Getting Started with Neo4j and Express

This course provides an overview on everything that you need to build a Neo4j application with the JavaScript programming language.
You should have lts/erbium installed on your system. This project uses nvm, so having NVM will make your life easier. You should have cloned Neo4j Movie Template onto your machine.

This course provides an overview of what you need to know to write an Express application using a Neo4j database. To keep concepts simple, the application is an IMDB clone with basic account authentication and movie recommendation functionality.

Before We Start - Why Neo4j?

Neo4j is the world’s most popular graph database. Graph databases offer a number of advantages:

  • Neo4j provides a schemaless representation of both entities and relationships between entities.

  • Relationships between entities are traversed rather than joined. Traversals explore the local subgraph, meaning that query times stay the same even as your database grows.

  • Because of the traversal paradigm, we can think in terms of the complex relationships in our data, without worrying as much about how to model it.

Neo4j makes it easy to create nodes and relationships in an intuitive way, but you can also always change the structure of your database with a query.

Introduction to Neo4j

Connected information is everywhere in our world. Neo4j was built to efficiently store, handle, and query highly-connected elements in your data model. With a powerful and flexible data model, you can represent your real-world, variably-structured information without a loss of fidelity. The property graph model is easy to understand and work with, especially for object-oriented and relational developers.

The property graph model consists of:

Nodes, which have:

  • properties: schemaless key/value pairs

  • labels: describe and group nodes much like tables group rows, except nodes can also have multiple labels

Relationships, which connect two nodes directionally and have:

  • properties: schemaless key/value pairs

  • A type: describes how it connects the two nodes

While relationships are directional, querying relationships in either direction has no associated performance cost.

][JavaScript Movie App Model


Cypher is Neo4j’s built-in query language. Cypher queries look like the following code block:

MATCH (p:Person)-[:ACTED_IN]->(m:Movie)
RETURN p, m.title

The MATCH clause is the most common starting point for Cypher queries. It defines a pattern to search the database for, and returns one result for each match. With the RETURN clause, we would end up returning a table such as:

Table 1. Result of Cypher query
p m.title

{name: "Denise"}

"Toy Story"

{name: "Denise"}

"Animal House"

As you can see here, we can return entire entities in our database rather than just their properties.

This is very handy, but it would also be nice to avoid the duplication of our Person node. So, you can perform the same match but instead use the collect function to aggregate the values:

MATCH (p:Person)-[:ACTED_IN]->(m:Movie)
RETURN p, collect(m.title)
Table 2. Result of Cypher aggregation query
p m.title

{name: "Denise"}

["Toy Story", "Animal House"]

While it’s possible to get started using Neo4j without learning Cypher, it is a very powerful tool to query a Neo4j database and is worth learning. Also, since this project works by making Cypher queries to Neo4j, it is helpful to understand Cypher as your queries get more complex. Here is a Cypher tutorial, if you would like to learn more.

The Neo4j Movie Express/React App

Let’s jump right into it. You’re a JavaScript developer interested in Neo4j and want to build a web app, microservice, or mobile app. You’ve already read up on Neo4j, played around with some datasets, and learned enough Cypher to get started. Now you’re looking for a demo app or template to start putting those skills into practice.

If you haven’t already, clone the Neo4j Movie Template onto your machine. This tutorial post will walk you through rating a movie on a sample movie rating application, from the initial setup to viewing the list of movies you’ve rated. The following video will walk briefly walk you through the various features of the movie app.

The Database

This project uses a classic Neo4j dataset: the movie database. It includes Movie, Actor, Director, and Genre nodes, connected by relationships as described below:


Additionally, users can create accounts, log in, and add their ratings to movies:



The Express portion of the application interfaces with the database and presents data to the React.js front-end via a RESTful API. You can find the Express API in the /api directory in the repo.

The Front-End

The front-end, built in React.js, consumes the data provided by the Express API and presents it through some views to the end user, including:

  • Home page

  • Movie detail page

  • Actor and Director detail page

  • User detail page

  • Sign-up and Login pages

You can find the front-end code in the web directory.


To get the project running, clone the repo and follow along with these instructions, which are be recapped in the video:

If you haven’t already, clone the repo.

Your app will need a database, and the easiest way to access a database that’s already full of data is by connecting directly to the “Recommendations” database in Neo4j Sandbox.

Log in to Neo4j Sandbox by visiting, either using social authentication or your email and password.

After logging in to Neo4j Sandbox, tap “New Project” and select “Recommendations,” then tap the blue “Launch Project” button to start the database you will be connecting to.

In order to connect to the database from the environment from which you’ll be running the app (presumably your local machine), you’ll need credentials. You can find those under the “Connection details” and/or the “Connect via drivers” tab.

You’ll need to copy+paste the credentials in the driver section to connect to the database from your local machine. For example, if the driver line contains the following:

const driver = neo4j.driver("bolt://", neo4j.auth.basic("neo4j", "knock-cape-reserve"))

Then, in your text editor, open and/or create api/.env and enter the appropriate information into the variables: DATABASE_USERNAME, DATABASE_PASSWORD, and DATABASE_URL. Then save the file.

SECRET_KEY="super secret guy"

To start the Express API, run:

cd api
nvm use
npm install
node app.js

Verify that the endpoints are running as expected by taking a look at the docs at: http://localhost:5000/docs

Start the React.js Front-End

With the database and backend running, open a new terminal tab or window and move to the project’s /web subdirectory. Run nvm use to ensure you’re using the node version specified for this project. If you don’t have the recommended version of node installed, follow the prompt to install the recommended version. After verifying you are using the recommended user, run:

npm install
cp src/config/settings.example.js src/config/settings.js
npm start

Navigate to view the app at http://localhost:3000/

Click on a movie poster to see its corresponding movie detail page.

Click on a cast or crew member to see that person’s profile, which includes biographical information, related people, and more movies the person has acted in, directed, written, or produced:

Going Through The Endpoints


Diving down from route to model, a call from the user would travel through the route set in api/app.js

api.get("/genres", routes.genres.list);

The information from the call would be routed by api/routes/genres.js in and out of the the Genre model in api/models/genres.js, sending the response, an array of Genres, back to the user.

const _ = require('lodash');
const Genre = require('../models/neo4j/genre');

const getAll = function(session) {
  return session.readTransaction(txc =>'MATCH (genre:Genre) RETURN genre')

const _manyGenres = function (result) {
  return => new Genre(r.get('genre')));

module.exports = {
  getAll: getAll

Beyond the /Genres Endpoint

Of course, an app that just shows movie genres isn’t very interesting. Take a look at the routes and models used to build the home page, Movie detail page, and Person detail page.

The User Model

Aside from creating themselves and authenticating with the app, Users can rate Movies with the :RATED relationship, illustrated below.

User Properties

password: The hashed version of the user’s chosen password api_key: The user’s API key, which the user uses to authenticate requests username: The user’s chosen username

:RATED Properties

rating: an integer rating between 1 and 5, with 5 being love it and 1 being hate it

Users Can Create Accounts

Before a User can rate a Movie, the user has to exist, i.e. someone has to sign up for an account. The sign-up process will create a node in the database with a User label, along with the properties necessary for logging in and maintaining a session.

The registration endpoint is located at /api/v0/register. The app automatically submits a request to the register endpoint when a user fills out the “Create an Account” form and taps “Create Account.” Assuming you have the API running, you can test requests either by using the interactive docs at /3000/docs/ or by using cURL.

Naturally, you should replace the placeholder fields throughout with your chosen username and password.

Example: Create a New User

curl -X POST --header 'Content-Type: application/json' --header 'Accept: application/json' -d '{ "username": "Mary Jane", "password": "SuperPassword"}' 'http://localhost:5000/api/v0/register'
   "username":"Mary333 Jane",

Example: Try to Create a New User but Username is Already Taken

curl -X POST --header 'Content-Type: application/json' --header 'Accept: application/json' -d  '{ "username": "Mary Jane", "password": "SuperPassword"}' 'http://localhost:5000/api/v0/register'
   "username":"username already in use"

Similar to calling the Genre endpoint, when a user creates an account, the user flows through endpoint through the register User route to the User model and back.

api/app.js"/register", routes.users.register);
exports.register = function (req, res, next) {
  const username = _.get(req.body, 'username');
  const password = _.get(req.body, 'password');

  if (!username) {
    throw {username: 'This field is required.', status: 400};
  if (!password) {
    throw {password: 'This field is required.', status: 400};

  Users.register(dbUtils.getSession(req), username, password)
    .then(response => writeResponse(res, response, 201))

Users Can Log In

Now that users are able to register for an account, we can define the view that allows them to login to the site and start a session.

The registration endpoint is located at /api/v0/login. The app submits a request to the login endpoint when a user fills in the username and password text boxes and taps “Create Account.” Assuming you have the API running, you can test requests either by using the interactive docs at /5000/docs/ or by using cURL.

Example: Login

curl -X POST --header 'Content-Type: application/json' --header 'Accept: application/json' -d '{"username": "Mary Jane", "password": "SuperPassword"}' 'http://localhost:5000/api/v0/login'

Example: Wrong Password

curl -X POST --header 'Content-Type: application/json' --header 'Accept: application/json' -d '{ "username": "Mary Jane", "password": "SuperPassword"}' 'http://localhost:5000/api/v0/register'
   "username":"username already in use"

Example: See Myself

curl -X GET --header 'Accept: application/json' --header 'Authorization: Token 5a85862fb28a316ea6a1' 'http://localhost:5000/api/v0/users/me'
  "id": "94a604f7-3eab-4f28-88ab-12704c228936",
  "username": "Mary Jane",
  "avatar": {
    "full_size": ""

The code here is analogous to that of /register. There is a similar form to fill out, where a user types in their username and password. With the given username, a User is initialized. The password they filled out in the form is then verified against the hashed password that was retrieved from the corresponding :User node in the database. If the verification is successful, the program will return a token. The user is then directed to an authentication page, from which they can navigate through the app, view their user profile, and rate movies.

Example: Users Can Rate Movies

Once a user has logged in and navigated to a page that displays movies, they can select a star rating for any movie in the page or remove any of their previous movie ratings.

The user can access their previous ratings and the respective movies that were rated through both their user profile and the movie detail page in question.

Example: Rate a Movie

curl -X POST --header 'Content-Type: application/json' --header 'Accept: application/json' --header 'Authorization: Token ce40f63e79344f017a48b205db27aeaa301ae2b6' -d '{"rating":4}' 'http://localhost:5000/api/v0/movies/15602/rate'

The user sends who they are, what movie they want to rate, and what their rating is through the endpoint.

api/app.js"/movies/:id/rate", routes.movies.rateMovie);

The information is routed through api/routes/movies.js:

exports.rateMovie = function (req, res, next) {
  loginRequired(req, res, () => {
    const rating = Number(_.get(req.body, 'rating'));
    if (Number.isNaN(rating) || rating < 0 || rating >= 6) {
      throw {rating: 'Rating value is invalid', status: 400};

    Movies.rate(dbUtils.getSession(req),,, rating)
      .then(response => writeResponse(res, {}))

The rating is applied at the api/models/movies.js

const rate = function (session, movieId, userId, rating) {
  return session.writeTransaction(txc =>
      'MATCH (u:User {id: $userId}),(m:Movie {tmdbId: $movieId}) \
      MERGE (u)-[r:RATED]->(m) \
      SET r.rating = $rating \
      RETURN m',
        userId: userId,
        movieId: movieId,
        rating: parseInt(rating)


// export exposed functions
module.exports = {
  rate: rate,

Example: See All of My Ratings

curl -X GET --header 'Accept: application/json' --header 'Authorization: Token ce40f63e79344f017a48b205db27aeaa301ae2b6' 'http://localhost:5000/api/v0/movies/rated'
    "id": "15602",
    "title": "Grumpier Old Men",
    "summary": "John and Max resolve to save their beloved bait shop from turning into an Italian restaurant, just as its new female owner catches Max's attention.",
    "released": "1995-12-22",
    "duration": 101,
    "rated": 6.6,
    "tagline": "John and Max resolve to save their beloved bait shop from turning into an Italian restaurant, just as its new female owner catches Max's attention.",
    "poster_image": "",
    "my_rating": 4

The React Front-end

You can take a look at the React front-end code at in the /web/ subdirectory. The React front-end is very simple, and is composed of the following parts, as described in the video above.

  • Home Page

  • Authentication Page

  • Movie Detail Page

  • Person (Actor, Director) Page

  • User Profile Page

Home Page

The home page is a relatively simple page making calls to two endpoints: the "movies by genre endpoint" and the "movie by ID" endpoint.

The "Featured Movies" portion at the top calls three hard-coded movies.

renderFeatured() {
    const {movies} = this.props;

    return (
      <div className="nt-home-featured">
        <h3 className="nt-home-header">Featured Movies</h3>
          { _.compact(movies.featured).map(f => {
            return (
              <li key={}>
                <Link to={`/movie/${}`}>
                  <img src={f.posterImage} alt="" />
static getFeaturedMovies() {
    return Promise.all([

Movie and Person Detail

The Movie and Person detail are visually very similar pages - both with a poster image on the left and carousels on the bottom. However, the Movie page is different depending on whether or not the user is authenticated, as the authenticated user is able to mark their rating on each movie.

User Profile

The User Profile page allows the user to re-rate or un-rate their movies, and view more movie recommendations based on those ratings.


Deploying the Recommendations Database with Aura

This section demonstrates how to deploy the Recommendations database to Aura

  • Download the Dump File

  • Create an account on Aura

  • Upload the dump and start the database

Deplyoying the Backend and Front-end with Heroku

You will have to create two apps on Heroku: one for the backend and one for the front-end.

Starting with the backend, create a new app on Heroku. On your local machine, add the Heroku repo as a remote. On Heroku > Settings > Config Vars, add the credentials to connect to the database hosted Neo4j Aura (or the sandbox if you haven’t migrated to Aura).

Then, create another Heroku app for the front-end. Add another git remote pointed to the Heroku app dedicated to the front-end app. Under Heroku > Settings > Config Vars, add the environment variables for the REACT_APP_API_BASE_URL and REACT_APP_PROXY_URL fields.

Under Heroku > Settings > Buildpacks, add mars/create-react-app to load dependencies.

Check out the Makefile in the root directory of the project and edit it so it matches below the content below. It contains the commands needed to deploy the project. You can run deploy-api to deploy the Express API and deploy-web to run deployment on the React site.

    git branch -f heroku-api
    git branch -D heroku-api
    git subtree split --prefix api -b heroku-api
    git push heroku-api heroku-api:master --force

    git branch -f heroku-web
    git branch -D heroku-web
    git subtree split --prefix web -b heroku-web
    git push heroku-web heroku-web:master --force

Next Steps

Fork the repo and hack away! Find directors that work with multiple genres, or find people who tend to work with each other frequently as writer-director pairs. Did you find a way to improve the template or the Python driver? Create a GitHub Issue and/or submit a pull request.