child_process stdio doesn't flush before exiting #3737

seanmonstar opened this Issue Jul 19, 2012 · 13 comments


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7 participants




var child_process = require('child_process');

var child = child_process.spawn('node', ['child.js']);
child.stdout.on('data', function(d) {
child.stderr.on('data', function(d) {


process.exit(1); // derp wont get flushed
setTimeout(function() {
  process.exit(1); // wait a bit, and it will
}, 500);

That's not a bug - process.exit() is an imperative that says "exit now!".

When stdout/stderr is a pipe (as is the case with child processes) and said pipe is full, pending data gets lost. Waiting until the pipe drains is not an option, that could hang the process indefinitely.

Software, it's all tradeoffs. :-/

@bnoordhuis bnoordhuis closed this Jul 19, 2012

The same thing happens when there is an error.

In other cases, I've wanted to process.exit(1) to say that the end result was a failure, but not necessarily to QUIT NAOW!

It makes debugging infuriating, when I try to leave console.log('hi') at various lines to see how far the subprocess even got, but it doesn't get flushed.


I don't know if it helps your particular case but pass {stdio:['pipe','pipe','ignore']} to child_process.spawn() and log errors with console.error() instead of console.log(). That'll make errors get logged to a tty instead of a pipe (provided you don't pipe or redirect the stderr output of the parent process, of course).

isaacs commented Jul 19, 2012

@bnoordhuis did you mean ['pipe','pipe','inherit']?

@seanmonstar Maybe you want to listen to the close event instead of the exit event?

isaacs commented Jul 19, 2012

@seanmonstar Maybe you want to listen to the close event instead of the exit event?

Oh, wait, I see. Never mind.


I'm currently converting a couple bash scripts we have to nodejs, so they can be cross platform. This is what tripped me up:

if [ ! -x "$CERTIFY"] ; then
  echo "cant find certify"
  exit 1

I wrote this for the nodejs version:

if (!existsSync(CERTIFY)) {
  console.error('cannot find certify');

Then, when I group up several of the scripts into a single deploy script, using child_process, I won't get the error messages. What's the better way to do this in node?


obviously we would not want to hang the process on process.exit but giving it a 'reasonable' amount of time to flush buffers (a few dozen ms) in case anything has not been drained yet might make sense.

alternatively what is the best practice to check on whether all console streams have indeed been drained? several people are trying but not really making much progress here..

@jaredr jaredr referenced this issue in gruntjs/grunt-contrib-compress Feb 26, 2013

Non-deterministic corruption of resulting tarball on Mac OSX #23


@matthiasg I've seen the following code used to wait for stdout to empty. However having come across a bug caused by it, I've done some testing and found the code doesn't actually work. See below for the code the demonstrates the bug.

var waitingIO = false;
process.stdout.on('drain', function() {
  if (waitingIO) {
    // the kernel buffer is now empty
if (process.stdout.write("")) {
  // no buffer left, exit now:
} else {
  // write() returned false, kernel buffer is not empty yet...
  waitingIO = true;

Here's the code to demonstrate the bug: git://

>git clone git://
>cd node-spawn-lost-output-bug

Testing the above code for draining stdout:

>node spawn_console.js bin/console_drain
bin: bin/console_drain
Flush succeeded 861 times
Flush failed 139 times
Flush failed 13.900000000000002% of the time

Here's the same test ran against a console app that makes no attempt to drain stdout:

>node spawn_console.js bin/console
bin: bin/console
Flush succeeded 866 times
Flush failed 134 times
Flush failed 13.4% of the time

I've worked out another way to drain stdout:

var code = 0;

process.on('exit', function() {

Here's the test for the new approach:

>node spawn_console.js bin/console_on_e
bin: bin/console_on_exit
Flush succeeded 1000 times
Flush failed 0 times
Flush failed 0% of the time

@simondean thanks for your input ... that looks interesting and quite counterintuitive :) especially since it could be misunderstood as an endless loop. I will give it a try ...

if it works though, one should really dive into the code and investigate the root cause and the root reason as to why this fixes anything ;)


@matthiasg I wonder if it would help if node provided another way to set the process exit code without having to call process.exit(code);

Then you could do something like:


instead of:

var code = 1;

process.on('exit', function() {
am11 commented Dec 29, 2013

Is this issue still under consideration?

We are having a same problem with IcedCoffeeScript npm, when the process is executed from .NET's System.Diagnostics.Process. madskristensen/WebEssentials2013#358 (we fixed it with a very ugly hack -> using cmd /c redirect stdOut to a temporary file, read error message from file and delete the temp file. i.e. unnecessary overhead).

It looks like the StdOut gets the EXITLEVEL before the sub-process has returned the output message. However, the exit cod is always correct (0 for success and non-zero for failure).


I am a bit late but yesterday, i met the same problem.
To solve the problem (not totally), i used spawn with fs.pipe like this :

    var outFile = __dirname+'/out.log';
    var errFile = __dirname+'/err.log';
    var out = fs.openSync(outFile, 'a');
    var err = fs.openSync(errFile, 'a');

    var init = spawn('dir', [ '.' ], {stdio: [ 'ignore', out, err ]});
    init.on('stdout', function(data) {
         //DO SOMETHING
    init.on('stderr',function (err) {
         //DO SOMETHING
    init.on('close', function (code) {
        try {
            if (fs.existsSync(errFile)) {
                init.emit('stderr', fs.readFileSync(errFile));
            if (fs.existsSync(outFile)) {
                init.emit('stdout', code, fs.readFileSync(outFile));
        } catch (err) {
            //DO SOMETHING

Don't forget to close pipes / remove files when you have finish.


@simondean so it seems the process exit event is raised only when the entire event loop has been processed and thus all pending ops been processed. So at least the data would be in the hands of the OS.

FYI: all the console tests in your project currently return a 0% failure rate on my machine but that doesnt negate your findings of course.

I understand why @bnoordhuis closed this and i would concur generally, but there should be an easy and documented way to exit the process (stop timers and pending request handlers, data input etc, while still allowing outgoing buffers to flush) or at the very least a simple way to check for any pending outgoing data so the code might decide to go into a waiting mode (whether that results in an infinite loop is up to that coder in app space then)

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