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The Arrows library provides methods for composing asynchronous functions in JavaScript.

An arrow can be viewed as a simple wrapper around a JavaScript function. Internally, when a function is lifted into an arrow it is converted into Continuation Passing Style. This allows the composition of both synchronous and asynchronous arrows to use the same syntax - all callback functions are invisible to the user.

For literature and examples, see the Project Homepage.


Lifting, Running, and Cancellation

A JavaScript function can be lifted into an arrow. This can be done either by creating a LiftedArrow, or calling the lift function.

let a = new LiftedArrow(fn);
let b = fn.lift();

Multiple arrows can be composed together to build a state machine that will respond to external events (user interacting with a webpage, a remote server response, a timer or interval expiring, etc). Once a state machine is built, it can be run - it does not execute implicitly.

Calling the run method on an arrow will return a progress object. Each invocation will return a new progress object. The execution of an arrow can be stopped by calling the cancel method on the progress object.

let p =;

Notice that the call to cancel in the example above will only be reached once the arrow reaches a point where it is blocked by an external event. Arrows can only be canceled at asynchronous points.


Arrows are bundled with an optional typesystem. Each arrow carries its own type, and composing two arrows will fail if the types clash. This helps discover errors which are particularly hard to debug in this style of programming much earlier.

Built-in arrows have already been given a type. The type of a arrow resulting from a combinator has its type inferred and does not require anything from the user.

Lifted functions must be annotated with a type. This is done by adding a comment in the lifted function of the following form. The type of an arrow requires, at a minimum, the input type and the return type.

let arr = function(a, b, c) {
    /* @arrow :: (Bool, Number, Number) ~> Number */
    return a ? b * c : b + c;

The types which can be used are given below.

Type Description
'a, 'b, 'c A type variable
_ A value which cannot be used meaningfully (null, undefined)
T1+T2 A value of type T1 or T2
[T] An array with elements of type T
(T1, T2, ...) A fixed-size array whose ith element has type T(i)
{l1: T1, l2: T2, ...} An object whose field l(i) has type T(i)
<l1: T1, l2: T2, ...> A special object with a tag and a wrapped value; if the tag is l(i), then the value has type T(i)

The built-in types String, Bool, Number, Elem, and Event are also supported. Additional user-defined types can be used by name (e.g. User or Post). Such types are treated opaquely by the type checker and will not check the fields of the object.

A tagged value can be created in the following way. A tagged value can be queried for its tag (e.g. v.hasTag("foo")) and can unwrap its value (e.g. v.value()).

let arr = function(i) {
    /* @arrow :: Number ~> <foo: String, bar: Int, baz: _> */
    if (i % 2 == 0) { return new TaggedValue("foo", "" + i); }
    if (i % 3 == 0) { return new TaggedValue("bar", i * 27); }
    else            { return new TaggedValue("baz"); }

If a lifted function does not have an annotation it is assumed to be _ ~> _.

A type may also have a set of constraints and a set of exception types. If the user supplies them, then they are annotated in the following form.

let arr = function(x, y) {
    /* @arrow :: ('a, 'a) ~> 'b \ ({'a <= Number+String, 'b <= 'a}, {MathError}) */
    if (x == 42) { throw new MathError('Forbidden value for x.'); }
    else         { return x + y; }

In this example, the constraint set contains the constraint 'a <= Number+String stating that the type variable 'a must be a subtype of Number or String, and the constraint 'b <= 'a stating that the return value must be a subtype of the input. The function may also throw a value of type MathError.

Constraints are often unnecessary to annotate by hand, but frequently occur in the inferred type of a combinator. Combining two arrows do not requires the types to match exactly, but does requires that an arrow consuming a value from another arrow expect a supertype (a less specific type) of the annotated return value. For example, the following composition is legal.

let arr1 = (function() {
    /** @arrow :: _ ~> (Number, String, Bool) */
    return [10, "foo", false];

let arr2 = (function(a, b) {
    /** @arrow :: (Number, 'a) ~> 'a */
    return b;

arr1.seq(arr2); // Inferred type is (Number, String, Bool) ~> String



The Elem arrow returns the current set of elements matching the selector supplied at construction. The value returned is a jQuery object, not a raw DOM object. This arrow ignores its input. This arrow is synchronous.

let elem1 = new ElemArrow('#byIdent');
let elem2 = new ElemArrow('.byClass');


The Event arrow takes an element as input and registers an event handler for the event type supplied at construction. The arrow will resume execution once the event occurs, returning the event object. This arrow is asynchronous.

Arrow.seq([new ElemArrow('#byIdent'), new EventArrow('click')]); // Fires after object with ID is clicked
Arrow.seq([new ElemArrow('#byClass'), new EventArrow('click')]); // Fires after any object with class is clicked


The Delay arrow will pause execution of the arrow for a number of milliseconds supplied at construction. This arrow returns its input unchanged. This arrow is asynchronous.

    new DelayArrow(5000), // Pause for 5 second


The Ajax arrow makes a remote request and returns the response body. This arrow must be supplied a configuration function as construction time. This arrow is asynchronous. When executed, the arrow will pass the input to the configuration function which is expected to return an object of Ajax options. For documentation on available options, see the jQuery docs). The return value will be formatted according to the dataType option.

The configuration function must be annotated with two types: the expected input of the configuration function, and the expected response from the server. Similarly to lifted functions, this is done by adding a comment of the following form.

let ajax = new AjaxArrow(function(searchTerm) {
     * @conf :: String
     * @resp :: [{name: String, price: Number}]
    return {
        'url': '' + searchTerm,
        'dataType': 'json'

Arrow.seq([ajax, displayResponse]);


The Split arrow will clone its input n times and output a n-tuple. The value n is supplied at construction. This is often useful when several arrows running concurrently should begin executing with the same input. This arrow is synchronous.

Arrow.seq([new SplitArrow(3), Arrow.all([arrow1, arrow2, arrow3])]); // Arrows given same input


The Nth arrow will return the nth element from a k-tuple where k no less than n. The value n is supplied at construction and is one-indexed (one, not zero, refers to the first element of a tuple). This arrow is synchronous.

Arrow.seq([Arrow.all([arrow1, arrow2, arrow3]), new NthArrow(2)]); // Extract arrow2's output



The Seq combinator will use the output of one arrow as the input of another. Many arrows can be sequenced together at once. If one arrow in the chain is asynchronous, the execution of the chain will block.

Arrow.seq([arrow1, arrow2, arrow3]); // Pass arrow1's output to arrow2,
                                     // then arrow2's output to arrow3


The All combinator sequences multiple arrows in parallel. Both the input and output of the resulting arrow are tuples, where each item of the tuple corresponds to one of the sub-arrows.

The arrows will begin to execute in-order. If an asynchronous arrow is executed, the next arrow in the chain will begin to execute immediately. The resulting arrow will block until all arrows have completed.

Arrow.all([click1, click2, click3]); // Takes three elements, returns three clicks


Like the All combinator, the Any combinator sequences multiple arrows in parallel; unlike the All combinator, the Any combinator will allow only one branch of execution to complete.

Each arrow used as input to the Any combinator must be asynchronous (at some point during its execution). The arrows will begin to execute in-order. Each arrow will be partially executed and waiting for an external event (user click, timer, Ajax response). The first arrow to resume execution will be allowed to complete, and the event listeners in all the other branches will be removed. This arrow returns the result of the branch that resumed execution.

The input to the resulting arrow will be fed to each sub-arrow (that is, each arrow gets a copy of the same input). The resulting arrow is asynchronous.

Arrow.any([ajaxServer1, ajaxServer2, ajaxServer3]); // The result will be the response of
                                                    // the fastest server


The NoEmit combinator wraps a single arrow so that any progress made within the arrow will not cause the cancellation of another branch running concurrently with the any combinator.

The NoEmit combinator forces progress to be made at the end of execution. Therefore, the resulting arrow is asynchronous, regardless if the wrapped arrow was asynchronous or not.

let a1 = Arrow.any([
    new DelayArrow(5000),
    Arrow.all([click1, click2, click3])

let a2 = Arrow.any([
    new DelayArrow(5000),
    Arrow.all([click1, click2, click3]).noemit()
]);; // Timer is canceled by clicking one element; // Timer is canceled by clicking all three elements


The Try combinator is constructed with a protected arrow, a success arrow, and an error handler. If an exception is thrown within the protected arrow, then the error handler is executed. Otherwise, the protected and success arrows behave as if they were sequenced.

If an error is thrown from within the success arrow, the error handler will not be invoked. For safety within the success arrow or the error handler, the arrow must be nested within another Try combinator.

Arrow.try(ajax, handle, displayError); // If the Ajax request fails, display an error

For the arrow to type check, the error handler must accept at least the types which can be thrown from the protected arrow. It is not possible for an exception value to leak from the protected arrow past the boundary of the Try combinator.


The Fix-point combinator constructs an arrow which can refer to itself. This is useful for loops and sequencing repetitive actions. The combinator takes an arrow builder function as input. The input to this function is an arrow which acts as a reference to the arrow being built. The function must return an arrow.

Arrow.fix(function(a) {
    return Arrow.seq([work, new DelayArrow(25), a]); // Infinitely invoke work with 25ms breaks

Caution: It is possible to create an arrow which is well-composed and well-typed, but will recursive infinitely in a non-useful way. For example, the following arrow will never execute the print function, as it always begins to execute itself from the beginning immediately.

Arrow.fix(function(a) {
    return Arrow.seq([a, new DelayArrow(25), print]);


The following static methods create the combinators described above.

  • Arrow.seq([a1, a2, ...])
  • Arrow.all([a1, a2, ...])
  • Arrow.any([a1, a2, ...])
  • Arrow.try([pa, sa, err])
  • Arrow.noemit(a)

In addition, the following static methods create derived combinators.

  • Arrow.fanout([a1, a2, ...]) creates a combinator similar to All which feeds a copy of the the same input to each arrow.
  • Arrow.bind(event, a) creates an arrow which takes an Elem as input, and invokes a with an input of (Elem, Event) after the event occurs.

Each arrow also carries the following methods to create the combinators described above.

  • a.noemit()
  • a1.seq(a2, ...)
  • a1.all(a2, ...)
  • a1.any(a2, ...)
  • pa.try(sa, err)

In addition, arrows carry the following methods to create derived combinators.

  • a.wait(duration) will add a Delay arrow after the execution of a.
  • a.after(duration) will add a Delay arrow before the execution of a.
  • a.triggeredBy(selector, event) will invoke a once the event occurs on the selector. This does not change the input to a, only the conditions under which it is invoked.
  • a.catch(err) creates a Try combinator with an identity success arrow.
  • a.split(n) will add a Split arrow after the execution of a.
  • a.nth(n) will add an Nth arrow after the execution of a.
  • a.tap(f1, f2, ...) will sequence a series of functions or arrows together such that each step receives the output of a as its argument, and returns the output of a at the end of the sequence.
  • a.on(event, handler) assumes a is an arrow returning an Elem, waits for the event to occur on that value, then invokes handler arrow with a (Elem, Event) argument.
  • a.remember() will execute a, then return the original input to the arrow.
  • a.carry() will execute a, then return a tuple containing both the original input and the output of a.
  • a.repeat() will assume the return value of a is of type <loop: 'a, halt: 'b>. If a returns a loop tag, then a is re-invoked with its unwrapped output value as its new input. Otherwise, the arrow halts with the unwrapped value.
  • a.times(n) will execute a with the same input n times (where n > 0). The value resulting from this arrow is the last output of a.
  • a.forever() will re-invoke a forever in a loop.
  • a.whileTrue() will invoke a with the same input until a returns non-true. Once repetition stops, the arrow returns no useful value.


Copyright (c) 2016 Eric Fritz

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.



Arrows are a method for async composition in JavaScript.



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