elements of a templated page (like clicking a button or typing into a form field) can in turn change the underlying data. Indeed, you can set it up such that the same data is editable from several different places within a page. Again, see here for the concept and here for a worked example. We aren't using all the features of two-way databinding in our thermometer, but it's worth understanding how Angular works in a simple use case.

To trace through the logic of how we're using Angular in our simple app, let's start with the four Angular directives that we're using in homepage.ejs: ng-app, ng-show, ng-style, and ng-controller. First, we put ng-app at the top of the file and include angular.min.js. Once the Javascript from angular.min.js is parsed and run by the browser, it will look through the DOM, find the ng-app declaration, and treat everything underneath that node as subject to control/updating by Angular. For simplicity, in this case we put ng-app at the very top node, in the <html> tag.

    <!DOCTYPE html>
    <html lang="en" ng-app>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title><%= title %></title>
        <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
        <script src="https://d396qusza40orc.cloudfront.net/startup/code/jquery.js"></script>
        <script src="https://d396qusza40orc.cloudfront.net/startup/code/bootstrap.js"></script>
        <script src="js/angular.min.js" ></script>
        <script src="js/controllers.js"></script>

Then, towards the middle of the file, we use three directives: ng-show, ng-style, and ng-controller. Of these, ng-controller is the most important. It sets up a relationship between this div and the code in public/js/controllers.js, which defines the OrdersCtrl function. If you look at public/js/controllers.js, it initiates an HTTP request to /api/orders, and uses the results to set up variables like num_orders and total_funded. It then uses these variables to populate the template expressions like {{num_orders}}.

We use the ng-show directive to set up conditional logic on the basis of whether or not the OrdersCtrl function call returned an error or not. If it did not (!error) then we display the thermometer stats. If an error was returned, we display an error message. Finally ng-style is used to apply a CSS style to an element dynamically based on one of the variables set up by OrdersCtrl, namely percentage_funded.

  <!-- We define a new 'actions' div to contain statistics, order, and share buttons.-->
  <div class="span5 actions" ng-controller="OrdersCtrl">
    <div class="row-fluid">
    <div class="span8 offset2">
      <div class="row-fluid statistics">
        <div ng-show="!error">
          <div class="span4">
            <!-- linediv-l and linediv-r give dividing lines that look
            different in horizontal and vertical layouts, illustrating
            media queries. -->
            <div class="linediv-l">
            <h3>{{num_orders}}</h3> <p>backers</p>
          <div class="span4">
            <div class="linediv-c">
              <h3>{{total_funded}}</h3> <p>of {{target}} <span class="currency">{{unit_symbol}}</span></p>
          <div class="span4">
            <div class="linediv-r">
            <h3>{{days_left}}</h3> <p>days left</p>
        <div ng-show="error">
    <div class="row-fluid" ng-show="!error">
    <div class="span10 offset1">
      <!-- Bootstrap progress bar -->
      <!-- http://twitter.github.io/bootstrap/components.html#progress -->
      <div class="thermometer progress active">
        <div class="bar bar-success" ng-style="{'width': percentage_funded+'%'}"></div>
        <div class="bar bar-warning" ng-style="{'width': (100-percentage_funded)+'%'}"></div>
    <div class="row-fluid">
      <div class="span6 offset3 order">
        <a class="coinbase-button" 
           data-button-text="Preorder with Bitcoin" 
           data-custom="Finished order"
           data-code="<%= coinbase_preorder_data_code %>" 
           href="https://coinbase.com/checkouts/<%= coinbase_preorder_data_code %>">Preorder with Bitcoin</a>
    <div class="row-fluid">
    <div class="span9 offset3 social">
      <!-- AddThis Button BEGIN -->
      <div class="addthis_toolbox addthis_default_style">
         <a class="addthis_button_tweet" tw:via="<%= twitter_username %>" tw:text="<%= twitter_tweet %>"></a>
      <script type="text/javascript" src="//s7.addthis.com/js/300/addthis_widget.js#pubid=xa-5214a5fe5dbdc2b4"></script>
      <!-- AddThis Button END -->

To trace through the logic of how the thermometer data is populated, see the /api/orders route in the next section.


The following figures illustrate how the server-side and client-side components of the app work together by tracing the path of the four routes implemented in our app: /, /api/order, /refresh_orders, and /orders/.

Warning: these figures are large. You can also download PDF versions here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

The / route

First, let's take a look at how an HTTP request to example.com/ is handled by our app. This about as simple as it gets in terms of generating a dynamic HTTP response from an HTTP request; there's no database interaction and a simple template is populated with some constant JSON data and returned to the client.

The /orders route

Now let's look at a more complicated route, an HTTP request to /orders. This request now involves hitting the database via the ORM and using that data to populate the orderpage.ejs template. This is perhaps the most common way to generate a dynamic response.

The /refresh_orders route

Now let's increase the level of complexity a little more, and show how to implement a route that doesn't directly return an HTTP response, but that redirects to the /orders route after performing a database operation.

The /api/orders route

Finally, let's take a look at a fairly sophisticated route. This route is never meant to be called directly by the end user; it's actually used by the client-side code in the thermometer on the front page to refresh itself from the latest set of orders in the database.