Debugging Child Node Processes In VS Code

Prologue Setting up debugging should be straightforward. In the case of child-process debugging for Node, it isn't. Like the proverbial planets, all the configurations have to align. However, once setup, the full-power of the debugger with breakpoints, watches, call-stacks and immediate-windows will be at your disposal. Say goodbye to console logs!

TL;DR

To enable child process debugging for Node, the child Node process must be launched with certain arguments. In addition, if using VS Code, the editor should be configured to auto-attach to child processes.

Command-line arguments for Node

The arguments that worked for me are “–nolazy –inspect –inspect-port=9230 –inspect-brk”. By default Node debugging starts at port 9229, so it’s already in use for the parent process if you’re launching your project in debug mode. We must tell the child-process to use a different port. If you have multiple child-processes running at the same time, they should all have their unique inspect ports, or debug attach will silently fail.

const cp = require('child_process');
const childProc = cp.fork('path_to_js_file', {
    execArgv: ['--nolazy', '--inspect', '--inspect-port=9230', '--inspect-brk']
});

VS Code Configuration

To enable automatic debug attaching to Node processes, enable the following in your current debug configuration.

"autoAttachChildProceesses": true

Also, you should enable the auto-attach in Debug mode using the command palette (CTRL+E/CMD+SHIFT+P):

>Debug: Toggle Auto Attach

which will add

"debug.node.autoAttach": "on"

to your Workspace settings.

Gotchas

Orphaned processes

Sometimes during development, as you start and stop processes, you may find that there are orphaned node processes in Task Manager (Windows) or Activity Monitor (Mac). These processes will hold onto their configured inspect ports and any new spawning of processes using those ports will silently fail debug attachment. Node processes are typically names “Node” in the process list, but can also have different names based on your project configuration.

Different methods of launching child process in Node

There are several methods of launching a child process in Node. The most flexible and the most powerful is the spawn function, and it allows launching any process. If you want to launch a Node process, the fork function is more convenient. These functions’ signatures vary greatly and care must be taken to ensure the arguments are passed to Node correctly. This is especially true for spawn, as ordering of the arguments matters:

node [arguments to node] script.js [arguments to the script]
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