Monitoring node.js upstart processes

Using upstart to detect node.js app crashes

Here at Gitter we love writing node.js applications, but like any real-world application, things occassionally go wrong. Nine times out of ten, this is down to an unhandled exception in node.js (although we're seeing a lot less of these since we started using promises extensively).

node.js crashes

We wanted a way of detecting process crashes and reporting the state of the server immediately after the process terminated.

Upstart's respawn option immediately restarts our services on termination, but it doesn't have an easy way of executing a script when the process terminated abnormally. And although the post-stop script executes, its not possible to tell whether the shutdown is due to a planned service shutdown or a crash.

Upstart hacky

Upstart can execute scripts before and after a process starts and stops. It has hooks for:

  • pre-start
  • post-start
  • pre-stop
  • post-stop

When a service is shutdown correctly, the pre-stop and post-stop scripts execute. However, when a service crashes, upstart will execute the post-stop script, but not the pre-stop script. We can use this to detect a crash.

For each of the node upstart services we add the following stanzas to the upstart configuration:

# Crash reporting
pre-start exec /opt/upstart-monitor/bin/pre-start
pre-stop exec /opt/upstart-monitor/bin/pre-stop
post-stop exec /opt/upstart-monitor/bin/post-stop

The three scripts referenced are tiny. Here's how they look:


This script creates a file when the service starts.


touch /var/run/$UPSTART_JOB.shutdown


This script removes the file on proper shutdown.


rm /var/run/$UPSTART_JOB.shutdown


This script checks to see whether proper shutdown has
been performed and if it hasn't notifies devops.



if [ -f $SHUTDOWN_FILE ]; then

  # The service did not shutdown correctly,
  # perform your diagnostics or notify your
  # administrators over here

Do you have a better way of doing this? Pop in to Gitter and let us know!

Andrew Newdigate

Andrew Newdigate

Andrew is a cofounder and the CTO of Gitter. He's from Cape Town in South Africa and lives in London in the UK with his wife and two young kids.

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