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Debugging TypeScript in a Docker Container

This recipe shows how to run and debug a VS Code TypeScript project in a Docker container.

The recipe assumes that you have a recent version of Docker installed.

You can either follow the manual steps in the next section or you can 'clone' the setup from a repository:

git clone https://github.com/weinand/vscode-recipes.git
cd vscode-recipes/Docker-TypeScript
npm install
code .

Inside VS Code press 'F5' to start the debug session. Then open a browser on localhost:3000 and watch the request counter increment every 3 seconds.

To learn what's going on, please read the following detailed explanation.

Create Setup Manually

Create a new project folder 'server' and open it in VS Code. Inside the project create a folder src with a file index.ts:

import * as http from 'http';

let reqCnt = 1;

http.createServer((req, res) => {

  const message = `Request Count: ${reqCnt}`;

  res.writeHead(200, { 'Content-Type': 'text/html' });
  res.end(`<html><head><meta http-equiv="refresh" content="2"></head><body>${message}</body></html>`);

  console.log("handled request: " + reqCnt++);

console.log('server running on port 3000');

This is a trivial http server that serves a self-refreshing page showing a request counter.

Add a tsconfig.json file in the src folder that tells the TypeScript compiler that we need source maps and where to put them:

  "compilerOptions": {
    "outDir": "../dist",
    "sourceMap": true

Add this package.json which lists the dependencies and defines some scripts for building and running the server:

  "name": "server",
  "version": "0.0.0",
  "scripts": {
    "postinstall": "tsc -p ./src",
    "watch": "tsc -w -p ./src",
    "debug": "nodemon --watch ./dist --inspect= --nolazy ./dist/index.js",
    "docker-debug": "docker-compose up",
    "start": "node ./dist/index.js"
  "devDependencies": {
    "@types/node": "^6.0.50",
    "typescript": "^2.3.2",
    "nodemon": "^1.11.0"
  "main": "./dist/index.js"
  • The postinstall script uses the TypeScript compiler to translate the source into JavaScript in the 'dist' folder.
  • The watch script runs the TypeScript compiler in 'watch' mode: whenever the TypeScript source is modified, it is transpiled into the 'dist' folder.
  • The debug script uses 'nodemon' to watch for changes in the 'dist' folder and restart the node runtime in debug mode.
  • The docker-debug script creates a docker image for debugging.
  • The start script runs the server in production mode.

You can now run the server locally with these steps:

npm install
npm start

Then open a browser on localhost:3000 and watch the request counter increment every 3 seconds.

Running in Docker

For running the server in a docker container we need a Dockerfile in the root of your project:

FROM node:8-slim

WORKDIR /server

COPY . /server
RUN npm install

CMD [ "npm", "start" ]

This creates the docker image from a node runtime image, copies the VS Code project into a /server folder and runs npm install to load the required npm modules and the 'build' script to build the server. Finally it starts the server via the npm 'start' script.

You can build and run a docker image 'server' with these steps:

docker build -t server .
docker run -p 3000:3000 server

Debugging in Docker

For debugging this server in the Docker container we could just make node's debug port 9222 available (via the '-p' flag from above) and attach VS Code to this.

But for a faster edit/compile/debug cycle we will use a more sophisticated approach by mounting the 'dist' folder of the VS Code workspace directly into the container running in Docker. Inside Docker we'll use 'nodemon' for tracking changes in the 'dist' folder and restart the node runtime automatically and in the VS Code workspace we'll use a watch task that automatically transpiles modified TypeScript source into the 'dist' folder.

Let's start with the 'watch' task by creating a tasks.json inside the .vscode folder:

   "version": "0.1.0",
  "tasks": [
      "taskName": "tsc-watch",
      "command": "npm",
      "args": [ "run", "watch" ],
      "isShellCommand": true,
      "isBackground": true,
      "isBuildCommand": true,
      "problemMatcher": "$tsc-watch",
      "showOutput": "always"

The tsc-watch task runs the npm watch script and registers as VS Code's 'build' command. The build command will be automatically triggered whenever a debug session is started (but it can be triggered manually as well).

For the modified Docker setup we use 'docker-compose' because it allows to override individual steps in the 'Dockerfile'.

Create a docker-compose.yml file side-by-side to the Dockerfile:

version: "2"

    build: .
    command: npm run debug
      - ./dist:/server/dist
      - "3000:3000"
      - "9222:9222"

Here we mount the dist folder of the workspace into the Docker container (which hides whatever was in that location before). And we replace the npm start command from CMD in the Dockerfile by npm run debug. In the ports section we add a mapping for the node.js debug port.

The docker-compose.yml will be used when running the docker-compose from the command line:

docker-compose up

For attaching the VS Code node debugger to the server running in the Docker container we use this launch configuration:

  "version": "0.2.0",
  "configurations": [
      "type": "node",
      "request": "attach",
      "name": "Attach to Docker",
      "preLaunchTask": "tsc-watch",
      "port": 9222,
      "restart": true,
      "localRoot": "${workspaceFolder}",
      "remoteRoot": "/server",
      "outFiles": [
  • As a preLaunchTask we run the watch task that transpiles TypeScript into the distfolder. Since this task runs in background, the debugger does not wait for its termination.
  • The localRoot/remoteRoot attributes are used to map file paths between the docker container and the local system: remoteRoot is set to /server because that's the absolute path of the folder where the program lives in the docker container.
  • The restart flag is set to true because VS Code should try to re-attach to node.js whenever it loses the connection to it. This typically happens when nodemon detects a file change and restarts node.js.

After running "Attach to Docker" you can debug the server in TypeScript source:

  • set a breakpoint in index.ts:9 and it will be hit as soon as the browser requests a new page,
  • modify the message string in index.ts:7 and after you have saved the file, the server running in Docker restarts and the browser shows the modified page.

Please note: when using Docker on Windows, modifying the source does not make nodemon restart node.js. On Windows nodemon cannot pick-up file changes from the mounted dist folder because of this issue. The workaround is to add the --legacy-watch flag to nodemon in the debug npm script:

"debug": "nodemon --legacy-watch --watch ./dist --inspect= --nolazy ./dist/index.js",

Further Simplifying the Debugging Setup

Please note: the following requires VS Code 1.13.0

Instead of launching Docker from the command line and then attaching the debugger to it, we can combine both steps in one launch configuration:

  "version": "0.2.0",
  "configurations": [
      "type": "node",
      "request": "launch",
      "name": "Launch in Docker",
      "preLaunchTask": "tsc-watch",
      "runtimeExecutable": "npm",
      "runtimeArgs": [ "run", "docker-debug" ],
      "port": 9222,
      "restart": true,
      "timeout": 60000,
      "localRoot": "${workspaceFolder}",
      "remoteRoot": "/server",
      "outFiles": [
      "console": "integratedTerminal",
      "internalConsoleOptions": "neverOpen"
  • here we set the docker-debug npm script as the runtime executable and its arguments. The node debugger doesn't care about what is used as the runtimeExecutable as long as it opens a debug port that the node debugger can attach to.
  • we use the integratedTerminal because we want to be able to kill docker-compose by using 'Control-C'. This is not possible with the Debug Console.