Supercharge your debugging experience for Node.js

When console logs just aren’t enough

Indrek Lasn
Jul 22, 2018 · 4 min read
Debugging with Node

What do you do when you see this?

You might check every line of code and try to find a typo. If you find no typos, you might start using console.logs to see the output for code, which is a pain. Surely there are better methods out there?

Debugging server-side javascript code with console logs is archaic.

Console logs simply aren’t enough. They require us to slowly go line by line, restarting our server each time. Console logs also clutter our codebase with unnecessary code and removing them requires effort.

Exhibit A: how much energy does it take to spot the console log among the dummy data and other processes?

uh-oh, console cluttered. Where’s my console log?

Very daunting. It doesn’t have to be this way.

A much more efficient way of doing things would be debugging with breakpoints. With breakpoints, we can step over the call stack and event loop to diagnose the problem.

Philip Roberts: What the heck is the event loop anyway? | JSConf EU

You get the point. Time to explore other options. What are the options? I’m glad you asked!

By the way, there’s a very tasty treat at the end of the article —( just saying!).

Node has a built-in inspector!

That’s right: Node actually has a built-in inspector. The inspector uses the v8 debugger protocol viewer under the hood.

Let me show you. Let’s start a new node project:

Starting our project and installing express and nodemon:

Now we have a basic express server. But instead of using the node server.js command the traditional way, we’re adding an extra flag to our node command, the inspector.

--inspect tells Node to expose the new debugging protocol.

Once we start our server with the inspector, here’s what the console outputs:

Sweet, it worked! Open the Chrome at http://localhost:3000 with the dev tools. Notice something extra?

Notice the Node element next to the mobile inspector

Node inside our browser? Yes indeed! We still consume our app like before — localhost:3000 port is for the DevTools to consume.

Inspecting server side code inside our browser

What does Node Inspector do?

Node Inspector lets you use the DevTools user interface with the native Node debugger. DevTools can now connect directly to the Node process!

If you know how to get this working on Firefox or Safari, let us know in the comments.

Using the debugger

Using the chrome debugger is similar to using the debugger for client-side code. You set breakpoints, execute the code, step over the breakpoints and find the bug.

Using breakpoints to step over our code

Can you imagine how useful this can be when we have an error inside a big controller? We have access to the debugger, call stack, scopes, local variables, global variables, etc. We have so many sharp tools to use!

Taking it to another level

We’re not done yet. 20 July 2018 was a very special day for debugging node. Why?

Google Chrome labs team open sourced their advanced debugging tool: ndb!

ndb is an improved debugging experience for Node.js, enabled by Chrome DevTools

Ndb is a great tool for debugging. Let’s give it a go.

Installing ndb

npm install -g ndb

It’s like any other npm package, — simple to use and install.


To use ndb, we just have to prefix our start script with ndb.

appending ndb to our start script

That’s it! Let’s restart our server — notice we’re using nodemon — just like any traditional project.

We have a new chrome instance for the sole purpose of debugging. How cool is that?

We even have access to the node process global object — which is the window object for node.

Hacker news discussion about the new debugger — check it out!

If you want to take your Node skills to the next level, I recommend reading through the “Web Development with Node and Express: Leveraging the JavaScript Stack” book.

Thanks for reading, stay awesome! ❤

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.

Indrek Lasn

Written by

JS, Swift, C++ Indie Dev. Oh, and startups. Connect with me on Twitter @

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.

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