Understanding JavaScript - Node Child Process - Part 2

June 30,2020☕️ 4 min read

This is the second part of Understanding JavaScript - Child Process Series.

You can read the firt part using the below link

Part 1 of this blog available at - Understanding JavaScript - Child Process - Part 1

Using multiple processes is one of the best way to scale and maintain a large scale application in Node JS. One of the ways that we achieve this is by using child_process module.

Child Processes Module

child_process module allows us to create a new child processes in Node JS. Those child processes can easily communicate with each other using a built-in messaging system and we can use that so scale or even process huge data in our Node Application.

The commands/examples I’ll be using in this article are all Linux-based.

There are four different ways to create a child process in Node JS.

  • spawn()
  • exec()
  • execFile()
  • fork()

In this article we’re going to see the differences between execFile() and fork() functions.

Part 1 of this article is available here, which explains spawn and exec methods in detail.


If we need to execute a file without using a shell mode,we need to use execFile method. This works exactly like the exec function, but does not use a shell, which makes it a bit more efficient.

We have some platform limitation on using execFile method, like in Windows, some files cannot be executed on their own, like .bat or .cmd files. Those files cannot be executed with execFile. We need to used either exec or spawn with shell set to true is required to execute them.

execFile method has four arguments.

execFile(file[, args][, options][, callback])

  • file - Location of the file/Command - *Required *
  • args - list of string arguments for the script - optional
  • options - options to execFile method like cwd,env,encoding,timeout,maxBuffer,killSignal,etc -* optional*
  • callback function - optional
const execFile = require('child_process').execFile;
const childProcess = execFile('node', ['--version'], (error, stdout, stderr) => {
    if (error) {
        console.error('stderr', stderr);
        throw error;
    console.log('stdout', stdout);

execFile is used when we just need to execute an application and get the output. For example, we can use execFile to run an image-processing application to convert from one format to other and we only care if it succeeds or not.

We should not use execFile when the application generates a large amount of data and we need to consume that data in real time.


The fork method is a special case of spawn method and it is used specifically to spawn new Node.js processes. Like spawn a ChildProcess object is returned. The returned ChildProcess will have an additional communication channel(IPC) built-in that allows messages to be passed back and forth between the parent and child processes.

For example,

  • On the child process, process.on(‘message’) and process.send(‘to parent’) can be used to receive and send data.
  • On the parent process, child.on(‘message’) and child.send(‘to child’) are used to process data from client and to send data to the client.

fork method has three arguments. execFile(modulePath[, args][, options])

  • file -Module to run in child process - *Required *
  • args - list of string arguments for the script - optional
  • options - options to execFile method like cwd,env,encoding,timeout,maxBuffer,killSignal,etc -* optional*
const childProcess = require('child_process');
const parentProcess = childProcess.fork(`${__dirname}/client.js`);
parentProcess.on('message', (message) => {
  console.log('PARENT got message from CHILD ::', message);
parentProcess.send({ hello: 'world' });
process.on('message', (message) => {
  console.log('CHILD got message from PARENT ::', message);
process.send({ from: 'client' });

Since Node’s main process is single threaded, long-running tasks like computation will occupy the main process or block the event loop. As a result, incoming requests has to wait until the old process finishes the processing and so the application becomes unresponsive. Off-loading long-running tasks from the main process by forking a new Node process allows the application to serve incoming requests and process huge data without any blocking.

Synchronous Methods

The methids spawn, exec, and execFile from the child_process module also have synchronous blocking versions that will wait until the child process exits.

const { 
} = require('child_process');

Those synchronous versions are potentially useful when trying to simplify scripting tasks or any startup processing tasks, but they should be avoided otherwise.

References: https://nodejs.org/api/child_process.html