node globals vs browser globals

2 minute read

TIL that node programs have different globally accessible objects than those found in the browser.

Globals in the browser

In the browser, we have access to two global objects: window and document

window is the highest level scope of the javascript scope heirarchy in the browser. If you declare a global variable in javascript, it is attached as a property of window. Window also contains all globally accessible browser APIs that the browser initializes by default e.g. localStorage and console.


 var a = 'global string'; //this string is attached to `window`

 window.a; // returns 'global string'

document is an object that points to the highest parent node of your currently visible document object model (DOM). Since it is a globally accessible object created by the browser, it is also a property on window.


document; // returns an object that contains all nodes in currently visible DOM

window.document; // returns the same object as the line above!

Requesting childNodesfrom document returns an array of 1 element: the outermost HTML tag of the currently visible DOM.

Node equivalents

The equivalent objects in a node program are named global and process.

Since there isn’t a browser window in a node program (code can execute anywhere, not just in the browser) the highest-level scope in your node program is called global. It can be interacted with in the same way as the window object, and like window it also contains globally accessible objects and methods for your node program (e.g. setTimeout and console). You may also reference these global properties without explicitly calling them from global.


var a = 'global string';

global.a // returns 'global string'

global.console.log('hi') //logs 'hi'

console.log('hi') //also logs 'hi'

Similarly, since code is not executing in the browser, there is no DOM available to a node process. There are, however, APIs that node exposes to interact with the running node process. node exposes these APIs to the user in a second global object called process.

The objects and APIs available from process give you access to details about the environment in which the node process is running.

process.env  //returns an object with environment variables set for the execution environment
process.memoryUsage() //returns data about the memory being consumed to run the process

Since node offers a different execution environments for your javascript, it makes sense that the global objects are named differently than the browser equivalents. I’ve used process.env many times to grab environment variables from my execution environment, but I never took time to look at what else was exposed to a program via process (like exit() or cpuUsage()).