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Capture heap snapshots in Node.js

Comparing heap dumps is an excellent technique for finding memory leaks. You can use it to obtain much more information about your application, but I mainly use it for this. There are several methods how you can capture them in Node.js. In this post, I will show you how to do it.

Chromium DevTools Memory tab

The easiest way is to use a Chromium-based browser that allows you to attach to any Node.js process invoked with an --inspect or --inspect-brk flag.

node --inspect index.mjs
Capture Node.js heap snapshot using Chromium DevTools Memory tab

Using the --heapsnapshot-signal flag

Available from Node.js version 12 --heapsnapshot-signal flag allows you to capture a heap snapshot when a process receives a signal. Remember to pass a valid signal name as a value — SIGUSR1 or SIGUSR2 are the most common choices.

node --heapsnapshot-signal=SIGUSR1 index.mjs
ps aux | grep node | awk '{print $2}'
kill -USR1 12345

Using V8 writeHeapSnapshot method

You can generate a heap snapshot programmatically in reaction to a signal emitted or an HTTP request using v8.writeHeapSnapshot() method. The example below could be better because, in a real-world scenario, you would want this endpoint to be protected, but it is just to show you how it works.

import { writeHeapSnapshot } from "node:v8";
import Fastify from "fastify";
const fastify = Fastify();

fastify.get("/heap", (request, reply) => {
  reply.send({ message: "heap snapshot saved" });

fastify.listen({ port: 3000 });
curl http://localhost:3000/heap
{"message":"heap snapshot saved"}

Enjoy profiling

The official Node.js guide also provides another way to capture heap snapshots using inspector protocol, but I haven’t found it very useful in practice. I am very curious about similar functionality in other runtimes like Deno and Bun, but I haven’t found anything yet — if you know of any, please let me know in the comments.

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