April 26th, 2020 — TECHNOLOGY, TUTORIALS

Get the Drop on the Cloud: Node.js and Azure

Deploying applications to the cloud can be intimidating. Don’t worry though, this guide will stick to the bare essentials. When you’ve finished here, you will have a web application running on Azure.

Take care of some things before you begin. The tools below will allow you to complete the tutorial work. There may be other VS Code extensions that will do the same job, so feel free to try any tools that make sense to you.

  1. Create a free Azure account
  2. Install Visual Studio Code (VS Code)
  3. Add the Azure Tools Extension Pack to Visual Studio Code
  4. Install NodeJS

Azure App Service Extension Installed

Log In to Azure

In VS Code, open the command palette (Ctrl+Shift+P) and enter > Azure: Sign In. You will be prompted to log in via a browser window. When complete, you will see your subscriptions listed in your Azure panel.

Signing in to Azure with VS Code

Start Coding

Installing the COVID-19 Tracker

For this project, use the COVID-19 Tracker project.[1]

  1. clone or download the repository (git clone [email protected]:harveyramer/covid-19-demo-express-js-app.git)
  2. Navigate in your terminal to the root directory (cd covid-19-demo-express-js-app)
  3. Check out this branch (git checkout tutorial-2)
  4. Install the project (npm install)
  5. Start the server (npm start)
  6. Navigate to your project in a browser (http://localhost:3000)

Preparing for Deployment

Since Azure’s App Service uses dynamically configured Docker containers, you cannot specify a port in our code. Instead, rely on an environment variable.

  1. Make sure your local server is not running (Ctrl+C).
  2. Open the src/index.js file and update line 5.
const port = process.env.PORT

Deploying to Azure App Service

The extensions in the Azure Tools pack you installed make it easy to deploy a Web app. To show the Azure panel in VS Code, click on the Azure logo on the left. Then, click the Deploy to Azure arrow button in the App Service menu bar.

Deploy to Azure App Service

The Azure App Service extension’s wizard will help you deploy your app.

  1. Select the covid19-tracker folder to zip and deploy
  2. Choose Create new Web App…
  3. Next enter a unique name for your Web app. (covid19tutorial-myname)
  4. Select runtime Node 12 LTS
  5. Wait a few minutes while Azure provisions the resources for your Web app
  6. When asked, “Would you like to update your workspace configuration to run build commands on the target server?” Answer, “Yes.”
  7. To monitor the build process, show the output window.

Show Azure deployment output window

When deployment finishes, browse to your new website. It will use the unique name you specified, for example, covid19tutorial-myname.azurewebsites.net. Your app will not respond and may display an application error. This is normal. We have one more configuration step.

Add an Application Setting

You will need to add an Application Setting to tell Azure App Service what version of Node.js to use.

Add WEBSITE_NODE_DEFAULT_VERSION application setting

Adding a new application setting causes the App Service to restart, which can take several minutes. If your Web app does not start in 10 minutes, see Troubleshooting below.

Monitoring your App with Logs

Since it takes several minutes for your app to warm up after being deployed to Azure, it helps to monitor the Log Stream for your application. To do that, Expand your application’s Logs (Read-only) folder and click Connect to Log Stream… An output panel in the terminal will allow you to monitor your application’s progress.

Web application log monitoring.

When you see Example app listening at http://localhost:8080 your app is warmed up and ready to take some requests.


Your first deployment of a Web app with Node.js to Azure can be a bit tricky. When you succeed, your COVID-19 Tracker will be live for the world to see. If you want to share it with friends, you may want to upgrade from the free App Service Plan, which only runs for an hour each day.

Your deployed Web app


If your deployment fails on the first try, as mine did, it is likely a timing issue. Some resources your Web app depends on were not provisioned when it tried to start.

The service is unavailable

Make sure you have completed all the steps above. If your app still does not start after 10 minutes, either dig into Azure’s Node.js troubleshooting documentation, or use the nuclear option. I have found that deleting your Web Application and starting over resolves the problem.


  1. Start Here to Make a Useful COVID-19 Tracker with Node.js and Making an Even-More-Useful COVID-19 Tracker with Node.js ↩︎

Harvey Ramer
Harvey Ramer
Harvey has been writing code for twenty years. He builds web applications with React, Node.js, and MongoDB and deploys them to the cloud with CI/CD pipelines. He talks and writes about the Christian worldview, technology, startups, and how differences can become a collaborative asset.