How does setTimeout work in Node.JS?


I guess that once it's executed it's on the queue, but in the queue is there any assurance it will invoke exactly after X milliseconds? Or will other heavy tasks higher on the queue delay it?

5/5/2012 10:14:08 AM

The semantics of setTimeout are roughly the same as in a web browser: the timeout arg is a minimum number of ms to wait before executing, not a guarantee. Furthermore, passing 0, a non-number, or a negative number, will cause it to wait a minimum number of ms. In Node, this is 1ms, but in browsers it can be as much as 50ms.

The reason for this is that there is no preemption of JavaScript by JavaScript. Consider this example:

setTimeout(function () {
}, 100)
var end = + 5000
while ( < end) ;
console.log('imma let you finish but blocking the event loop is the best bug of all TIME')

The flow here is:

  1. schedule the timeout for 100ms.
  2. busywait for 5000ms.
  3. return to the event loop. check for pending timers and execute.

If this was not the case, then you could have one bit of JavaScript "interrupt" another. We'd have to set up mutexes and semaphors and such, to prevent code like this from being extremely hard to reason about:

var a = 100;
setTimeout(function () {
  a = 0;
}, 0);
var b = a; // 100 or 0?

The single-threadedness of Node's JavaScript execution makes it much simpler to work with than most other styles of concurrency. Of course, the trade-off is that it's possible for a badly-behaved part of the program to block the whole thing with an infinite loop.

Is this a better demon to battle than the complexity of preemption? That depends.

5/26/2012 4:06:09 PM

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