Skip to main content

Node.js threads

Node.js is often mistakenly thought of as a single-threaded JavaScript engine. However, this is not accurate. Experienced Node.js engineers are aware of the separate libuv thread pool used for delegating synchronous a file system and a DNS utility operations (like getaddrinfo and getnameinfo) out of the main thread. But, in reality, the actual number of threads is much larger. If you start Node.js you will see 10 threads alongside with main thread:

ps -m <PID>
underoot 14489 s006 3.1 S 31T 0:00.70 0:00.27 node index.mjs
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.01
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00
14489 0.0 S 31T 0:00.00 0:00.00

Only 4 of them belong to the default libuv thread pool and rest of them responsible for other tasks.

Libuv #

The Libuv thread pool keeps synchronous operations outside of the main thread with a default event loop. You can control the size of the pool with the environment variable UV_THREADPOOL_SIZE. Before version 1.45.0 of Libuv, it was correct to say that all file system operations go to a thread pool. Nowadays on Linux systems, if the Linux kernel is compiled with io_uring, which gives the ability to do I/O operations asynchronously, execution of such operations like fs.readFile will be done in the kernel and result eventually, not synchronously after getting data in the separate thread, as before, will be handled in default Libuv event loop. According to the comment from maintainer of Libuv enabling of io_uring "an 8x increase in throughput". But in Node.js by default, this API is disabled because of known vulnerability CVE-2024-22017: if you start some file system operations with privileges and downgrade them during file system call, results of operation will be available to unprivileged process anyway. Commits with disabled of io_uring can be found here and here. But if you know what you do and you want to test performance of asynchronous file system operations you can enable io_uring with environment variable UV_USE_IO_URING=1.

V8 #

V8 is the JavaScript engine powering Node.js. It is doing a lot of job, which is being moved to separate V8 thread pool. You can control the size of this pool with Node.js CLI flag --v8-pool-size=.... During Node.js initialization, it will instantiate number of threads for V8 based on passed mentioned CLI option:

  for (int i = 0; i < thread_pool_size; i++) {
PlatformWorkerData* worker_data = new PlatformWorkerData{
&pending_worker_tasks_, &platform_workers_mutex,
&platform_workers_ready, &pending_platform_workers, i
std::unique_ptr<uv_thread_t> t { new uv_thread_t() };
if (uv_thread_create(t.get(), PlatformWorkerThread,
worker_data) != 0) {

Alongside with V8 thread pool, Node.js also creates a thread for delayed tasks. For example, when you instantiate WebAssembly module, Node.js will collect performance metrics and will do it later and with this separate thread.

Inspector agent #

Node.js from the version 6.3.0 has support of Chrome DevTools protocol through inspector agent that runs in a separate thread and communicates with the front end of debugger, which can be, for example, Chrome developer tools. So, every time when you put breakpoint in Chrome when you are debugging Node.js, your breakpoint is handled by this inspector agent.

Worker threads #

The 10th version of Node.js introduced new API: worker threads. It's a user-land feature which gives ability to instantiate separate thread and communicate between them through MessageChannel with transferrable ArrayBuffer of shareable SharedArrayBuffer. Here is the example from Node.js documentation about worker threads.

const {
Worker, isMainThread, parentPort, workerData,
} = require('node:worker_threads');

if (isMainThread) {
module.exports = function parseJSAsync(script) {
return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
const worker = new Worker(__filename, {
workerData: script,
worker.on('message', resolve);
worker.on('error', reject);
worker.on('exit', (code) => {
if (code !== 0)
reject(new Error(`Worker stopped with exit code ${code}`));
} else {
const { parse } = require('some-js-parsing-library');
const script = workerData;

Worth to mention if you will try to check that child threads actually do job separately from the main thread and will try to block the main thread, keep in mind that if you will try to print something in stdio you won't be able to do so, because threads reuse parent stdio and if you block the main thread, it won't be available for thread.

Conclusion #

By default, the Node.js main thread will instantiate additional 10 threads: 4 Libuv threads for handling synchronous operations such as file system operations and DNS utility operations, 4 V8 threads for handling a JavaScript engine related tasks like garbage collection, 1 thread for not critical delayed tasks and 1 thread for inspector agent, which is responsible for handling Chrome DevTools commands such as debugging and profiling. Users also free to use worker_threads module to instantiate new threads.