Receiving a truncated HTTP response in Node.js


Here’s the example, slightly reduced, from the Node.js docs on how to make an HTTP request using the built in HTTP API.

const req = http.request(/* ... */, (res) => {
  // ...
  res.on('data', (chunk) => {
    // ...
  res.on('end', () => {
    // (B) success
req.on('error', (e) => {
  // (A) failure
req.write(/* ... */);

Commendably, this example code even has error handling. One would guess from the structure that if the request goes wrong, a callback (A) will run, or otherwise you’ll get to another callback (B) after receiving the response successfully.

A question came up though, does code like this adequately handle network errors while reading the response body?

It doesn’t; it silently never gets to the code in callback (B). Except for if you’re using old Node.js before 13.0, in which case it silently does get to the code in callback (B).

What happens

The docs have an overview of what happens. Go to the section on request() and search for “connection close after the response is received.” Or don’t, right now it’s off by a little (I submitted a correction #51464).

It varies by Node.js version though. I’ve experimentally collected what happens through different versions and expanded it with how newer additions like stream.pipeline behave.

Order of events, related state changes, and callbacks, by Node.js version. In elongated boxes, look for the highest version that’s no higher than the version you’re using. The “d” circles indicate deprecated APIs, and the “e” circles indicate experimental APIs.


There have been several tweaks to how the various events, state changes, and callbacks play out.

Early Node.js (I tested as far back as 4.0) started with emitting a request close event, a response aborted event, a response end event, and a response close event in the case of a truncated response. Using res.pipe(dst) calls dst.end().

In 8.13, they added a response aborted property #20094, to be set to true along with emitting the aborted event.

👉 Aside on simplifying the chronology: I’m only going to write the lowest version that a change has been backported to. In reality, for example, the response aborted property from above came during the 11.0 development cycle (released 2018 Oct 23). It was backported to 10.1 (released 2018 May 9) and 8.13 (released 2018 Nov 20). So all of the 9.x versions and 10.0 didn’t have it. The diagram doesn’t capture this, to reduce how many back-and-forths I have to draw.

In 9.0, they moved the request close event to after the response aborted event #15588.

In 10.0, they added experimental async iterator support #17755 and the stream.finished and stream.pipeline functions. At this point, all three of these treat the response as being received successfully, so they’re not usable to detect a truncated response.

In 10.17, they marked async iterator support as stable #26989.

In 12.9, they added a response readableEnded property #28814. At the time though, the response still ends (i.e. emitting an end event), so it’s not usable to detect a truncated response.

In 12.10, they made stream.finished and stream.pipeline give you an error #29376 by internally detecting the aborted event. This makes them usable to detect a truncated response.

In 12.18, they changed stream.pipeline to call res.destroy(err) #30869 instead of res.destroy() when shutting down. Through various steps involving the socket that both the request and response refer to, this further causes a request error event. However, Node.js crashes when there’s an unhandled error event anywhere (an error event thus differs from a tree falling in the woods.) To avoid making existing programs crash now, the pipeline additionally adds a dummy error listener to make the event count as handled.

In 12.19, they changed stream.pipeline to call res.abort() #31054 instead of res.destroy(err). This causes there not to be a request error event, and it instead causes a request abort event.

In 13.0, they stopped emitting the response end event #27984. This causes the response readableEnded property to remain false, which makes it usable to detect a truncated response. This also makes res.pipe(dst) not call dst.end(). The implementation also allows the response close event to be emitted earlier.

In 13.10, as part of a stream.pipeline feature addition #31223, they made the pipeline shutdown procedure call your callback right away without waiting for its streams to finish closing.

In 14.3, they started setting the request destroyed property #33120. This property existed on the superclass (writable stream) since earlier, but it had been unused. Don’t use this to detect a truncated response though. It’s set even if you receive the complete response.

In 15.0, they started setting the response destroyed property #33131. Similar to the above, the property existed on the superclass (readable stream) since earlier, but it had been unused. Also similar to the above, don’t use this to detect a truncated response either. It’s also set even if you receive the complete response.

👉 Additional aside on simplifying the chronology: I don’t count it when a change is backported and then reverted. In reality, for example, the response destroyed property from above was also backported to 14.3, but then it was reverted in 14.5. The diagram leaves that part out. This, too, reduces how many back-and-forths I have to draw in the diagram.

Also in 15.0, they started emitting a response error event #33172. Here they use a different approach to avoid making existing programs crash. The new code in this change only emits the event if there is a listener registered. This change also causes async iterators to call req.abort() and throw; the former causes a request abort event. And with the async iterator throwing, it’s usable to detect a truncated response.

In 16.0, they reimplemented the way the response shuts down #33035, which re-ordered how several things happen.

Also in 16.0, they made stream.finished no longer count the response aborted event as finishing #36649. This changes the error you get from it, from “Premature close” to “aborted.” stream.pipeline, which internally uses stream.finished, is similarly affected.

In 16.12, they deprecated the request/response abort/aborted events/properties #36670. The response complete property was spared, but it was never written in the discussion why.

In 16.15, they added built in fetch #41749, which I consider pretty usable.

In 17.0, they made stream.pipeline and async iterators stop calling req.abort() #38505. This prevents the request abort event.

In 17.3, they made some stream.pipeline change #40881 with an empty pull request description, a title that sounds unrelated to truncated responses, and code that looks buggy (I reported my findings #51540). Anyway, part of that change causes stream.pipeline to call your callback later.

Nothing has changed since that (I tested up to 21.6, which is the latest release as of now).


If higher level abstractions are suitable, use stream.pipeline or stream.finished. These correctly give you an error since Node.js 12.10.

const dst = /* ... */;
// throws if res is truncated
await require('stream').promises.pipeline(res, dst);

Don’t use res.pipe(dst) on its own, which will silently ignore a truncated response. Since Node.js 13.0, it won’t even .end() your destination stream, which I assume will make your dst stream leak.

If you need to use low-level event handling, you get a response error event since Node.js 15.0.

req.on('error', (e) => {
  // failure
res.on('error', (e) => {
  // also failure

I noticed that there’s at least one un-deprecated way to detect this that works on all versions I tested. If you need to support ancient versions of Node.js (high five 🥲), listen for the response close event and check if the response complete property is false.

res.on('close', () => {
  if (!res.complete) {
    // res is truncated

My last post was about either Replacing WeTTY on Glitch or Kitchens where you always cast a shadow on the exact thing you’re working on. Find out which.