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A tool for making and composing asynchronous promises in JavaScript

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Octocat-spinner-32 design
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Octocat-spinner-32 README.md
Octocat-spinner-32 package.json
Octocat-spinner-32 q.js
Octocat-spinner-32 q.min.js
Octocat-spinner-32 ref_send.md
README.md

Q is a tool for making and composing asynchronous promises in JavaScript.

An asynchronous promise is an object that represents the eventual return value (fulfillment) or thrown exception of (rejection) of a function that could not respond before returning without blocking, like file system, inter-process, and network operations. An eventual "resolution" is either a fulfillment or a rejection.

The Q module can be loaded as:

  • a <script> tag (creating a Q global variable)
  • a NodeJS module, or generally a CommonJS module, available from NPM as the q package.
  • a RequireJS module

Q is designed to work well with jQuery, Dojo, and as part of an ecosystem of NodeJS NPM packages, many of which also work in browsers, including:

  • qq infinite queues, deep and shallow object resolution, map/reduce helpers, lazy objects (/!\ This was originally q/util in this package, but has moved into its own home due to changes in NPM 1.)
  • q-fs file system
  • q-http http client and server
  • q-comm remote objects
  • jaque promising HTTP server, JSGI middleware
  • teleport browser-side module promises

Q conforms to many proposed standards, mostly by Kris Zyp and myself, with mentoring from Mark Miller: UncommonJS/Promises CommonJS/Promises/A, CommonJS/Promises/B, and CommonJS/Promises/D. Q is based on Tyler Close's ref_send API for Waterken.

EXAMPLES

defer

This example provides a promise-oriented delay function based on the callback-oriented setTimeout function.

function delay(ms) {
    var deferred = Q.defer();
    setTimeout(deferred.resolve, ms);
    return deferred.promise;
}

This example takes a promise and returns a promise that will be rejected if the given promise is not fulfilled in a timely fashion.

function timeout(promise, ms) {
    var deferred = Q.defer();
    Q.when(promise, deferred.resolve);
    Q.when(delay(ms), function () {
        deferred.reject("Timed out");
    });
    return deferred.promise;
}

This example wraps Node's file listing function, returning a promise instead of accepting a callback.

var FS = require("fs"); // from Node

function list(path) {
    path = String(path);
    var result = Q.defer();
    FS.readdir(path, function (error, list) {
        if (error)
            return result.reject(error);
        else
            result.resolve(list);
    });
    return result.promise;
}

when

This example illustrates how the when primitive can be used to observe the fulfillment of a promise.

var bPromise = Q.when(aPromise, function (aValue) {
    return bValue;
});
  • If aPromise is fulfilled, the callback is called in a future turn of the even loop with the fulfilled value as aValue.
  • If aPromise is rejected, bPromise will be resolved with aPromise (the rejection will be forwarded).
  • bPromise is eventually resolved with bValue.
  • aPromise does not actually need to be a promise. It can be any value, in which case it is treated as an already fulfilled promise.
  • bValue does not actually need to be a value. It can be a promise, which would further defer the resolution of bPromise.
  • If the fulfillment callback throws an exception, bPromise will be rejected with the thrown error as the reason.

This example illustrates how the when primitive can be used to observe either the fulfillment or rejection of a promise.

var bPromise = Q.when(aPromise, function (aValue) {
    return bValue;
}, function (aReason) {
    return bValue; // or
    throw bReason;
});
  • If aPromise is rejected, the second callback, the rejection callback, will be called with the reason for the rejection as aReason.
  • The value returned by the rejection callback will be used to resolve bPromise.
  • If the rejection callback throws an error, bPromise will be rejected with the error as the reason.
  • Unlike a try and catch block, the rejection callback will not be called if the fulfillment callback throws an error or returns a rejection. To observe an exception thrown in either the fulfillment or the rejection callback, another when block must be used to observe the rejection of bPromise.

In general,

  • If the rejection callback is falsy and aPromise is rejected, the rejection will be forwarded to bPromise.
  • If the fulfillment callback is falsy and aPromise is fulfilled, the fulfilled value will be forwarded to bPromise.

Node File-system Examples

In Node, this example reads itself and writes itself out in all capitals.

var Q = require("q");
var FS = require("q-fs");

var text = FS.read(__filename);
Q.when(text, function (text) {
    console.log(text.toUpperCase());
});

You can also perform actions in parallel. This example reads two files at the same time, waits for both to finish, then logs their lengths.

var Q = require("q");
var FS = require("q-fs");

var self = FS.read(__filename);
var passwd = FS.read("/etc/passwd");
Q.join(self, passwd, function (self, passwd) {
    console.log(__filename + ':', self.length);
    console.log('/etc/passwd:', passwd.length);
});

This example reads all of the files in the same directory as the program and notes the length of each, in the order in which they are finished reading.

var Q = require("q");
var FS = require("q-fs");

var list = FS.list(__dirname);
var files = Q.when(list, function (list) {
    list.forEach(function (fileName) {
        var content = FS.read(fileName);
        Q.when(content, function (content) {
            console.log(fileName, content.length);
        });
    });
});

This example reads all of the files in the same directory as the program and notes the length of each, in the order in which they were listed.

var Q = require("q");
var FS = require("q-fs");

var list = FS.list(__dirname);
var files = Q.when(list, function (list) {
    return list.reduce(function (ready, fileName) {
        var content = FS.read(fileName);
        return Q.join(ready, content, function (ready, content) {
            console.log(fileName, content.length);
        });
    });
});

Parallel Join

Promises can be used to do work either in parallel or serial, depending on whether you wait for one promise to be fulfilled before beginning work on a second. To do a parallel join, begin work and get promises and use nested when blocks to create a single promise that will be resolved when both inputs are resolved, or when the first is rejected.

var aPromise = aFunction();
var bPromise = bFunction();
var cPromise = Q.when(aPromise, function (aValue) {
    return Q.when(bPromise, function (bValue) {
        return cValue;
    });
});

For short, you can use the join function.

var Q = require("q");
var aPromise = aFunction();
var bPromise = bFunction();
Q.join(aPromise, bPromise, function (aValue, bValue) {
    return cValue;
});

If a piece of work can be done on each value in an array in parallel, you can use either a forEach loop or a reduce loop to create a done promise.

var done;
array.forEach(function (value) {
    var work = doWork(value); 
    done = Q.when(done, function () {
        return work;
    });
});
return done;

It is a bit more concise with a reduce loop.

return array.reduce(function (done, value) {
    var work = doWork(value);
    return Q.when(done, function () {
        return work;
    });
}, undefined);

You can also join the promises with a variadic wait call, which is equivalent.

return array.reduce(function (done, value) {
    var work = doWork(value);
    return Q.wait(work, done);
}, undefined);

Serial Join

If you have two pieces of work and the second cannot be done until the first completes, you can also use nested when blocks.

var aPromise = aFunction();
var cPromise = Q.when(aPromise, function (aValue) {
    var bPromise = bFunction(aValue);
    return Q.when(bPromise, function bValue) {
        return cValue;
    });
});

If you can do work on each value in an array, but want to do them in order and one at a time, you can use forEach or reduce loop.

var done;
array.forEach(function (value) {
    done = Q.when(done, function () {
        return doWork(value); 
    });
});
return done;

It is more concise with reduce and wait.

return array.reduce(function (done, value) {
    return Q.wait(done, doWork(value));
});

Recovery

You can use the rejection callback of when blocks to recover from failure. Supposing that doIt will intermittently fail (perhaps because of network conditions), justDoIt will just keep trying indifinitely.

function justDoIt(value) {
    var work = doIt(value);
    work = timeout(1000, work);
    return Q.when(work, function (work) {
        return work;
    }, function errback(reason) {
        // just do it again
        return justDoIt(value);
    });
}

This will not blow out the stack because when blocks guarantee that the fulfillment and rejection callbacks will only be called on their own turn of the event loop.

Conditional Array Serial Join

Consider the process of looking for the first directory in an array of paths that contains a particular file. To do this with a synchronous file API is very straight-forward.

function find(basePaths, soughtPath) {
    for (var i = 0, ii = basePaths.length; i < ii; i++) {
        var consideredPath = FS.join(basePaths[i], soughtPath);
        if (FS.isFile(consideredPath))
            return consideredPath;
    }
    throw new Error("Can't find.");
}

To do this with an asynchronous FS.isFile is more elaborate. It is a serial iteration, but it halts at the first success. This can be accomplished by creating a chain of functions, each making progress on the returned promise until the matching path is found, otherwise returning the value returned by the next function in line, until all options are exhausted and returning a rejection.

function find(basePaths, soughtPath) {
    var find = basePaths.reduceRight(function (otherwise, basePath) {
        return function () {
            var consideredPath = FS.join(basePath, soughtPath);
            var isFile = FS.isFile(consideredPath);
            return Q.when(isFile, function (isFile) {
                if (isFile) {
                    return consideredPath;
                } else {
                    return otherwise();
                }
            });
        };
    }, function otherwise() {
        throw new Error("Can't find");
    });
    return find();
}

THE HALLOWED API

when(value, fulfilled_opt, rejected_opt)

Arranges for fulfilled to be called:

  • with the value as its sole argument
  • in a future turn of the event loop
  • if and when the value is or becomes a fully resolved

Arranges for rejected to be called:

  • with a value respresenting the reason why the object will never be resolved, typically an Error object.
  • in a future turn of the event loop
  • if the value is a promise and
    • if and when the promise is rejected

Returns a promise:

  • that will resolve to the value returned by either of the callbacks, if either of those functions are called, or
  • that will be rejected if the value is rejected and no rejected callback is provided, thus forwarding rejections by default.

The value may be truly any value. It can be a function. It can be a promise.

Either callback may be falsy, in which case it will not be called.

Guarantees:

  • fulfilled will not be called before when returns.
  • rejected will not be called before when returns.
  • fulfilled will not be called more than once.
  • rejected will not be called more than once.
  • If fulfilled is called, rejected will never be called.
  • If rejected is called, fulfilled will never be called.
  • If a promise is never resolved, neither callback will ever be called.

THIS IS COOL

  • You can set up an entire chain of causes and effects in the duration of a single event and be guaranteed that any invariants in your lexical scope will not...vary.
  • You can both receive a promise from a sketchy API and return a promise to some other sketchy API and, as long as you trust this module, all of these guarantees are still provided.
  • You can use when to compose promises in a variety of ways, for example:

INTERSECTION

function and(a, b) {
    return Q.when(a, function (a) {
        return Q.when(b, function (b) {
            // ...
        });
    })
}

defer()

Returns a "deferred" object with a:

  • promise property
  • resolve(value) function
  • reject(reason) function

The promise is suitable for passing as a value to the when function, among others.

Calling resolve with a promise notifies all observers that they must now wait for that promise to resolve.

Calling resolve with a rejected promise notifies all observers that the promise will never be fully resolved with the rejection reason. This forwards through the the chain of when calls and their returned promises until it reaches a when call that has a rejected callback.

Calling resolve with a fully resolved value notifies all observers that they may proceed with that value in a future turn. This forwards through the fulfilled chain of any pending when calls.

Calling reject with a reason is equivalent to resolving with a rejection.

In all cases where the resolution of a promise is set, (promise, rejection, value) the resolution is permanent and cannot be reset. All future observers of the resolution of the promise will be notified of the resolved value, so it is safe to call when on a promise regardless of whether it has been or will be resolved.

THIS IS COOL

The Deferred separates the promise part from the resolver part. So:

  • You can give the promise to any number of consumers and all of them will observe the resolution independently. Because the capability of observing a promise is separated from the capability of resolving the promise, none of the recipients of the promise have the ability to "trick" other recipients with misinformation.

  • You can give the resolver to any number of producers and whoever resolves the promise first wins. Furthermore, none of the producers can observe that they lost unless you give them the promise part too.

UNION

function or(a, b) {
    var union = Q.defer();
    Q.when(a, union.resolve);
    Q.when(b, union.resolve);
    return union.promise;
}

ref(value)

If value is a promise, returns the promise.

If value is not a promise, returns a promise that has already been resolved with the given value.

def(value)

Annotates a value, wrapping it in a promise, such that that it is a local promise object which cannot be serialized and sent to resolve a remote promise.

A def'ed value will respond to the "isDef" message without a rejection so remote promise communication libraries can distinguish it from non-def values.

reject(reason)

Returns a promise that has already been rejected with the given reason.

This is useful for conditionally forwarding a rejection through an errback.

Q.when(API.getPromise(), function (value) {
    return doSomething(value);
}, function (reason) {
    if (API.stillPossible()) {
        return API.tryAgain();
    } else {
        return Q.reject(reason);
    }
})

Unconditionally forwarding a rejection is equivalent to omitting an errback on a when call.

Q.when(API.getPromise(), function (value) {
    return doSomething(value);
}, function (reason) {
    return Q.reject(reason);
})

Simplifies to:

Q.when(API.getPromise(), function (value) {
    return doSomething(value);
})

isPromise(value)

Returns whether the given value is a promise.

isResolved(value)

Returns whether the given value is fully resolved. The given value may be any value, including but not limited to promises returned by defer and ref. Rejected promises are not considered resolved.

isRejected(value)

Returns whether the given value is a rejected promise.

end(promise)

Accepts a promise that is intended to be the last promise in a chain of promises. If an error propagates to the end of the promise chain, it will be thrown as an exception and handled by either NodeJS or the browser as an uncaught exception.

enqueue(callback Function)

Calls callback in a future turn.

ADVANCED API

The ref promise constructor establishes the basic API for performing operations on objects: "get", "put", "del", "post", "apply", and "keys". This set of "operators" can be extended by creating promises that respond to messages with other operator names, and by sending corresponding messages to those promises.

makePromise(handlers, fallback_opt, valueOf_opt)

Creates a stand-alone promise that responds to messages. These messages have an operator like "when", "get", "put", and "post", corresponding to each of the above functions for sending messages to promises.

The handlers are an object with function properties corresponding to operators. When the made promise receives a message and a corresponding operator exists in the handlers, the function gets called with the variadic arguments sent to the promise. If no handlers object exists, the fallback function is called with the operator, and the subsequent variadic arguments instead. These functions return a promise for the eventual resolution of the promise returned by the message-sender. The default fallback returns a rejection.

The valueOf function, if provided, overrides the valueOf function of the returned promise. This is useful for providing information about the promise in the same turn of the event loop. For example, resolved promises return their resolution value and rejections return an object that is recognized by isRejected.

send(value, operator, ...args)

Sends an arbitrary message to a promise.

Care should be taken not to introduce control-flow hazards and security holes when forwarding messages to promises. The functions above, particularly when, are carefully crafted to prevent a poorly crafted or malicious promise from breaking the invariants like not applying callbacks multiple times or in the same turn of the event loop.

get(object, name)

Returns a promise for the named property of an object, albeit a promise for an object.

put(object, name, value)

Returns a promise to set the named property of an object, albeit a promise, to the given value.

del(object, name)

Returns a promise to delete the named property of an object, albeit a promise.

post(object, name, arguments)

Returns a promise to call the named function property of an eventually fulfilled object with the given array of arguments. The object itself is this in the function.

invoke(object, name, ...arguments)

Returns a promise to call the named function property of an eventually fulfilled object with the given variadic arguments. The object itself is this in the function.

keys(object)

Returns a promise for an array of the property names of the eventually fulfilled object.

apply(function, this, arguments)

Returns a promise for the result of calling an eventually fulfilled function, with the given values for the this and arguments array in that function.

call(function, this, ...arguments)

Returns a promise for the result of eventually calling the fulfilled function, with the given context and variadic arguments.

all([...promises])

Returns a promise for an array of the fulfillment of each respective promise, or rejects when the first promise is rejected.

wait(...objects)

Returns a promise for the fulfilled value of the first object when all of the objects have been fulfilled, or the rejection of the first object to be rejected from left to right.

join(...objects, callback(...objects))

Returns a promise for the value eventually fulfilled by the return value of the callback, or the rejection of the first object to be rejected from left to right. If and when all of the variadic object arguments have been fulfilled, the callback is called with the respective fulfillment values variadically.

fin(promise, callback())

Like a finally clause, allows you to observe either the fulfillment or rejection of a callback, but to do so without modifying the final value. This is useful for collecting resources regardless of whether a job succeeded, like closing a database connection, shutting a server down, or deleting an unneeded key from an object. The callback receives no arguments.

end(promise)

Accepts a promise and returns undefined, to terminate a chain of promises at the end of a program. If the promise is rejected, throws it as an exception in a future turn of the event loop.

Since exceptions thrown in when callbacks are consumed and transformed into rejections, exceptions are easy to accidentally silently ignore. It is furthermore non-trivial to get those exceptions reported since the obvious way to do this is to use when to register a rejection callback, where throw would just get consumed again. end arranges for the error to be thrown in a future turn of the event loop, so it won't be caught; it will cause the exception to emit a browser's onerror event or NodeJS's process "uncaughtException".

async(generatorFunction)

This is an experimental tool for converting a generator function into a deferred function. This has the potential of reducing nested callbacks in engines that support yield. See examples/async-generators/README.md for further information.

Chaining

Promises created by the Q API support chaining for some functions. The this promise becomes the first argument of the corresponding Q API function. For example, the following are equivalent:

  • when(promise, fulfilled) and promise.then(fulfilled).
  • end(promise) and promise.end().

The following functions are supported for chaining:

  • .when (.then)
  • .get
  • .put
  • .del
  • .post
  • .invoke
  • .apply
  • .call
  • .keys
  • .all
  • .wait (.all().get(0))
  • .join (.all().when(function ([...]) {})))
  • .fin
  • .end

Copyright 2009-2011 Kristopher Michael Kowal MIT License (enclosed)

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