Delay Processing In Node.js

April 2, 2013 / Mad Coding, Start-up, AvidTap, Node.js


There have been scenarios where I wanted to offload some processing to be done in a separate thread. One example is when I want to geocode certain addresses but don’t need the result of the geocoding in order to return results to the client. There is no point to wait for the geocode request to another server in order to return results for current request. In this situation it would have been great to just offload that task, which is also IO-bound.

There are several ways of accomplishing this: child_process, setImmediate, process.nextTick, and additional modules.

Update: Actually, some realization later, for IO-bound tasks you don’t really need to delay using these techniques. Once processing hits IO regular event loop applies. For CPU-bound tasks child_process and webworkers will help.


There is the built-in child_process module, which provides ability to spawn other processes like many other programming languages. This is the solution I currently use for AvidTap. It works and allows me to return results without waiting on non-essential things. However, it’s also not pretty and has more layers to jump through when reading code.

The code roughly looks like this:

var spawn = require('child_process').spawn;
spawn('node', [path.resolve(__dirname, '../tools/script.js'), 'some args']);

Ugly and all of a sudden I have to worry about file paths which have different semantic compared to when using require(). Enter process.nextTick.


While looking for another solution, I came across this article on howtonode, which talked about process.nextTick. Since the task I want to delay process also happens to be one that’s IO-bound, nextTick would work great.

nextTick plays within the rules of the single event loop and single threaded-ness of javascript. The great thing this has over the child_process method is that I can use closure and get access to the context. The downside is that I can’t do anything CPU intensive here just like everwhere else.


var saywhat = 'hello';
process.nextTick(function() {

nextTick makes delaying things easier and nicer to read, and after node v9 there is setImmediate too, which should work for IO-bound tasks as well.


setImmediate is similar to nextTick, but differs in the order it gets executed in the event loop. The doc explains the details. Using it is similar to nextTick:

var saywhat = 'hello';
setImmediate(function(value) {
}, "world!");

In my scenario, it doesn’t matter which one. I just want certain IO-bound task to be performed some time later. There’s no recursive call either. If I have CPU-bound task, then I’ll probably explore the webworkers route.

WebWorkers for Node.js

The webworker-threads module enables you to use webworker API. This would work for CPU intensive tasks. The downside of course is that it’s basically a separate environment (so no closure) and you have to communicate via strings.

var Worker = require('webworker-threads').Worker;
var worker = new Worker(function() {
    onmessage = function(event) {
        console.log("hello " +;

So these are the ways I know of in terms of delay doing some non-essential processing in Node.js. Next time I won’t be picking up the child_process tool because it’s not the best thing for my current needs.