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A Complete Guide to Timeouts in Node.js

Ayooluwa Isaiah
Updated on July 12, 2024

Timeouts are a fundamental mechanism that prevents programs from indefinitely waiting for operations to complete.

Infinite or overly long timeouts can be detrimental to your application's performance and reliability. They might seem harmless at first until a downstream service becomes unresponsive, leading to resource exhaustion and potential crashes.

Many libraries unfortunately default to high or infinite timeouts to cater to a wide range of use cases. For example, the Node.js http.Server class has an infinite default inactivity timeout, which is rarely suitable for production-grade services.

It could also leave your service vulnerable to resource-exhaustion attacks like Denial of Service (DoS) or Event Handler Poisoning.

In this guide, we'll examine how to implement timeouts effectively in your Node.js applications, covering:

  • Setting limits on client interactions.
  • Timing out outgoing HTTP requests.
  • Applying timeouts to JavaScript promises.
  • Strategies for determining appropriate time durations.
  • How to handle timeout errors.

Let's get started!

Why you need timeouts in Node.js

Node.js is all about handling requests swiftly, whether they come from users or are sent to external resources. It's a juggling act of asynchronous tasks, and timeouts are essential to keep everything running smoothly.

Without timeouts, requests could hang indefinitely, bogging down your application. By setting time limits, you ensure responsiveness and avoid resource bottlenecks.

Types of Node.js Timeouts

There are two main categories of timeouts in Node.js:

  1. Incoming request timeouts: If generating a response for a client takes too long, this timeout prevents the server from getting stuck.

  2. Outgoing request timeouts: This safeguards your Node.js server from being held up indefinitely if an external service is slow.

Think of timeouts as a Goldilocks situation: you need a value that's not too short (causing unnecessary errors) and not too long (making your app unresponsive). The right timeout depends on what your application is doing and how fast you need it to be. We'll discuss more about choosing the right timeout value later on in this article.

Let's now explore how to implement these timeouts in your Node.js code.

Incoming HTTP requests timeouts (Server timeouts)

These timeouts are like a deadline for incoming client connections. If a client takes too long complete a request or receive a response, the connection gets cut off. This is helpful when dealing with slowpoke clients.

Since such incoming request timeouts are handled at the HTTP server level using frameworks like Express or Fastify, or directly with the Node.js core HTTP/HTTPS modules, they are commonly known as Server timeouts.

The following timeout settings are exposed in Node.js' http.Sever class:

  • server.requestTimeout: This sets a limit for how long the server should wait to receive the entire request (including the body) from the client. It defaults to 300 seconds.
  • server.headersTimeout: This specifically controls the time allowed for receiving request headers from the client. It defaults to the minimum between server.requestTimeout or 60 seconds.
  • server.timeout: This is used to limit the inactivity period (no data sent or received) on an established socket connection. The default is 0, meaning no timeout, which can lead to connections hanging around forever.
  • server.keepAliveTimeout: This controls how long a server holds a connection open after responding to a request. It's key for HTTP Keep-Alive, which allows multiple requests over a single connection, boosting efficiency. It defaults to 5 seconds and if no additional request arrives within that time, the socket connection closes.

For the requestTimeout, headersTimeout, and timeout options, exceeding the set value will lead to a 408 Request Timeout response followed by the immediate termination of the connection.

Dealing with server timeouts

Changing the default server timeouts can be done in different ways depending on the framework you're using. I'll show to do this in vanilla Node.js, Express, and Fastify:

1. Vanilla Node.js

Here's how to change the server timeout values in a Node.js program using the default http module:

import http from 'node:http';
const server = http.createServer((req, res) => {
  console.log('Got request');

  setTimeout(() => {
    res.end('Hello World!');
  }, 10000);

server.requestTimeout = 5000;
server.headersTimeout = 2000;
server.keepAliveTimeout = 3000;
server.timeout = 10000;

For detecting a connection that is timing out due to inactivity (as determined by server.timeout), you can listen for the timeout event like this:

server.on('timeout', (socket) => {

Ensure to call socket.destroy() in the callback function so that the connection is closed. Failure to do this can leave the connection open indefinitely.

You can also use the setTimeout() method to update the server.timeout value and specify the event listener for the timeout event as follows:

server.setTimeout(10000, (socket) => {

2. Express

The above method of setting server timeouts also works with Express servers since it also exposes the http.Server instance:

const express = require('express');
const app = express();
const port = 3000;

app.get('/', (req, res) => {
  console.log('Got request');
  setTimeout(() => res.send('Hello world!'), 10000);

const server = app.listen(port, () => {
  console.log(`Example app listening on port ${port}`);

server.requestTimeout = 5000;
server.headersTimeout = 2000;
server.keepAliveTimeout = 3000;
server.setTimeout(10000, (socket) => {

If you want to override the server.timeout value on a particular route, use the req.setTimeout() method as shown below:

app.get('/', (req, res) => {
console.log('Got request'); setTimeout(() => res.send('Hello world!'), 10000); });

This way, requests to the / route will timeout after 20 seconds of inactivity instead of the 10 second default.


To update server timeouts in Fastify, you can use the following code:

import Fastify from 'fastify';

const fastify = Fastify({
  connectionTimeout: 10000, // Corresponds to server.timeout
  keepAliveTimeout: 3000, // Defaults to 72 secomds
  requestTimeout: 5000, // Defaults to no timeout

fastify.server.headersTimeout = 2000;

Fastify does not expose the headersTimeout option in its configuration object so you have to set it directly through the fastify.server interface.

Setting route-level timeouts is currently not possible in Fastify, except through the use of the AbortController API:

function setTimeoutOnRequest(request, reply, timeoutMs) {
  request.controller = new AbortController();
  request.signal = request.controller.signal;

  reply.raw.setTimeout(timeoutMs, () => {
    reply.code(408).send(new Error('Request Timedout'));

fastify.get('/', async (request, reply) => {
  setTimeoutOnRequest(request, reply, 20000);
  // rest of the handler

Now that you have a good grasp on how server timeouts work, and how to configure them in your Node.js framework, let's look at timeouts for outgoing requests next.

Outgoing HTTP request timeouts (Client timeouts)

Networks are inherently unpredictable, and external APIs often have performance hiccups that can severely impact your application if you're not careful. To prevent your Node.js app from getting caught in the crossfire, always set timeouts for outgoing HTTP requests to ensure you know the absolute maximum waiting time.

In this section, we'll cover how to implement timeouts for outgoing requests through the built-in Fetch API, along with popular libraries like Axios and Got.

Timing out a Fetch API request

In browsers, the Fetch API usually has a default timeout that varies across browsers. For instance, Firefox uses 90 seconds, while Chromium uses 300 seconds.

Node.js follows the Chromium default of 300 seconds for fetch() requests. If a request takes longer, you'll get a HeadersTimeoutError:

Error creating post: TypeError: fetch failed
    at node:internal/deps/undici/undici:12502:13
    at async file:///home/dami/dev/demo/http-requests/fetch.js:2:20 {
  [cause]: HeadersTimeoutError: Headers Timeout Error
      at Timeout.onParserTimeout [as callback] (node:internal/deps/undici/undici:7569:32)
      at Timeout.onTimeout [as _onTimeout] (node:internal/deps/undici/undici:6659:17)
      at listOnTimeout (node:internal/timers:573:17)
      at process.processTimers (node:internal/timers:514:7) {

There's no global setting to change this, but you can use AbortSignal.timeout() to set a custom timeout for each request:

(async function getDadJoke() {
  try {
    const response = await fetch('', {
      headers: {
        Accept: 'application/json',
signal: AbortSignal.timeout(3000), // 3 seconds
}); const json = await response.json(); console.log(json); } catch (err) { console.error(err); } })();

If the timeout is exceeded, an AbortError will be thrown:

AbortError: The operation was aborted
    at abortFetch (node:internal/deps/undici/undici:5623:21)
    at requestObject.signal.addEventListener.once (node:internal/deps/undici/undici:5560:9)
    at [nodejs.internal.kHybridDispatch] (node:internal/event_target:639:20)
    at AbortSignal.dispatchEvent (node:internal/event_target:581:26)
    at abortSignal (node:internal/abort_controller:291:10)
    at AbortController.abort (node:internal/abort_controller:321:5)
    at AbortSignal.abort (node:internal/deps/undici/undici:4958:36)
    at [nodejs.internal.kHybridDispatch] (node:internal/event_target:639:20)
    at AbortSignal.dispatchEvent (node:internal/event_target:581:26)
    at abortSignal (node:internal/abort_controller:291:10) {
  code: 'ABORT_ERR'

To simplify things, you can create a helper function to set a default timeout for all your fetch() requests, but allow overrides when needed:

async function fetchWithTimeout(url, options = {}) {
  const { timeoutMS = 3000 } = options;

  return await fetch(url, {
    signal: AbortSignal.timeout(timeoutMS),

Setting timeouts in Axios

The Axios package is a popular choice for making HTTP requests in Node.js. By default, it doesn't have a timeout, meaning requests could potentially hang forever. However, it's easy to configure:

import axios from 'axios';
axios.defaults.timeout = 5000;

Now, all Axios requests will automatically time out after 5 seconds unless you specify otherwise. You can also override the default value per request in the config object as shown below:

const response = await axios.get(
    headers: {
      Accept: 'application/json',
    timeout: 2000, // timeout after 2 seconds

If a timeout occurs, an ECONNABORTED error is thrown.

Setting timeouts in Got

Got is another widely used Node.js HTTP client, but similar to Axios, it doesn't have a default timeout. You need to define one yourself for each request:

import got from 'got';

const data = await got('', {
  headers: {
    Accept: 'application/json',
  timeout: {
    request: 2000,

Ensure to check out the relevant docs for more information on timeouts in Got.

With these options, you can easily manage timeouts for outgoing requests to ensure your Node.js application remains responsive and avoids hanging on slow or unresponsive requests.

Applying timeouts to JavaScript Promises

Promises are a great way for handling asynchronous tasks in Node.js. However, they lack a built-in mechanism to cancel them if they don't resolve within a specified timeframe.

While most asynchronous operations complete reasonably quickly, there's always the risk of a promise taking an excessive amount of time, slowing down or even hanging your application.

Here's an example that simulates a Promise that takes 10 seconds to resolve:

import timersPromises from 'node:timers/promises';

function slowOperation() {
  // resolve in 10 seconds
  return timersPromises.setTimeout(10000);

(async function doSomethingAsync() {
  try {
    await slowOperation();
    console.log('Completed slow operation');
  } catch (err) {
    console.error('Failed to complete slow operation due to error:', err);

Here, doSomethingAsync() is at the mercy of slowOperation(), waiting a minimum of 10 seconds to finish. If slowOperation() never resolves, doSomethingAsync() will hang indefinitely, which is a recipe for trouble in a high-performance server environment.

But there's a solution: we can race the slow operation against another promise that resolves after a fixed time. This allows us to control the maximum waiting time for slowOperation() and prevent our application from getting stuck.

The Promise.race() method acts like a competition between promises. You give it a group of promises, and it returns a new promise that resolves or rejects as soon as the first promise in the group does. The rest are disregarded.

This clever trick is the key to creating Promise timeouts in Node.js without relying on external libraries:

import timersPromises from 'node:timers/promises';

function slowOperation() {
  // resolve in 10 seconds
  return timersPromises.setTimeout(10000);

function promiseWithTimeout(promiseArg, timeoutMS) {
let timer;
const timeoutPromise = new Promise(
(resolve, reject) =>
(timer = setTimeout(
() => reject(`Timed out after ${timeoutMS} ms.`),
).finally(() => clearTimeout(timer));
return Promise.race([promiseArg, timeoutPromise]);
(async function doSomethingAsync() { try {
await promiseWithTimeout(slowOperation(), 2000);
console.log('Completed slow operation in 10 seconds'); } catch (err) { console.error('Failed to complete slow operation due to error:', err); } })();

The promiseWithTimeout() function takes two arguments: a Promise and a timeout duration in milliseconds. It then creates another Promise that is designed to reject after the specified timeout. These two promises are raced against each other using Promise.race(), and the result of that race is returned to the caller.

Here's how it plays out: if the original Promise takes longer than the timeout duration to resolve, the timeoutPromise() will win the race and reject first. This, in turn, causes promiseWithTimeout() to reject, signaling a timeout error.

In the example with doSomethingAsync(), we applied a 2-second timeout to the slowOperation() function, which is known to take 10 seconds. Since the slow operation can't complete within the 2-second window, the timeout Promise takes the lead, resulting in a logged error indicating that the operation timed out:

Failed to complete slow operation due to error: Timed out after 2000 ms.

Here's the TypeScript implementation of the promiseWithTimeout() function:

function promiseWithTimeout<T>(
  promiseArg: Promise<T>,
  timeoutMS: number
): Promise<T> {
  let timeout: NodeJS.Timeout;
  const timeoutPromise = new Promise<never>((resolve, reject) => {
    timeout = setTimeout(() => {
      reject(new TimeoutError(`Timed out after ${timeoutMS} ms.`));
    }, timeoutMS);

  return Promise.race([promiseArg, timeoutPromise]).finally(() =>

However, there's a catch: even with the timeout, the script keeps running for the full 10 seconds of the slowOperation(), even though it timed out after 2 seconds.

This happens because the timersPromises.setTimeout() method used in slowOperation() keeps the Node.js event loop busy until its scheduled 10-second duration is complete. This wastes resources since the result has already been discarded. Ideally, the scheduled timeout should be canceled as well.

If you're in control of the function that creates the timeout, you can pass an AbortSignal instance and cancel it in the finally block like this:

function slowOperation(abortSignal) {
  // resolve in 10 seconds
return timersPromises.setTimeout(10000, null, { signal: abortSignal });
} . . . (async function doSomethingAsync() {
const ac = new AbortController();
try {
await promiseWithTimeout(slowOperation(ac.signal), 2000);
console.log('Completed slow operation in 10 seconds'); } catch (err) { console.error('Failed to complete slow operation due to error:', err); } finally {
} })();

How to choose timeout values

We've covered how to set timeouts in Node.js, but it's just as crucial to determine the appropriate timeout value for each situation. Setting it too low can trigger unnecessary errors, while a value that's too high can make your application sluggish during slowdowns or outages, and even expose it to attacks.

The arbitrary timeouts we used in this tutorial are just for demonstration purposes. In a real-world application, you need a more strategic approach. Here are some things to consider:

  • Start by checking the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) provided by the API you're integrating with. However, keep in mind that not all services offer SLAs, and even if they do, it's wise to approach them with a healthy skepticism.

  • Use an API monitoring tool to track real-world metrics (such as latency) from the APIs you're interacting with. This will help you find your 99.9th percentile response times which can be multiplied by 3 or 4 to get a reasonable baseline timeout.

  • If a request affects the user interface, tie the specified timeout to how long you're willing to delay the interaction.

  • Consider the complexity of the request and performance under high traffic conditions. You can conduct load and stress testing to validate your timeout settings under realistic conditions.

  • Consider implementing mechanisms to adjust timeout values dynamically based on real-time performance data.

Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing timeout values. It's an ongoing process that requires experimentation, monitoring, and refinement based on your application's requirements and observed behavior.

Dealing with timeout errors

Your error handling for requests to external services should include code for distinguishing timeout errors from other kinds of errors. For server timeouts, you also need to detect when the connection times out, and log the error with relevant information like the client's IP address, the requested URL, and the duration of the connection.

This allow you to understand whether the timeouts are happening due to to slow clients, resource exhaustion, or for other reasons. When such errors are detected, you have a few options for how to proceed:

1. Inform the user

Provide user-friendly error messages explaining that the request timed out (e.g., "The request took too long to complete") and use the appropriate HTTP status code (usually 408).

2. Implement retry logic

Consider implementing automatic retries when timeouts are encountered for idempotent operations (ideally with exponential backoff) as timeouts are often due to transient network issues. However, ensure to set a maximum number of retries to prevent infinite loops in case of persistent failures.

3. Rate-limiting

If you suspect malicious actors are causing the timeouts, consider implementing rate limiting to protect your server from excessive requests.

4. Implement the circuit breaker pattern

The circuit breaker acts as a protective switch that "trips" open when timeout errors surpass a certain limit. This temporarily blocks all further requests to the problematic service, giving it time to recover.

After a set cooldown period, the it enters a "half-open" state, allowing a few test requests through. If these succeed, the circuit breaker resets to its "closed" state, restoring normal communication.

5. Adjust timeout values based on real-world data

Continuously monitoring timeout errors and response times (amongst other things) allows you to set up alerts to notify you promptly if they surpass acceptable levels, and analyze the trends in these errors so you can fine-tune your timeout values based on real-world performance.

Final thoughts

In this article, we've explored a wide range of techniques for setting timeouts in various scenarios, from handling incoming requests on the server-side to managing outgoing requests with different HTTP client libraries.

We also touched on strategies for determining the optimal timeout values for your use cases and emphasized the importance of continuous monitoring to adjust selected values based on real-world data.

You are now well-equipped to implement robust timeout mechanisms in your Node.js applications, ensuring they remain responsive, resilient, and reliable even in the face of network fluctuations, slow external services, or unexpected errors.

Thanks for reading, and happy coding!

Author's avatar
Article by
Ayooluwa Isaiah
Ayo is the Head of Content at Better Stack. His passion is simplifying and communicating complex technical ideas effectively. His work was featured on several esteemed publications including, Digital Ocean, and CSS-Tricks. When he’s not writing or coding, he loves to travel, bike, and play tennis.
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