How to Use Child Processes in Node.js for CPU-Intensive Tasks

Updated: December 29, 2023 By: Guest Contributor Post a comment


Node.js is a powerful platform for building network applications and services. However, Node’s single-threaded nature can be a limited asset when it comes to CPU-intensive tasks. To overcome this limitation, Node.js provides a module called child_process which allows you to execute other scripts or applications in child processes. This tutorial will explain the use of child processes to improve the computational efficiency of your applications.

Before you begin, ensure you have a basic understanding of JavaScript and Node.js.

Understanding the child_process Module

The child_process module in Node.js is a built-in module that allows the creation of child processes within your application. Child processes run concurrently with the main process, and this concurrency is one way to perform CPU-intensive tasks without blocking the event loop.

Creating a Simple Child Process

This code demonstrates how to implement a very simple child process in Node.js:

const { spawn } = require('child_process');

const ls = spawn('ls', ['-lh', '/usr']);

ls.stdout.on('data', (data) => {
  console.log(`stdout: ${data}`);

ls.stderr.on('data', (data) => {
  console.error(`stderr: ${data}`);

ls.on('close', (code) => {
  console.log(`child process exited with code ${code}`);

This example shows how to spawn a simple child process that executes the ls command to list directory contents.

Communicate Between Parent and Child Process

Inter-process communication (IPC) allows a parent process to communicate with its spawned children. The following example demonstrates two-way communication.

const { fork } = require('child_process');

const child = fork('path/to/child_script.js');

child.on('message', (msg) => {
  console.log('Message from child', msg);

child.send({ hello: 'world' });

Here, we utilize the fork function to create a child process and establish a communication channel.

Handling CPU-Intensive Tasks with the Cluster Module

To spread work across multiple CPU cores, you can use the cluster module in combination with child_process.

const cluster = require('cluster');
const numCPUs = require('os').cpus().length;

if (cluster.isMaster) {
  console.log(`Master ${} is running`);

  for (let i = 0; i < numCPUs; i++) {

  cluster.on('exit', (worker, code, signal) => {
    console.log(`worker ${} died`);
} else {
  console.log(`Worker ${} started`);

  // Execute CPU-intensive task here

By leveraging the cluster module, you can fork multiple child processes to spread out a CPU load evenly over available cores.

When to Use Child Processes

Using child processes can be highly beneficial when performing heavy computations, managing separate tasks in parallel, or wrangling external applications through your Node.js code. Some scenarios include:

  • Heavy numerical calculations
  • Data processing or transformation tasks
  • Integrating with system commands or third-party tools


In this in-depth guide, we have covered how Node.js child processes can be utilized for CPU-intensive operations. By using the child_process module strategically, along with an understanding of communication and the cluster module’s capabilities, you can build applications that maximize the computational resources available. Remember to analyze your application’s requirements closely and replant extensively before opting for a strategy, as the unnecessary complication of a system with child processes can lead to challenges in code maintenance and debugging.