Lesson Overview

The MVC (Model View Controller) is a common design pattern used in software development. MVC separates the Model, View, and Controller code in order to all us to create more modular and robust applications. The Model refers to the data models used by the application (objects, classes, collections); the View refers to the user interface parts of your application that allow a user to interact with the program; the Controller contains the logic that performs the behind-the-scenes work, allowing the views to update and reflect changes to the model, performing tasks the user triggers on the view, etc.

In Node.js and Express, it's easiser to design more complex applications using MVC. You can phyiscally and logically separate code for your HTML pages, routing and request processing, and your data.


Before doing this lesson, you should have gone through the lessons on Node.js Project Structure and Routing in Express. Also, if you'd like more background on MVC, have a read through The MVC Design Pattern.

Model View Controller in Express

In Node.js/Express application, we separate the Model, View, and Controller code as follows:

In this lesson, we'll create a very simple MVC program to help you learn how it all works. The views will be really basic: we'll create more dynamic views once we learn a template language such as EJS (Embedded JavaScript) .

Creating an Express MVC Application

Let's create a very basic MVC application with Express. Start a new project. I'm calling mine /express_mvc

Add sub-directories for /models, /views, and /controllers.

In the /views directory, add a file index.html.

You can copy and paste the following code into your index.html file:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
  <meta charset="utf-8">
  <title>MVC Index Page</title>
  <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

    <h1>MVC Index Page</h1>
    <h2>Menu for Today</h2>

    <p>menu for a selected day</p>

    <address>&copy; 2023 Firstname Lastname</address>


Now add an app.js to your project root and set it up:

"use strict";

  const express = require("express"),
      app = express();
  app.set("port", process.env.PORT || 3000);
  app.listen(app.get("port"), () => {
      console.log(`Server running on http://localhost:${app.get("port")}`);

Adding a Controller

The controller's job is to manage the processing behind the scenes. In this case, our controller will simply read in the index.html file and load it into the response body.

In your /controllers directory, add the file homeController.js. It's common to have multiple controllers, and most developers name the main controller either homeController.js or mainController.js.

Add the strict mode statement to your controller.

The controller is a module, so we want to expose a function called renderIndex that will read in the index.html page and load it to the response body. Let's expose our function by assigning it to exports:

exports.renderIndex = (req, res) => {


This module function needs the response object, so both the request and response object have been added as paramters. It needs the response object so it can load the index.html file contents to the response body.

The Express Response object contains a very useful function called sendFile(). The sendFile() function accepts the path and name of a resource and sends that resource in the response body. It also examines the file extension and updates the Content-Type response header to match the file type. The sendFile() function assumes that the path provided is an absolute path, not a relative path (you can change this behaviour by adding the "root" option, which I'll cover when I talk about Serving Static Files).

So knowing how sendFile() works, we would be unable to send the index.html file using the statement res.sendFile("index.html") -- sendFile() requires an absolute path, so index.html will not be found in this case. But the problem is that when you are testing your app on your local machine, the absolute path of your project is different from the absolute path on your server. Furthermore, the absolute path on your server may not match the logical path you're using (e.g. your Base Application URL does not usually match the exact physical path of your project files). Lastly, a common problem with absolute paths that are used on different systems is that many systems handle paths differently: on a Linux/Unix environment (most web servers), path segments are separated with a forward-slash ( / ) but on Windows systems (such as your local development machine), path segments are separated with a back-slash ( \ ). Also, absolute paths on some systems start with a drive letter and a colon (e.g. C:) and some are not. These differences make it very difficult to refer to a file's absolute path on the system.

Thankfully, there is a module and a global variable we can use to deal with absolute paths in this case. First, the the Node.js path module. This module contains a method join() that accepts a comma-delimited list of path segments. It will then return a String containing an absolute path on the system. The key feature of join() is that it will build the absolute path string based on the operating system's preferences - so it will use back-slashes on your local machine and forward-slashes on the web server, for example. When you combine this with the __dirname Node.js global variable (note that those are 2 underscores in front of "dirname"), you can easily refer to the absolute path of any resource on any operating system.

As an example, say you were in the homeController.js file and you wanted to refer to the index.html file: The __dirname variable would contain the absolute path to the homeController.js file. On my Windows machine, this would be


But on my server, this would be


I can then add __dirname to a join() function like this:

// have to import the path module, first!
const pathToIndex = path.join(__dirname, "../", "views", "index.html");

Each argument to path.join() is a path segment as follows:

We can use this statement in our controller function, and even just pass it to the sendFile() method, if you want to make it shorter:

"use strict";

const path = require("path");

exports.renderIndex = (req, res) => {
    res.sendFile(path.join(__dirname, "../", "views", "index.html"));

Now we need to add a route to this controller function in the app.js file.

First, we need to require() the controller in our app.js:

const homeController = require("./controllers/homeController");

Now we can add an app.get() to handle GET requests to our application's root: In my version, I'm going to use the base application path "mvc1". The callback for the app.get() is going to be the homeController's renderIndex() function:

app.get("/mvc1", homeController.renderIndex);

Now initialize your program if you haven't done that already:

npm init

Now run npm install to install express:

npm install express ejs -s

Now run your program locally, then go to your browwser and try the URL:


If you're testing on a server, set your Base Application URL to /mvc1. Remember to ONLY upload the source code and the package.json file, then run the server tool to install the dependencies. Then test it on your server:

output in the browser
Output for localhost:3000/mvc1

Now that we have a controller, let's add a more dynamic view to our project.

Adding a Dynamic View

To add dynamic content to a view, you need to use an additional template language inside your HTML. There are several choices, but the easiest is EJS (Embedded JavaScript). In this lesson I'll only be showing you EJS briefly, but there's an entire lesson on EJS coming up. In that lesson, we'll go over the syntax in more detail and I'll show you some of the other alternatives to EJS.

First, using your editor, select your /views/index.html file and change the file extension to ejs, so that your file is now called index.ejs (In VS Code, you can right-click "index.html" and select Rename)

Now edit the index.ejs file and change your level-2 heading inside the <header> element:

<h2>Menu for <%=dayInput%></h2>

The <%=dayInput%> is called an output tag, it acts as a placeholder: the EJS engine will search for a variable or parameter called dayInput, and it will replace <%=dayInput%> with the value of the dayInput variable's value.

Now we have to figure out how to pass the value for the dayInput variable into the index.ejs template. We can do this by adding a parameter to our URL and then capturing that in our code when we receive the request. For example, if someone requests localhost:3000/mvc1/Tuesday, we can capture the "Tuesday" path segment and store it in a variable. We can then pass that variable to the index.ejs file as dayInput.

URL Parameters

One way we can pass a value to our application is by using a form input (such as a select box for the days of the week - we'll do this in a later lesson). However, that's not the only way! You can also pass values into an application by using a URL parameter. A URL parameter is a segment added to the URL, and the value of that segment is the value you want to pass to your program. For example, someone could load our application with the URL localhost:3000/mvc1/Tuesday or localhost:3000/mvc1/Saturday. We can grab the last segment as a parameter and pass it to the index.ejs template.

To get the value of the URL parameter, you add a segment to your app.use()/get()/post() URL pattern, such as /mvc1/:day. Notice that we use a colon : in front of the parameter's name. This adds the parameter as part of the request. Request parameters are stored in the req.params object. The req.params object contains properties for any params in the URL, e.g. req.params.day. Also, notice I'm using "day" instead of "dayInput" - that's to avoid confusion in our controller code - you'll see what I mean when we get there.

We also need to make sure that our program is using the EJS view engine. A view engine is the application that parses syntax like the output tag <% >> and replaces the placeholders with variable values, expressions, and many other things we'll learn in the next lesson. You have to require the EJS engine in your code by adding the following statement to your app.js file:

app.set("view engine", "ejs");

This statement sets the view engine to the EJS view engine. By default it's set to PUG, but we are using EJS so we have to add this statement to change the view engine from the default PUG to EJS.

Now replace your app.get("/mvc1") request function to the one below that prints the day URL parameter to the console:

app.get("/mvc1/:day", (req, res) => {
  console.log(`day: ${req.params.day}`);

Notice the URL pattern: /mvc1/:day. So this matches any URL that starts with /mvc1/ and has a value after it. Right now we'll assume it's a day of the week, but later you could add some extra code for error handling.

Inside the callback, we're just printing the req.params.day value to the console. This means we're not sending back a response, yet - so your browser will show an error when you run the app, and that's fine for now.

Initialize your app, then run npm install to install ejs:

npm install ejs -s

If you haven't run your program at all yet, and haven't installed any dependencies, you can do all your dependencies at once:

npm install express ejs -s

Now you can run your program. Go to your browser and try:


Try different days (you can actually use any string in place of "Tuesday". You should see your last URL segment in the console.

Server running on http://localhost:3000
            day: Tuesday
Sample Console Output
"use strict";

const express = require("express"),
    app = express(),
    homeController = require("./controllers/homeController.js");
app.set("port", process.env.PORT || 3000);

app.get("/mvc1/:day", (req, res) => {
  console.log(`day: ${req.params.day}`);

app.listen(app.get("port"), () => {
    console.log(`Server running on http://localhost:${app.get("port")}`);
app.js Code

If everything is working, you can now udpate your controller function that renders the index page. Instead of reading the raw file data and sending it in the response body, we're going to use the EJS engine to plug the "day" path segment into the "dayInput" variable in the index.ejs file.

Rendering the index.ejs Page

To render a template view instead of a plain HTML file, we use the res.render() function. res.render() accepts two arguments:

res.render() will also automatically set the response status code, content type, and will write the final rendered version of the template .ejs file to the response body. Then it will send the response for you! It does a lot of the work we usually have to do ourselves. This means replace our renderIndex code with a render() function call:

"use strict";

  const path = require("path");
  exports.renderIndex = (req, res) => {
      res.render("index", {dayInput: req.params.day});

This takes the value of our req.params.day parameter and assigns it to the dayInput key, which makes dayInput a local variable in the index.ejs file. This is essentially how you can pass a value from your request to your controller to your EJS template response.

Now we need to update our app.get() and set the callback back to the renderIndex() function from the homeController:

app.get("/mvc1/:day", homeController.renderIndex);

Restart your program and test the same URL(s) you used before: you should see the day of the week (or whatever you typed as the last segment of the URL) in the level-2 heading!

output in the browser
Output for localhost:3000/menu/Saturday

Now we've done an MVC application with a Controller and a dynamic View. Let's now add a Model.

Adding a Model

Now let's make it a true MVC program by adding a model. Grab the menu.json file from GitHub and add it to your project inside the /models directory.

Examine the JSON file: you'll see it's a list of objects where each object's key is the day of the week in title case (e.g. Tuesday, Wednesday, etc). Each object is a simple menu for three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When the user visits a URL for a specific day of the week, we will display a level-3 heading for each meal with a list of the items, as shown in the screen shot below:

level 3 headings for breakfast/lunch/dinner, each heading shows a paragraph with the contents for that meal item
Proposed output for our MVC program

Our controller's renderIndex() function needs to know which menu object to add to the list of locals for the index.ejs file. To do this, we must first import the menu.json file into our controller:

const menu = require("../models/menu.json");

Note the path: the controller is in the /express_mvc/controllers directory but the menu.json is in the /express_mvc/models directory, so we have to go up one level to /express_mvc, then into /models in order to get the menu.json file. You can also use __dirname and path.join() as shown earlier, if you prefer.

Now we can update the renderIndex() function by getting the menu object for the specific day. The menu variable contains the list of objects, keyed by day of the week in title case. So we can use req.params.day as the index to menu. For example, menu[req.params.day]. This needs to be stored in a "locals" variable to be sent to the index.ejs file.

res.render("index", { 
        dayInput: req.params.day, 
        dayMenu: menu[req.params.day]

This stores the inputted (via path segment) day into the dayInput key, and the entire object with the key that matches that same day value into the dayMenu key.

All that's left is to update the index.ejs view. Add the code in the <main>:


Now re-run your program and try each day of the week (make sure you use title case). What happens if you don't enter a valid day of the week?

Note that the ouput isn't pretty and we're only seeing the value in the object's "Breakfast" property, but we can fix that with more advanced EJS, which we'll cover in the next lesson on Reading JSON Data.


  1. Write an MVC Express application with a Base Application URL of "/circle" that displays information about a circle with a specific radius. Pass a value for radius to an index.ejs file and display your output on the index.ejs page matching the format in the screen shot below:
    circumference and area of circle
    My Sample Output: My circumference and area are formatted to 2 decimal places

    Use a single controller with an exposed function that renders the index.ejs page with a hard-coded radius value of your choice (no other values should be passed to the index page). TIP: an ouput tag can contain expressions! For example, <%2 * Math.PI * radius%>

  2. Modify your program: allow the user to pass the radius in via a URL path segment. Pass that single value to your index.ejs page instead of the hard-coded radius value.
  3. Add the circle.js class as the model for your application (e.g. it should go in /models). Your circle should have a radius property, two accessor properties circumference and area, and a toString() function property. If the radius is not provided when someone creates a new circle object, use a default value of 1. The toString() returns "Circle: radius=x.x" where x.x is the radius formatted to 1 decimal place.

    Modify the controller function: use the URL parameter for radius to construct a new circle instance. Pass that circle instance to the index.ejs page instead of the radius value.

    Modify your index.ejs to display the radius, circumference, and area from the circle object that was passed in.

  4. Test your circle program with no radius as the last path segment (e.g. localhost/circle/). What happens and why? How might you fix this?

    Tip: you can make a parameter optional by adding a ? (question mark) after it in the URL pattern e.g. "circle/:radius?". Modify your application so that the controller sets the radius to a default value of 1 if there is no radius URL parameter.