The root user on Linux and Unix operating systems is a special user that has absolutely total power over a machine. It is therefore very important to use the root account only when absolutely necessary and preferrably through the use of a program such as sudo. From Wikipedia:

In operating systems which have the concept of a superuser, it is generally recommended that most application work be done using an ordinary account which does not have the ability to make system-wide changes.

Indeed, if you are running your server as root and it gets hacked through a vulnerability in your code, the attacker will have total control over your machine. This means the attacker could potentially wipe out your whole disk or worse. On the other hand, if your server runs with the permissions of a regular user, the attacker will be limited by those permissions.

The problem most Node.js developers will face is that in order to open ports below 1024 (i.e. port 80), one has to possess superuser permissions. There are a few solutions around that problem, one being the use of iptables to redirect port 80 to a higher port such as port 3000 and another one being the use of a proxy such as nginx that will redirect requests to your server. However, today I will focus on a solution that can be done entirely within your code.

We still start our server with root permissions using sudo but once we have opened our port(s), we will revert back our server’s permission to that of a regular user using a special trick. That trick is to read the SUDO_UID environment variable which sudo passes to any process it launches and using Node’s global process.setuid() function.

var http = require('http');

var app = function(req, res) {};

  .listen(80, function(err) {
    if (err) return cb(err);

    // Find out which user used sudo through the environment variable
    var uid = parseInt(process.env.SUDO_UID);
    // Set our server's uid to that user
    if (uid) process.setuid(uid);
    console.log('Server\'s UID is now ' + process.getuid());

No excuses for running your server as root anymore!