Node-RED Exec nodes explained

Node-RED by default comes with the Exec node. This node allows you to run a command as if you're on the command line. In this article we discuss how that can be useful and why exec is not included in FlowForge.

| ZJ van de Weg

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Node-RED is written in Javascript, as are the custom nodes in the Flows Library. At times it would be great to use programs written in other languages. In this guide we'll explain the exec node.

Exec Node

Node-RED by default comes with the exec node. This node allows you to run a command as if you're on the command line. The exec node has one input, and three outputs. Let's create a basic example and work from there. Let's connect the inject to the exec input, and connect the three dots to debug nodes. I've set the command in the exec node to date.

"Wired up exec node"

When triggered, you'll see two outputs in the debug pane. One from Standard out; the date and timestamp of the execution and the Exit code will output too. Standard error didn't output anything.

Let's explain what happened: the date command was executed by the NodeJS without any input. The command returned the date as a string, and execution of the commmand completed. There weren't any errors, so the error code is set to zero. Non-zero exit codes imply didn't go as intended. Output is written to the standard output, and not standard error. This allows us to handle errors differently from succesful exections and the output in standard output.

Exec vs Spawn mode

Let's change the exec node to execute ping The ping command provides the round-trip time to in milliseconds, each second. When we deploy, the program is stuck. That's because the output is generated each second and won't complete until there's a failure in the command. Not what you'd want.

When there's continous output you'll need to select spawn mode in the settings windown of the exec node:

spawn mode for exec in Node-RED

This will produce a message per line to the standard out output for further processing.


On FlowForge Cloud, the Node-RED exec nodes are disabled. The Stacks, that is the containers that Node-RED runs in, don't include any accessible executatables so there would be no benefit to running exec commands. All the data is exposed through Javascript and Node.JS already.

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