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Node.js/AWS/ImageMagick-based image thumbnailing service.

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Deprecation Warning: this project is no longer actively maintained and is left here as a historical artifact. Please feel free to fork this project and take over maintenance.

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Thumbd is an image thumbnailing server built on top of Node.js, SQS, S3, and ImageMagick.

You can easily run Thumbd on Heroku. Simply set the appropriate environment variables with config:set and deploy using the Procfile provided.

Note: Creating video thumbnails on Heroku requires use of custom ffmpeg buildpack. Please refer to Heroku deployment guide in Wiki.


apt-get install imagemagick
npm install thumbd

To install thumbd as a service:

npm install thumbd -g
thumbd install
thumbd start

Thumbd requires the following environment variables to be set:

  • AWS_KEY the key for your AWS account (the IAM user must have access to the appropriate SQS and S3 resources).
  • AWS_SECRET the AWS secret key.
  • BUCKET the bucket to download the original images from. The thumbnails will also be placed in this bucket.
  • AWS_REGION the AWS Region of the bucket. Defaults to:
  • CONVERT_COMMAND the ImageMagick convert command. Defaults to
  • REQUEST_TIMEOUT how long to wait in milliseconds before aborting a remote request. Defaults to
  • S3_ACL the acl to set on the uploaded images. Must be one of
    , or
    . Defaults to
  • S3STORAGECLASS the storage class for the uploaded images. Must be either
    . Defaults to
  • SQS_QUEUE the queue name to listen for image thumbnailing.

When running locally, I set these environment variables in a .env file and execute thumbd using Foreman.

Additionally, the following environment variable can be set to use a custom logger:

LOGGER_FILE the path to a javascript file that exports the



The thumbd server:

  • listens for thumbnailing jobs on the queue specified.
  • downloads the original image from our thumbnailng S3 bucket, or from an HTTP(s) resource.
    • HTTP resources are prefixed with
    • S3 resources are a path to the image in the S3 bucket indicated by the
      environment variable.
  • Uses ImageMagick to perform a set of transformations on the image.
  • uploads the thumbnails created back to S3, with the following naming convention:
    [original filename excluding extension]_[thumbnail suffix].[thumbnail format]

Assume that the following thumbnail job was received over SQS:

    "original": "example.png",
    "descriptions": [
            "suffix": "tiny",
            "width": 48,
            "height": 48
            "suffix": "small",
            "width": 100,
            "height": 100,
            "background": "red"
            "suffix": "medium",
            "width": 150,
            "height": 150,
            "strategy": "bounded"

Once thumbd processes the job, the files stored in S3 will look something like this:

  • /example.png
  • /example_tiny.jpg
  • /example_small.jpg
  • /example_medium.jpg


Submit thumbnailing jobs from your application by creating an instance of a thumbd client (contribute by submitting clients in other languages).

var Client = require('./thumbd').Client,
    client = new Client({
        awsKey: 'AWS-KEY',
        awsSecret: 'AWS-SECRET',
        awsRegion: 'AWS-REGION',
        sqsQueue: 'thumbnailing-queue',
        s3Bucket: 'thumbnails'

var destination = '/example/awesome.jpg';

client.upload('/tmp/awesome.jpg', destination, function(err) { if (err) throw err; client.thumbnail(destination, [{suffix: 'small', width: 100, height: 100, background: 'red', strategy: 'matted'}], { notify: '', // optional web-hook when processing is done. prefix: 'foobar' // optional prefix for thumbnails created. }); });

Thumbnailing options:

  • originalImagePaths:
    , path to image or images that thumbnailing should be applied to.
  • thumbnailDescriptions:
    describing the thumbnails that should be created.
  • opts: additional thumbnailing options.
    • notify: webhook to notify when thumbnailing is complete.
    • prefix: prefix for thumbnails created (defaults to original filename).
    • bucket: bucket to download image from (defaults to server's default bucket).
    • region: aws-region to download image from (defaults to server's default region).

Thumbnail Descriptions

The descriptions received in the thumbnail job describe the way in which thumbnails should be generated.

description accepts the following keys:

  • suffix: a suffix describing the thumbnail.
  • width: the width of the thumbnail.
  • height: the height of the thumbnail.
  • background: background color for matte.
  • format: what should the output format of the image be, e.g.,
    , defaults to
  • strategy: indicate an approach for creating the thumbnail.
    • bounded (default): maintain aspect ratio, don't place image on matte.
    • matted: maintain aspect ratio, places image on width x height matte.
    • fill: both resizes and zooms into an image, filling the specified dimensions.
    • strict: resizes the image, filling the specified dimensions changing the aspect ratio
    • manual: allows for a custom convert command to be passed in:
      • %(command)s -border 0 %(localPaths[0])s %(convertedPath)s
  • quality: the quality of the thumbnail, in percent. e.g.
  • autoOrient: true/false, whether to automatically rotate the photo based on EXIF data (for correcting orientation on phone images, etc)


Starting the server:

thumbd server --aws_key= --aws_secret= --sqs_queue= --bucket= [--aws_region=] [--tmp_dir=] [--s3_acl=] [--s3_storage_class=]

Manually submitting an SQS thumbnailing job (useful for testing purposes):

thumbd thumbnail --remote_image= --descriptions= --aws_key= --aws_secret= --sqs_queue= [--aws_region=]
  • remote_image indicates the S3 object to perform the thumbnailing operations on.
  • thumbnail_descriptions the path to a JSON file describing the dimensions of the thumbnails that should be created (see example.json in the data directory).

Advanced Tips and Tricks

  • Creating a Mosaic: Rather than performing an operation on a single S3 resource, you can perform an operation on a set of S3 resources. A great example of this would be converting a set of images into a mosaic:
    "resources": [
    "descriptions": [{
        "strategy": "%(command)s -border 0 -tile 2x1 -geometry 160x106 '%(localPaths[0])s' '%(localPaths[1])s' %(convertedPath)s",
        "command": "montage",
        "suffix": "stitch"

Creating Video Thumbnails on Heroku

Creating video thumbnails on Heroku requires using custom buildpack. In short :

  • install the ffmpeg custom buildpack.
  • use a custom strategy that utilizes
    for thumbnail generation, rather than

For detailed instructions, please refer to Heroku deployment guide in Wiki.

The custom strategy can be used for a variety of purposes, experiment with it :tm:

Production Notes

At, thumbd thumbnailed tens of thousands of images a day. There are a few things you should know about our production deployment:

Thumbd in Production

  • thumbd was not designed to be bullet-proof:
    • it is run with an Upstart script, which keeps the thumbnailing process on its feet.
  • Node.js is a single process, this does not take advantage of multi-processor environments.
    • we run an instance of thumbd per-CPU on our servers.
  • be mindful of the version of ImageMagick you are running:
    • make sure that you build it with the appropriate extensions for images you would like to support.
    • we've had issues with some versions of ImageMagick, we run 6.6.2-6 in production.
  • Your SQS settings are important:
    • setup a visibility-timeout/message-retention value that allows for a reasonable number of thumbnailing attempts.
    • we use long-polling to reduce the latency time before a message is read.
  • in production, thumbd runs on Node 0.8.x. It has not been thoroughly tested with Streams 2.

Projects Using Thumbd

If you build something cool using thumbd let me know, I will list it here.

  • Popbasic: designs limited edition, high quality clothing.
  • ineffable: A minimalist photo album powered by Flask and React.
  • s3-gif: Host your GIF collection on Heroku + Amazon S3.
  • talent-off: Online contest for sports videos.
  • created a searchable, visual, index of all of your email attachments (sadly defunct).


Copyright (c) 2015 Contributors, See LICENSE.txt for further details.

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