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Building a Modern Web Application with Neo4j and NestJS

adamcowley profile image Adam Cowley Updated on ・9 min read

This article is the introduction to a series of articles and a Twitch stream on the Neo4j Twitch channel where I build an application on top of Neo4j with NestJS and a yet-to-be-decided Front End. This week I built a Module and Service for interacting with Neo4j. 

TL;DR: I've pushed the code to Github and created a Neo4j module for NestJS to save you some time.

Over the past few weeks I have been spending an hour live streaming something that I have found interesting that week, but from this week I thought I would change things up and start to build out a project on Neo4j.

Tech Stack

Neo4j

If you're subscribed to this channel then you are likely familiar with Neo4j, but if not then Neo4j is the world's leading Graph Database. Rather than tables or documents, Neo4j stores it's data in Nodes - those nodes are categorised by labels and contain properties as key/value pairs. Those Nodes are connected together by relationships, which are categorised by a type and can also contain properties as key/value pairs.

(a:Person {name: "Adam"})-[:USES_DATABASE {since: 2015}]->(neo4j:Database:GraphDatabase {name: "Neo4j", homepage: "neo4j.com"})

What sets Neo4j apart from other databases is it's ability to query connected datasets. Where traditional databases build up joins between records at read time, Neo4j stores the data

Neo4j is schema-optional - meaning that you can enforce a schema on your database if necessary by adding unique or exists constraints on Nodes and Relationships.

Typescript

I've been experimenting with Typescript for a while now, and the more I use it the more I like it.

Typescript is essentially Javascript but with additional static typing. Under the hood, it compiles down to plain Javascript but it improves the developer experience a lot, and allows you to identify problems in real-time as you are writing your code.

NestJS

By far the best framework I have seen that supports typescript is NestJS. NestJS is an opinionated framework for building server-side applications. It also includes modern features you'd expect in a modern framework like Spring Boot or Laravel - mainly Dependency Injection.

Week 1 - Nest fundamentals & Neo4j Integration

Nest comes with a CLI with many helpers for starting and developing a project. You can install it by running:

npm i --global @nestjs/cli
nest --help

Once it's installed, you can use the new or n command to create a new project.

nest new api

After selecting the package manager of your choice, the CLI command will generate a new project and install any dependencies. Once it's done, you can cd into the directory and then run npm run start:dev to fire up the development server.

In the generated src/ folder, you'll see:

  • main.ts - The main entrypoint of the file, this creates a Nest application instance
  • app.module.ts - This is the root module of the application, where you define the child modules that are used in the application
  • app.controller.ts - This is a basic controller, where you can define REST endpoints on the server

Nest modules

Functionality in Nest is grouped into modules, the official documentation uses Cats as it's example. Modules are a way of grouping related functionality together. In the Cats example, the module provides a CatsService which handles the applications interactions with Cats, and a Cats controller which registers routes which define how the Cats are accessed.

Module classes are defined by a @Module annotation, which in turn defines which child modules are imported into module, any controllers that are defined in the module, and any classes that are exported from the module and made available for dependency injection.

Take the annotation on the Cats example in the documentation, this is saying that the CatsModule registers a single controller CatsController and provides the CatsService.

@Module({
  controllers: [CatsController],
  providers: [CatsService],
})

The CatService is registered with the Nest instance and can then be injected into any class.

@Injectable() classes

Classes annoted with @Injectable() are automatically injected into a class using some under-the-hood Nest "magic". For example, by defining the CatsService in the constructor for the CatsController, Nest will automatically resolve this dependency and inject it to the class without any additional code.

This is identical to how things work in more mature frameworks like Spring and Laravel.

import { Controller } from '@nestjs/common';
import { CatsService } from './cats.service';

@Controller
export class CatsController {
  constructor(private catsService: CatsService) {}
}

Dependency Injection is a software technique where a class will be "injected" with instances of other classes that it depends on. This makes the testing process easier where instead of instantiating classes. It also promotes the principles of DRY - don't repeat yourself and SOLID. Each class should have a single responsibility - for example a User service should only be concerned with acting on a User's record, not be concerned with how that record is persisted to a database.

Nest Integration for Neo4j

In order to use Neo4j in services across the application, we can define a Neo4jService for interacting with the graph through the JavaScript driver. This service should provide the ability to interact with Neo4j but without the service itself needing to know any of the internals. This service should be wrapped in a module which can be registered in the application.

The first step is to install the Neo4j Driver.

npm i --save neo4j-driver

Then, we can use CLI to generate a new module with the name Neo4j.

nest g mo neo4j # shorthand for `nest generate module neo4j`

The command will create a neo4j/ folder with it's own module. Next, we can use the CLI to generate the Service:

nest g s neo4j # shorthand for `nest generate service neo4j`

This command will generate neo4j.service.ts and append it to the providers array in the module so it can be injected into any application that uses the module.

Configuration & Dynamic Modules

By default, these modules are registerd as static modules. In order to add configuration to the driver, we'll have add a static method which accepts the user's Neo4j credentials and returns a DynamicModule.

The first thing to do is generate an interface that will define the details allowed when instantiating the module.

nest g interface neo4j-config

The driver takes a connection string and an authentication method. I like to split up the connection string into parts, this way we can validate the scheme.

The scheme (or protocol) at the start of the URI should be a string, and one of the following options:

export type Neo4jScheme = 'neo4j' | 'neo4j+s' | 'neo4j+scc' | 'bolt' | 'bolt+s' | 'bolt+scc'

The host should be a string, port should either be a number or a string, then username, password should be a string. The database should be an optional string, if the driver connects to a 3.x version of Neo4j then this isn't a valid option and if none is supplied then the driver will connect to the default database (as defined in neo4j.conf - dbms.default_database).

export interface Neo4jConfig {
    scheme: Neo4jScheme;
    host: string;
    port: number | string;
    username: string;
    password: string;
    database?: string;
}

Next, for the static method which registers the dynamic module. The documentation recommends using the naming convention of forRoot or register. The function should return a DynamicModule - this is basically an object that contains metadata about the module.

The module property should return the Type of the module - in this case Neo4jModule. This module will provide the Neo4jService so we can add the class to the provides array.

// ,,
export class Neo4jModule {
    static forRoot(config: object): DynamicModule {
        return {
            module: Neo4jModule,
            provides: [
                Neo4jService,
            ]
        }
    }

    // ,,
}

Because we are providing a configuration object, we'll need to register it as a provider so that it can be injected into the Neo4jService. For providers that are not defined globally, we can define a unique reference to the provider and assign it to a variable. We will use this later on when injecting the config into the service. The useValue property instructs Nest to use the config value provided as the first argument.

// Reference for Neo4j Connection details
const NEO4J_OPTIONS = 'NEO4J_OPTIONS'

export class Neo4jModule {
    static forRoot(config: object): DynamicModule {
        return {
            module: Neo4jModule,
            provides: [
                {
                    // Inject this value into a class @Inject(NEO4J_OPTIONS)
                    provide: NEO4J_OPTIONS,
                    useValue: config
                },
                Neo4jService,
            ],
        }
    }

    // ,,
}

If the user supplies incorrect credentials, we don't want the application to start. We can create an instance of the Driver and verify the connectivity using an Asynchronous provider. An async provider is basically a function that given a set of configuration parameters, returns an instance of the module that is configured at runtime.

In a new file neo4j.utils.ts, create an async function to create an instance of the driver and call the verifyConnectivity() to verify that the connection has been successful. If this function throws an Error, the application will not start.

import neo4j from 'neo4j-driver'
import { Neo4jConfig } from './interfaces/neo4j-config.interface'

export const createDriver = async (config: Neo4jConfig) => {
    // Create a Driver instance
    const driver = neo4j.driver(
        `${config.scheme}://${config.host}:${config.port}`,
        neo4j.auth.basic(config.username, config.password)
    )

    // Verify the connection details or throw an Error
    await driver.verifyConnectivity()

    // If everything is OK, return the driver
    return driver
}

The function accepts the Neo4jConfig object as the only argument. Because this has already been defined as a provider, we can define it in the injects array when defining it as a provider.

// Import the factory function
import { createDriver } from './neo4j.utils.ts'

// Reference for Neo4j Driver
const NEO4J_DRIVER = 'NEO4J_DRIVER'

export class Neo4jModule {
    static forRoot(config: object): DynamicModule {
        return {
            module: Neo4jModule,
            provides: [
                {
                    provide: NEO4J_OPTIONS,
                    useValue: options
                },
                {
                    // Define a key for injection
                    provide: NEO4J_DRIVER,

                    // Inject NEO4J_OPTIONS defined above as the
                    inject: [NEO4J_OPTIONS],

                    // Use the factory function created above to return the driver
                    useFactory: async (config: Neo4jOptions) => createDriver(config)
                },
                Neo4jService,
            ],
        }
    }
}

Now that the driver has been defined, it can be injected into any class in it's own right by using the @Inject() annotation. But in this case, we will add some useful methods to the Neo4jService to make it easier to read from and write to Neo4j. Because we have defined NEO4J_DRIVER in the provides array for the dynamic module, we can pass the NEO4J_DRIVER as a single parameter to the @Inject directive in the constructor.

import { Injectable, Inject } from '@nestjs/common';
import { NEO4J_DRIVER } from './neo4j.constants'

@Injectable
export class Neo4jService {
    constructor(
        @Inject(NEO4J_CONFIG) private readonly config,
        @Inject(NEO4J_DRIVER) private readonly driver
    ) {}
}

Each Cypher query run against Neo4j takes place through a Session, so it makes sense to expose this as an option from the service. The default access mode of the session allows the Driver to route the query to the right member of a Causal Cluster - this can be either READ or WRITE. There is also an optional parameter for the database when using multi-tenancy in Neo4j 4.0. As I mentioned earlier, if none is supplied then the query is run against the default database.

So the user doesn't need to worry about the specifics of read or write transactions, we should create a method for each mode - both with an optional parameter for the database. There is also a database specified in the Neo4jConfig object, so we should fall back to this if none is explicitly specified.

import { Driver, Session, session, Result } from 'neo4j-driver'
//...

export class Neo4jService {
    constructor(@Inject(NEO4J_DRIVER) private readonly driver) {}

    getReadSession(database?: string): Session {
        return this.driver.session({
            database: database || this.config.database,
            defaultAccessMode: session.READ,
        })
    }

    getWriteSession(database?: string): Session  {
        return this.driver.session({
            database: database || this.config.database,
            defaultAccessMode: session.WRITE,
        })
    }

}

These methods make use of NEO4J_CONFIG and NEO4J_DRIVER which were injected into the constructor.

So with that in mind, it would be useful to create a method to read data from Neo4j. The driver accepts parameterised queries as a string (eg. queries with literal variables replaced with parameters - $myParam) and an object of parameters so these will be the arguments for the query. Optionally, we may want to specify which database this query is run against so it makes sense to include that as an optional third parameter. The query then returns a Result statement which includes the result and some additional statistics.

read(cypher: string, params: Record<string, any>, database?: string): Result {
    const session = this.getReadSession(database)
    return session.run(cypher, params)
}

Over the course of the application, this will save us a few lines of code. The same can be done for a write query:

write(cypher: string, params: Record<string, any>, database?: string): Result {
    const session = this.getWriteSession(database)
    return session.run(cypher, params)
}

Using the Service in the Application

Now we have a service that is registered in the main application through the Neo4jModule that can be injected into any class in the application. So as an example, let's modify the Controller that was generated in the initial command. By default, the route at '/' returns a hello world message, but instead let's use it to return the number of Nodes in the database.

To do this, we should first inject the Neo4jService into the controller:

import { Controller, Get } from '@nestjs/common';
import { Neo4jService } from './neo4j/neo4j.service'

@Controller()
export class AppController {
  constructor(private readonly neo4jService: Neo4jService) {}
    // ...
}

Now, we can modify the getHello method to return a string. The constructor will automatically assign the Neo4jService to the class so it is accessible through this.neo4jService. From there we can use the .read() method that we've just created to execute a query against the database.

async getHello(): Promise<any> {
    const res = await this.neo4jService.read(`MATCH (n) RETURN count(n) AS count`)

    return `There are ${res.records[0].get('count')} nodes in the database`
}

Navigating in the browser to http://localhost:3000 should now show a message including the number of nodes in the database.

Tune in next week!

Tune in to the Neo4j Twitch channel Tuesdays at 13:00BST, 14:00CEST for the next episode.

Posted on by:

adamcowley profile

Adam Cowley

@adamcowley

Providing anti-Java balance at Neo4j.

Discussion

markdown guide
 

Why u dont write a post/a basic project to help beginner, like me, with Movie Database, with basic steps ( example CRUD ) ?

 

Good idea. I've covered most of this in the Twitch sessions (videos also up on youtube) but it may be a little hidden. Are you interested in Nest.js specific? Node? Typescript?