Node.js Cluster and working directory shenanigans

Cluster is a excellent built-in Node.js module which lets you run a master node process which spawns, balances and maintains multiple child processes. One nice advantage of this is you can reload the worker processes independently, so you can get zero-downtime deploys by deploying the new code, and asking the master to reload its workers.

Let’s say we have the following master setup:

  exec: '/app/current/worker.js'

On start, and when asked to reload, the cluster master forks node /app/current/worker.js processes. My problem came about due to my deploy process, with Capistrano. On a deploy, Capistrano adds the application code into a timestamped /app/releases directory, and then creates a symlink from /app/releases/timestamp -> /app/current.

Following the deploy, the cluster master happily reloads its workers. The problem is, the working directory of the cluster master is an old release (specifically, whatever the /app/current symlink pointed at when the master was last started). When Cluster forks a child process, that child process has the same working directory as the master.

What ended up occuring was the node /app/current/worker.js would run, and correctly load the worker.js file from the current symlink of /app/current (so, the latest release). However, anything inside worker.js which references process.cwd(), such as require('./lib/something'), would actually be resolved to an old file.

The special __dirname variable would, however, show the real directly, as __dirname shows the directory the current script is executed from. So, knowing that, the fix was simple - at the top of worker.js, make sure the cwd is the same as __dirname and change it if not.

if (__dirname !== process.cwd()) {
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