I Am Simme

Random musings by a programmer and film photography geek.

Live Debugging Node.js in Vim

Posted in JavaScript.

I just discovered something pretty neat. There's a Node module called node-vim-debugger that let's you debug running Node processes, right inside Vim. And it's insanely simple.

First do:

$ npm install -g vimdebug

This will install a global module that you'll use to facilitate a connection between Vim and your Node process.

Then let's create a simple Node server to illustrate. Save it as server.js.

var http = require('http');  
http.createServer(function (req, res) {  
  debugger;
  var foo = 5 > 7 ? 'bar' : 'foo';
  res.write(foo);
  res.end();
}).listen(3000);

You'll notice the debugger statement. If you're unfamiliar with that it's basically a breakpoint defined in code.

Pretend that this is your super fancy web application server and you're having some trouble figuring out how to solve an annoying bug you have. For some reason the server always prints foo when requesting a page. Odd.

Now start your script with:

$ node --debug-brk server.js

This will start your server in debug mode with breakpoints enabled.

Now you have to start the agent that hooks your process up to Vim:

$ node-vim-inspector

Now, inside Vim, where you were just editing server.js type:

:nbs

You'll notice a -> symbol at the top of the file. By default node in debug mode will break on the first line. So hit ctrl-n until you see that the little indicator on the side has passed the listen part of our script. The server is now actually up and running. Now open localhost:3000 in your browser and head back to Vim. The -> indicator is now next to the debugger statement. That's because our browser request hit the http request handler and hence our breakpoint.

Now keep hitting ctrl-n and you'll see the cursor jump around as the code is executed. After a few hits the cursor ends up at foo. Wow. So five is always less then seven, who knew. So there's obviously something wrong with our assumption that we would ever get bar as the response to our request.

If you keep hitting ctrl-n you'll sooner or later consistently end up at the same line. This is when you enter the run or debug loop, I think, which will just hang around and wait for something to happen. You can reload the page to make it jump to the breakpoint again.

You can use ctrl-i to jump in to a function call or ctrl-o to jump out of the current function (ie to after it has returned). I'm currently trying to figure out if it's possible to print the value of a variable in the current scope.

Seems like the module is not recently updated or active in anyway. So I guess we shouldn't expect any new features. But for basic debugging and following the code flow it's very handy and cool!

Happy debugging!