Hussain Arif Hussain is a CS student in Pakistan whose biggest interest is learning and teaching programming to make the world a better place.

How to debug Node.js using Chrome DevTools and watchers

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Debugging Node.js with Chrome DevTools

Editor’s note: This article was last updated 23 May 2023 to include an example of debugging Node.js code with watchers in addition to using Chrome DevTools.

When developing software, debugging is one of the most important steps. Not only does code testing ensure stability, but it also guarantees quality code and a better user experience. Typically, developers use console.log statements within their codebase to inspect issues. For example, consider the following JavaScript code:

console.log("This code will be printed in the console");
const i = 10;
console.log("The value of i is", i);

The code above will produce the following output:

JavaScript Code Example Console Log Output
console.log output

Although this is a valid way to test, there are a few issues. For one, you can’t check the app’s memory usage; tracking RAM usage is essential when it comes to optimizing performance. Additionally, there are no breakpoints, meaning you have no way to track the values of the variables during runtime.

As a workaround, you might use console.log statements, however, this could be problematic for large projects because you have to inspect many pages of logging statements:

Console Log Debugging Output Logging Statements
Debugging output

In this article, we’ll explore two different debugging methods that prevent this problem, using the GUI and CLI, respectively. First, we’ll learn how to debug a Node.js app using Chrome’s built-in Developer Tools. As an alternative, we’ll consider using the built-in Node.js debugger keyword with watchers. Let’s get started!

Jump ahead:

Creating a project

First, initialize a blank console project using the following terminal commands:

mkdir debugger-tools #create project directory
cd debugger-tools 
npm init -y #initialize project.
touch index.js #create a file called index.js

To showcase debugger functionality, we’ll build a basic Express server. To do so, install the express module as follows:

npm install express

Using Chrome DevTools

Chrome Developer Tools is helpful for programmers to test their web apps and debug Node.js console projects with minimal effort. Chrome DevTools supports the following features:

  • Breakpoints: Lets the user track their variable values during runtime
  • Memory and CPU profiling: Helps us track the memory and CPU usage of the app
  • Source maps: Maps object code to source code, helping us read and debug compiled code in its original source

Running the inspector

Now, we’ll learn how to debug our project by getting started with the Chrome DevTools menu. First, navigate to index.js and write the following code:

//file: index.js
const express = require("express");
const app = express();
const port = 3000;
app.get("/", async (req, res) => { //when the user is on the home directory,
  console.log("User is on home page"); //log out this message to the console
  res.send("Hello World!"); //send response to client to prevent timeout errors
app.listen(port, () => { //run the server
  console.log(`Example app listening on port ${port}`);

Next, we have to run the debugger:

npx nodemon --inspect index.js

The code above tells the compiler to attach a debugger daemon so we can inspect our program using Chrome DevTools:

Chrome Devtools Debugger Daemon
Debugger daemon

Now that the daemon is running, open the debugger. In an empty browser window, right click and click Inspect to open Chrome Developer Tools. Then, click the green Node.js icon, which will tell the browser to launch the Node.js debugger:

Open NodeJS Debugger Chrome Dev Tools
Opening debugger step 1

Now, let’s test our code! Go to localhost:3000:

Test Nodejs Debugger Devtools
Opening debugger step 2

Every time the user refreshes the page, we get console logs in the DevTools Console view, indicating that Node.js has successfully attached a debugger to our program.

Inserting breakpoints in Node.js

The breakpoints feature is arguably the most important feature in the debugger toolset. As the name suggests, a breakpoint pauses code execution whenever it reaches a certain point, which can be useful in the following situations:

  • Tracking the values of variables during code execution
  • Inspecting the call stack, which is crucial in situations where you want to check whether the project is actually calling critical functions during the app’s lifecycle

The following code will help us to better understand debuggers:

let count = 0; //initialize a count variable.
app.get("/", async (req, res) => {
  console.log("User is on home page");
  count++; //when the user visits this page, increment the count variable
  console.log("User visit count", count); //log out its value
  res.send("Hello World!");

To enable breakpoints, select Sources in the DevTools window. Then, double-click the line where you want the breakpoint; in our case, it is line 9. This tells the debugger that we want the breakpoint to track the value of the count variable:

Enable Breakpoints Chrome Devtools
Enable breakpoints

When we run the code, we can see that the debugger pauses code execution every time it reaches line 9:

Debugger Pause Code Execution Breakpoint Demo
The debugger pauses code execution every time it reaches line 9

Thanks to the debugger service, we can now track the value of count during the program’s runtime.

Using the debugger keyword

When we don’t want to manually activate breakpoints through the GUI, we can also use the built-in debugger keyword in our code as follows:

const count = 0;
const myArray = []; //create an empty array
app.get("/", async (req, res) => {
  console.log("User is on home page");
  myArray.push(count); //push element into this array
  debugger; //activate a breakpoint. 
  //All of the variables before this line will be tracked
  console.log("User visit count", count);
  res.send("Hello World!");

Below is the output of the program:

NodeJS Debugger Program Output
Debugger program output

Using the memory profiler

Memory profilers help developers track their app’s memory usage, which is useful for finding memory leaks and optimizing performance. To use a memory profiler, go to Memory, make sure Heap Snapshot is selected, scroll down, and click Record:

Using Chrome DevTools Memory Profiler
Memory profiler record

In this option, you can see how much memory your program consumes in total. Additionally, expanding each option can provide deeper insight into how much memory your code is using. As a result, you can monitor the project for memory leaks:

Chrome Memory Profiler Memory Consumed
How much memory your program consumes

Using the built-in Node.js debugger keyword with watchers

If you prefer to debug in the CLI, you can monitor variables using watchers in the terminal the same way you can step through code and monitor variables using Chrome DevTools. A watcher allows you to monitor the value of a specific variable or expression while the program is being executed. You can set up a watcher for a variable or expression of interest, and the debugger will display the current value of that variable or expression at various points during the program’s execution.

We’ll use the built-in watch() function with a string argument that contains the variable name. This feature is helpful for tracking changes in variable values and understanding how they evolve during runtime. To demonstrate, create a file called index.js and add the following code to it:

let count = 0;

for (let i = 1; i <= 10; i++) {
  if (i % 2 !== 0) {

Open a terminal or command prompt and navigate to the directory where the index.js file is located. Start the Node.js debugger by running the following command:

node inspect index.js

Using NodeJS Watchers Debugger Pause Execution

The debugger will pause the execution at the first line of code. To set a watcher for the count variable, type the following command in the debugger prompt:

NodeJS Set Watcher Count Variable

Now, you can continue the execution of the code by typing c and pressing Enter. The debugger will proceed through the loop, and at each iteration when it encounters the debugger keyword, it will display the current value of count as a watcher:

Step Through NodeJS Code Breakpoint
Stepping through the code till breakpoint

Alternately, if you want to monitor the code execution line by line, you can also use the letter n to move to the next line of code:

Move Through Code Line By Line
Stepping through the code line by line

You can inspect the value of count at each iteration by looking at the output in the debugger console, allowing you to easily debug your code.


In addition to debugging Node.js applications using the built-in Node.js debugger and watchers, Google Chrome DevTools is one of the most crucial pieces of software used during app development. Not only does it help programmers squash bugs, but it also helps them enhance their app’s user experience, ultimately leading to happier users. Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave a comment if you have any questions. Happy coding!

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Hussain Arif Hussain is a CS student in Pakistan whose biggest interest is learning and teaching programming to make the world a better place.

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