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JavaScript - How to Use Asynchronous Functions in JavaScript

JavaScript is a synchronous language, yet sometimes asynchronous behavior is required. For example, you may need to use an asynchronous function while waiting for data to be fetched from an API, or while waiting for a site’s images to load. Such procedures take time to complete, and a native blocking approach would negatively impact user experience. As such, the concept of promises was created.

Asynchronous functions enable us to work with promises.

A short intro to JS promises

In short, a promise is JavaScript’s way of telling us: “I’m on it. When I’m done, I’ll send you the result”. It is an assurance that the calling thread will receive a result at a later point in time. This assurance allows the main thread of execution to continue, instead of needing to block progress until the method being called returns properly.

There are three states to a promise:

  1. pending – This state indicates that the request is pending, and leads to one of the other two states upon completion.
  2. fulfilled – This state indicates that the operation was completed successfully.
  3. rejected – This state indicates that the operation failed.

Next, we’ll explore these concepts with some sample code.

Basic Promise example

Imagine that, for some reason, you wanted to write a calculator that only works half of the time. In code, a “bad” calculator might look something like this:

function badCalc(num1, num2) {
  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    if (Math.random() > 0.5) resolve(num1 * num2);
    else reject('Oopsy...');
  })
}
function getMul() {
  for (let i = 0; i < 50; i++) {
    console.log('i=', i, badCalc(i, i + 1));
  }
}
getMul();

In the above code, badCalc() will always return a value, but it won’t always be the product of num1 and num2. In approximately half the cases, you will get the expected result:

i= 20 Promise {<fulfilled>: 420}

In the other half of the cases, though, you’ll see a rejected promise:

i= 23 Promise {<rejected>: “Oopsy…”}

In both cases the result is wrapped up in a promise, from which we will need to extract the return values. In our fulfilled case above, this means we can’t use the result in further calculations – adding “7” to the result of “420” will simply not work because we are not working with objects directly. You can see this in the following code:

console.log('i=', i, badCalc(i, i + 1) + 7);
//expected output: i= 20 [object Promise]7

In the above code, you can see that the value “7” is simply appended as a string to the promise object’s string output value, which is definitely not what we intended.

Note: If you are not familiar with the concept of JavaScript promises, you can find code more examples here.

There are two ways to handle promises:

  1. .then(), which is called as a callback upon completion of the promise
  2. async/await, which forces the current thread of execution to wait for the promise to complete

This page will focus mostly on the second option. It’s newer, it’s cleaner, and it’s a lot more readable. But first, we’ll review the callback pattern, implemented using .then().

Promise.prototype.then() – basic examples

The following example shows how to use .then() to handle promises and promise resolution:

function getMul() {
  for (let i = 0; i < 50; i++) {
    let res = badCalc(i, i + 1).then(res => console.log('i=', i, 'res: ', res + 7));
  }
}
getMul();

The above code demonstrates how to use .then() such that you are able to use the return value of badCalc() without needing any extra steps. We simply store the return value in a variable. This allows us to operate on that value later using .then().

.then() takes a callback function as its argument. In the above example, res is being passed as a parameter to this callback. Using console.log(), you can see that res is of type Number, and so it is now possible to add 7 to the value without running into the same type issue we encountered before. The expected log output of the above function with i=0 would be:

i= 0 res:  7

However, the log is only displayed for the “good” calculations – function calls where the promise resolution is fulfilled, or successful. We need to add a bit more code for our “Oopsy…” string to be printed. To accomplish this, we need to tell our .then() handler what to do with rejected promises. The following code shows how this is done:

function getMul() {
  for (let i = 0; i < 50; i++) {
    let res = badCalc(i, i + 1)
    .then(res => {
      console.log(i, res + 7);
    }, failure => {
      console.log(console.error(failure)); //expected output: Oopsy...
    })
  }
}
getMul();

In the above code, in case of a successful operation, (res + 7) will be printed to the console, and “Oopsy…” will be printed to the console when the operation fails.

Note: the word failure in the above code sample can be changed to any other word, it establishes a promise resolution similar to the result handler above, creating a function with a single parameter named “failure” that will contain details on the error encountered.

Those are the basics of using the .then() method of promise resolution. Next, let’s take a look at async / await.

async / await

The async-await syntax helps with readability, allowing you to write the code as if it were using synchronous call patterns.

To enable this method of communication, you’ll need to modify your function prototype. In the declaration of the function prototype, before the word function, add the keyword async. This signals to JavaScript that this method will handle promise resolutions.

Next, we edit the function itself to add the keyword await to our asynchronous function call. This keyword tells JavaScript what to wait for when it is processing, and when the execution thread reaches this line, the call will block until the promise is resolved. When the value is returned from this asynchronous function, the function code will continue its execution as normal. Other parts of your application’s code are unaffected, and continue running without issues. That’s asynchronous programming in a nutshell.

Syntax

Here is the general syntax for using the async/await promise resolution method:

async function name (parameters) {

** Your statement(s) here! **

}

The syntax above has the following components:

name: the name of the function;

parameters: the names of arguments to be passed to the function

statements: the body of the function where the await mechanism can be used.

The following simple example adapts our badCalc() handler to work properly with the async/await pattern:

async function getMul() {
  for (let i = 0; i < 50; i++) {
    try {
      let res = await badCalc(i, i + 1);
      console.log('i=', i, 'res: ', res);
    } catch (error) {
      console.log(error);
    }
  }
}
getMul();

In the above example, the word async was added to the getMul() function declaration. Inside the function’s scope, await appears before badCalc(), telling JavaScript to await the result of this call before moving on. The return value received is the value we need for the following console.log() statement.

Try…catch statement

The above code uses the try and catch keywords. These are used to manage exception handling, giving us additional flexibility when working with functions that may throw an error.

We’ll start with try, which is telling the function – “try to run the following code.”

If the code encounters an error, the catch block will handle it. An error that is “caught” is regarded as a “handled error” in JavaScript, and the code will be allowed to continue despite the handled exception. In the code above, about half of the attempted calls to badCalc() will be rejected. Without the catch block, the function will fail with the first error, stopping the execution of the code at this point and likely bringing down the entire application. Try…catch blocks are very powerful, and should be used whenever dealing with promises as, unfortunately, not all promises are fulfilled. The try…catch block allows us to handle these unfulfilled promises gracefully, allowing the code execution to continue uninterrupted.

In the code above, a “good” return value from badCalc() will print i= 11 res: 132 to the console. In the event of a failure, the catch block above will print our “Oopsy…” error message to the console.

Promise.all()

Many functions require multiple data calls to pull in all the information needed to perform a given task. The function itself cannot continue until it has all of the information it needs from the dependent asynchronous functions. Think of a party that can only begin when all three of the invited guests arrive.

In the following code, we illustrate this concept with four functions. We have a function that codifies each guest arrival at the party, and a marshalling function that handles the execution needed once all three party attendees have arrived:

function person1Arrival() {
  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    setTimeout(() => {
      resolve('Person A has arrived!')
    }, 2000)
  })
}
function person2Arrival() {
  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    setTimeout(() => {
      resolve('Person B has arrived!')
    }, 500)
  })
}
function person3Arrival() {
  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    setTimeout(() => {
      resolve('Person C has arrived!')
    }, 3000)
  })
}
async function party() {
  const [a, b, c] = await Promise.all([person1Arrival(), person2Arrival(), person3Arrival()])
  console.log(a, b, c);
  //expected output: Person A has arrived! Person B has arrived! Person C has arrived!
  console.log('Party is On!!');
  //expected output: Party is On!!
}
party();

In the above example, each arrival function runs with a custom delay. Person A arrives after 2 seconds, person B arrives after 500 milliseconds, and person C arrives after 3 seconds.

As party() is an async function, both console.log() statements will occur after person C arrives, or 3 seconds after the request was made. We catch all of these promises using the await keyword, and provide all of our promise-generating functions as an array argument. The code only continues when all promises have been completed, and the results are stored in variables a, b, and c respectively.

You can accomplish all of this with a single return value, using the following syntax:

const waiting = await Promise.all([person1Arrival(), person2Arrival(), person3Arrival()]);

This code produces a similar result, but will not be able to log individual results from each of the aggregated promises, and will not provide any return value to the variable waiting – this prevents you from using the values returned from the promises being monitored.

Note: Promise.all() receives an array of promises as its parameter. Promise.all() resolves all of the promises, so there is no need to use try…catch functionality here.

Syntax

The Promise.all() method has the following syntax:

await Promise.all(array of promises)

Promise.all() requires that you pass in the promises to be monitored as an array. Each item in the array is a promise that needs to be resolved. In the example above, we pass in an array with all three of our invitee functions, each containing a promise. This gives us the array of promises that Promise.all() is looking for.

 

Related Articles:

JavaScript – How to use promises in JavaScript

JavaScript – Data types in JavaScript Explained

JavaScript – How to Use parseInt()

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