Examining the Node Lifecycle

Let's take a look inside Ark Core to better understand what's happening behind the scenes when we install and start our relays and forgers. From the moment Core Commander pings our node awake to the moment our node is brought offline, we'll look at the behavior that all Ark nodes share and examine differences and commonalities between relays and forgers.

Starting Our Node

Whether you're installing your node using Core Commander or pulling the source code directly from GitHub, at some point all startup processes run through the core package. To better understand what this process looks like, let's take a look at some of the scripts available in the core package's package.json:

"scripts": {
    "start": "./bin/ark start",
    "start:mainnet": "./bin/ark start --config ./lib/config/mainnet --network mainnet",
    "start:devnet": "./bin/ark start --config ./lib/config/devnet --network devnet",
    "start:testnet": "cross-env ARK_ENV=test ./bin/ark start --config ./lib/config/testnet --network testnet",
    "start:testnet:live": "./bin/ark start --config ./lib/config/testnet.live --network testnet",
    "relay": "./bin/ark relay",
    "relay:mainnet": "./bin/ark relay --config ./lib/config/mainnet --network mainnet",
    "relay:devnet": "./bin/ark relay --config ./lib/config/devnet --network devnet",
    "relay:testnet": "cross-env ARK_ENV=test ./bin/ark relay --config ./lib/config/testnet --network testnet",
    "relay:testnet:live": "./bin/ark relay --config ./lib/config/testnet.live --network testnet",
    "forger": "./bin/ark forger",
    "forger:mainnet": "./bin/ark forger --config ./lib/config/mainnet --network mainnet",
    "forger:devnet": "./bin/ark forger --config ./lib/config/devnet --network devnet",
    "forger:testnet": "cross-env ARK_ENV=test ./bin/ark forger --config ./lib/config/testnet --network testnet",
    "forger:testnet:live": "./bin/ark forger --config ./lib/config/testnet.live --network testnet",
    "snapshot": "./bin/ark snapshot",
    "snapshot:mainnet": "./bin/ark snapshot --config ./lib/config/mainnet --network mainnet",
    "snapshot:devnet": "./bin/ark snapshot --config ./lib/config/devnet --network devnet",
    "snapshot:testnet": "./bin/ark snapshot --config ./lib/config/testnet --network testnet",
    "snapshot:testnet:live": "./bin/ark snapshot --config ./lib/config/testnet.live --network testnet",
    "full:testnet": "cross-env ARK_ENV=test ./bin/ark start --config ./lib/config/testnet --network testnet --network-start",

There are quite a few scripts here, but a closer look reveals considerable overlap in their functionality. Let's take a look at one of the commands in more detail:

"relay:devnet": "./bin/ark relay --config ./lib/config/devnet --network devnet",

We can see from the script name (the part before the colon) that this is a script designed to start a relay node on ARK devnet. The actual body of the command (the part after the colon) begins with the segment ./bin/ark relay. This segment essentially tells our node, or whichever process is running this script, to look inside the bin directory and launch the relay command located in the ark file.

The rest of this command specifies a pair of arguments to be passed to the relay command:

  • config: ./lib/config/devnet. This specifies a folder in which the configuration files for our node can be found.
  • network: devnet. This specifies that we want to run a devnet node, and not a mainnet or testnet node.

If you look again at the scripts posted above, you'll notice that all of them contain this same basic formula, with only minor differences from script to script. Some scripts start relays, some start forgers, some start both (the start commands), some start nodes on testnets, some start nodes on mainnets, and so on.

Let's look at segments of the bin/ark file in greater detail:

const app = require('commander')


  .description('start a relay node and the forger')
  .option('-d, --data <data>', 'data directory', '~/.ark')
  .option('-c, --config <config>', 'core config', '~/.ark/config')
  .option('-t, --token <token>', 'token name', 'ark')
  .option('-n, --network <network>', 'token network')
  .option('-b, --bip38 <bip38>', 'forger bip38')
  .option('-p, --password <password>', 'forger password')
  .option('--network-start', 'force genesis network start', false)
  .action(async (options) => require('../lib/start-relay-and-forger')(options))

For the sake of brevity, I've only included the start command here. Looking through the [ark file](https://github.com/ArkEcosystem/core/blob/develop/packages/core/bin/ark), however, reveals that these commands have closely linked functionality, similar to the npm scripts we inspected earlier.

Breaking down what's happening here:

  • At the top of the file, we declare an app variable that is loaded from commander, a popular CLI package for node.
  • We define version is defined to ensure all nodes are on the same page, have the same dependencies, and so on.
  • Next, we begin registering CLI commands into our app variable. Our first one is start, which starts a single node with both forger and relay capacities.
  • After describing this command's functionality, we specify options that can be passed into the command at runtime, and we define default values to fall back upon should these options not be provided.
  • Recall from our npm script that we passed in two values: config and network. In the case of config, this means that the value defined in our npm script will override the default, which in the code above is ~/.ark/config.
  • Because we did not pass in any other arguments, our command will assume the defaults in each case. Notably, this means that ~/.ark/ will be used as our data directory, and ark will be used as our token name.
  • Other configurable options here include bip38, primarily intended for forgers to pass in their delegate information, and network-start, which is used only when spinning up a network for the first time.
  • Finally, we compile all of the options into a single JavaScript object, load the JS file located at ../lib/start-relay-and-forger, and run the command inside with our options.

Bootstrapping Our Container

We see from the analysis above that ultimately, what we've done so far is define a bundle of options and pass them into the function exported by start-relay-and-forger.js. But what does this function do exactly?

Let's take a look:

'use strict'

const container = require('@arkecosystem/core-container')

  * Start a node.
  * @param  {Object} options
  * @return {void}
module.exports = async (options) => {
  await container.setUp(options, {
    options: {
      '@arkecosystem/core-p2p': {
        networkStart: options.networkStart
      '@arkecosystem/core-blockchain': {
        networkStart: options.networkStart
      '@arkecosystem/core-forger': {
        bip38: options.bip38,
        address: options.address,
        password: options.password

We can see that this code only requires one external dependency: a container object, pulled in from the core-container package of Ark Core. In the exported function, we take the options given to us by the start command in the previous section and pass them as the first argument into container.setUp(). The second argument to setUp defines values that are particular to type of node we want to run. As this particular file is used to start a full node with both forging and relay capacities, our setup here is fairly straightforward as we want to use the full range of functions provided by Ark Core. We tell our p2p and blockchain packages whether this is the first time our network is being started based on the network-start option mentioned earlier, and we pass our delegate authentication information to forger so it can forge our blocks properly.

To understand how this setup differs between forgers and relays, let's look at the setUp commands in the start-forger and start-relay files:

// forger only
await container.setUp(options, {
    include: [
    options: {
      '@arkecosystem/core-forger': {
        bip38: options.bip38 || process.env.ARK_FORGER_BIP38,
        address: options.address,
        password: options.password || process.env.ARK_FORGER_PASSWORD

// relay only 
await container.setUp(options, {
    exclude: ['@arkecosystem/core-forger'],
    options: {
      '@arkecosystem/core-blockchain': {
        networkStart: options.networkStart

The forger setup contains an include key, which tells the container to only load those specific plugins. This ensures that the forger keeps a light footprint; performance is critical to ensure all blocks are forged, particularly on less powerful servers.

By contrast, the relay setup contains an exclude key, which tells the container not to run the forger package but to include everything else.

An immediate takeaway from this review is that, while functionality might differ considerably between relays and forgers, the process used to initiate them is nearly identical. This also means that, for BridgeChains looking to implement custom node types, the setup process for doing so is reasonably streamlined: just specify a different set of included or excluded plugins in your container.setUp function.

Using Our Container to Initialize Our Node

We'll dive more into the mechanics of core-container in a future Guidebook chapter, but for now, suffice it to say that the container contains our plugins. It creates the proper environment for our plugins to run in, determines which plugins should be loaded, and loads them.

To illustrate this, let's look inside our container package. You can find the source code here, or follow along below:

// inside the Container class in container.js

const Environment = require('./environment')


async setUp (variables, options = {}) {
    this.env = new Environment(variables)

    if (options.skipPlugins) {

    this.plugins = new PluginRegistrar(this, options)
    await this.plugins.setUp()

The setUp method takes two parameters, both covered above: the variables parameter represents the options we defined in our CLI command, and the options parameter represents the node-specific setup outlined in the previous section.

Our CLI options are passed into an Environment object and loaded using another setUp function. Let's take a brief look at this object:

module.exports = class Environment {
    * Create a new environment instance.
    * @param  {Object} variables
    * @return {void}
  constructor (variables) {
    this.variables = variables

    * Set up the environment variables.
  setUp () {

Without going too much into the implementation details, the setUp function here effectively takes care of binding values into our process.env object, which is a global object used throughout our Node application. You can read more about the process.env object here, but the SparkNotes is that the Environment.setUp method defines the following variables for use throughout our node:

  • ARK_PATH_CONFIG: the path to our configuration directory, pulled in from our NPM script and dependent on the network our node is running on
  • ARK_PATH_DATA: the path to our data directory, which defaults to ~/.ark
  • ARK_NETWORK: a stringified version of the network.json file in our ARK_PATH_CONFIG directory
  • ARK_NETWORK_NAME: the name property from our network.json file

Additionally, here is where we load any environment variables defined in our node's .env file. This .env file, located in your ARK_PATH_DATA directory, is where you can specify many of the optional settings for your node: whether to enable webhooks, GraphQL, and so on. All optional settings are loaded into the environment here, after the essential environment variables listed above.

Loading Our Plugins

With the proper environment now setup, we can begin fleshing out our node's central capacities using plugins. We can see from our Container.setUp method that plugins are initialized using the PluginRegistrar and setup using the Registrar's setUp method.

Using the snippets below or the source code here, let's look at the constructor and setUp methods for PluginRegistrar:

module.exports = class PluginRegistrars {
    * Create a new plugin manager instance.
    * @param  {Container} container
    * @param  {Object} options
  constructor (container, options = {}) {
    this.container = container
    this.plugins = this.__loadPlugins()
    this.resolvedPlugins = []
    this.options = options
    this.deregister = []


  async setUp () {
    for (const [name, options] of Object.entries(this.plugins)) {
      await this.register(name, options)

      if (this.options.exit && this.options.exit === name) {

A deep-dive into the functionality of the PluginRegistrar will be included in another Guidebook chapter, but let's look quickly at the __loadPlugins method invoked in the constructor:

    * Load plugins from any of the available files (plugins.js or plugins.json).
    * @return {[Object|void]}
  __loadPlugins () {
    const files = ['plugins.js', 'plugins.json']

    for (const file of files) {
      const configPath = path.resolve(expandHomeDir(`${process.env.ARK_PATH_CONFIG}/${file}`))

      if (fs.existsSync(configPath)) {
        this.pluginsConfigPath = configPath

        return require(configPath)

    throw new Error('An invalid configuration was provided or is inaccessible due to it\'s security settings.')
    process.exit(1) // eslint-disable-line no-unreachable

This method effectively checks for the presence of a plugins file in our config directory, either as a JavaScript or JSON file, and assigns the result to this.plugins if it exists. Otherwise, an error is thrown and our node exits.

In the PluginRegistrar.setUp method, we loop through this plugins property and register each plugin into our container according to the settings set up in the preceding steps.

This is the step in our node's lifecycle where all of the node's most essential functions are loaded: from the Public API to the P2P API to the blockchain itself, all plugins are booted up upon their inclusion in the container through the plugin registrar. To get a sense of the order in which these plugins are loaded, we can look at the file that's returned by the __loadPlugins method. You can view the full source code here, but here's a snippet:

module.exports = {
  '@arkecosystem/core-event-emitter': {},
  '@arkecosystem/core-config': {},
  '@arkecosystem/core-logger-winston': {
    transports: {
      console: {
        options: {
          level: process.env.ARK_LOG_LEVEL || 'debug'
      dailyRotate: {
        options: {
          level: process.env.ARK_LOG_LEVEL || 'debug',
          filename: process.env.ARK_LOG_FILE || `${process.env.ARK_PATH_DATA}/logs/core/${process.env.ARK_NETWORK_NAME}/%DATE%.log`
  '@arkecosystem/core-database-postgres': {
    connection: {
      host: process.env.ARK_DB_HOST || 'localhost',
      port: process.env.ARK_DB_PORT || 5432,
      database: process.env.ARK_DB_DATABASE || `ark_${process.env.ARK_NETWORK_NAME}`,
      user: process.env.ARK_DB_USERNAME || 'ark',
      password: process.env.ARK_DB_PASSWORD || 'password'
  // ... more plugins here ...
  '@arkecosystem/core-forger': {
    hosts: [`${process.env.ARK_P2P_PORT || 4002}`]
  '@arkecosystem/core-json-rpc': {
    enabled: process.env.ARK_JSON_RPC_ENABLED,
    host: process.env.ARK_JSON_RPC_HOST || '',
    port: process.env.ARK_JSON_RPC_PORT || 8080,
    allowRemote: false,
    whitelist: ['', '::ffff:'],
    database: {
      uri: process.env.ARK_JSON_RPC_DATABASE || `sqlite://${process.env.ARK_PATH_DATA}/database/json-rpc.sqlite`,
      options: {}

Note that the order in which the plugins appear in this file is the order in which they're loaded. The most essential plugins are included at the top, such as our event emitter and our database, and that the plugins which depend on the essentials are loaded afterwards.

For this reason, if you're writing your own custom plugins, be sure to add them in this file below any other plugins that must be loaded for yours to function as intended.

Typically, you should try to add your plugin to the bottom of this file, with one notable exception: replacing default plugins with your own implementations. In this special case, including your config as close as possible to that of the plugin you're replacing will ensure that subsequent plugins will work without a hitch.

Shutting Down Our Node

While the steps outlined above are enough to get our node up and running, there's one process we haven't looked at yet: the shutdown process. Typically you'll want your nodes to run forever so they can relay or forge as necessary. However, whether in preparation for an upgrade or to troubleshoot technical problems, sometimes you've got to shut everything down.

Fortunately, core-container registers a handler in its constructor that's designed to handle shutdowns in such a way as to not corrupt any data. Let's take a look at this handler:

* Handle any exit signals.
* @return {void}
__registerExitHandler () {
let shuttingDown = false

const handleExit = async () => {
    if (shuttingDown) {

    shuttingDown = true

    const logger = this.resolvePlugin('logger')
    logger.info('EXIT handled, trying to shut down gracefully')
    logger.info('Stopping Ark Core')

    try {
      const database = this.resolvePlugin('database')
      if (database) {
        const emitter = this.resolvePlugin('event-emitter')

        // Notify plugins about shutdown

        // Wait for event to be emitted and give time to finish
        await delay(1000)

        // Save dirty wallets
        await database.saveWallets(false)
    } catch (error) {

    await this.plugins.tearDown()


  // Handle exit events
  ['SIGINT', 'exit'].forEach(eventType => process.on(eventType, handleExit))

In the case of a shutdown, the following application flow occurs:

  1. The logger announces the beginning of the shutdown process.
  2. The container checks for the existence of a database.
  3. If a database is found, a shutdown event is emitted to give plugins time to clean up. Otherwise, all errors are logged to the console.
  4. After waiting for plugins to finish, all wallets are saved as-is into the database. If this wallet information is incorrect upon reload, the node will resync with its network until all conflicts are resolved.
  5. All plugins are torn down using their deregister commands.
  6. Finally, our process exits, terminating our node's functionality as it does so.

After establishing this application flow, we attach it to the SIGINT and exit events using node's process.on listening functionality. This ensures that proper shutdown protocols are triggered regardless of how our node is shut down.

Last Updated: 10/30/2018, 6:10:52 AM