Async-friendly subclassing and option management
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principal provides async-friendly subclassing and options management for JavaScript. When it comes to object-oriented programming, JavaScript often feels like an assembly language in which a nice object-oriented language might one day be built. principal aims to address that feeling without the need for a preprocessor or new language keywords.

principal was created in an environment with a relatively small number of powerful objects that implement the "manager" pattern and a lot of cheap generic JavaScript objects that don't have methods of their own. So the performance benefits of using the JavaScript prototype chain was not a primary concern. Convenience and elegance were primary concerns.


npm install principal


See below for a quick example of a base class and a subclass. This documentation is still incomplete.

Note that the constructor functions themselves are async, and so are all of the methods. Support for synchronous methods is coming but async will always be the default, as it is everywhere in the node APIs.

Options become part of the self.options property of each object for easy access.

Subclasses can choose to simply override an option, or to append or prepend additional values to an array option, a common requirement that is awkward without Principal.

Similarly, subclasses can choose to simply override a method, or to call a function before or after the original method (or do both).

Principal's syntax is inspired by MongoDB's query language: operators such as $before and $after (for extending methods) and $append, $prepend and $alter (for extending options) are prefixed with a $.

Using $before

The function you supply for $before is called before the superclass version of the method in question. Your $before function will receive the arguments passed to the method, except that _super, a function which invokes the original method, is supplied where you would otherwise expect the final callback. The final callback is supplied as an additional argument, _final.

Normally you will call _super at the end of your $before function, and you will call it with its customary arguments it is expecting, plus _final (the original callback passed to the method).

However, you may choose to pass different values for the arguments, which is a common reason to write a $before function. You may also choose to skip calling the original method at all and just invoke _final yourself.

An example makes it much clearer:

index: {
  $before: function(header, _super, _final) {
    // Modify an argument
    header += '-suffixed';
    // Call the original method
    return _super(header, _final);

Using $after

The function you supply for $after is invoked after the original method. The original method is given a substitute for its usual callback in order to achieve this.

Your $after function receives:

  • The parameters that were passed to the original method, if any;
  • The parameters the original method passed to its callback (including the error parameter); and
  • A callback you must invoke to complete the method.

So if the original method took the parameters x and callback, and invoked its callback with err and a result parameter, your $after function will receive:

x, err, result, callback

Base classes

Base classes (those that do not subclass another class) should specify Object as the second argument to principal.subclass.


All other classes should specify the constructor of another class built for use with Principal, such as the List and ReverseList classes below.

Constructor functions for Principal

Notice that each class constructor takes options, methods and callback parameters. options contains overrides of options that are useful when constructing an object of this type. This is used often when constructing an object in an application. methods contains overrides of the methods (functions) of the object. This is most often used by principal.subclass to pass in subclass overrides of methods, but can also be used directly.

Each constructor should begin its code by capturing this in a self variable to be passed to principal.subclass:

var self = this;

All methods of the object are written inside the constructor function, allowing them to see the self variable and avoiding any problems with this being redefined in event handlers. All methods should refer to self rather than this.

Arguments to principal.subclass

principal.subclass expects the following arguments:

self: the object just constructed

base: the constructor function for the superclass we are subclassing, or Object if this is a base class

callerOptions contains options passed to the constructor

callerMethods contains methods passed to the constructor (used when subclassing)

myOptions contains default values for options introduced by this class, and is usually an inline object (see the List and ReverseList objects). Note that myOptions can use $append and $prepend operators

myMethods contains methods for this class of object. myMethods may use $before and $after to extend methods rather than overriding them.

callback should be the callback passed to the constructor function.

// Base class (subclasses Object)
function List(options, methods, callback) {
  var self = this;
  principal.subclass(self, Object, options, methods, {
    sort: 'forward',
    paths: [ '/foo' ]
  }, {
    index: function(header, callback) {
      // Do not modify the original data
      var results = [].concat(;
      results.sort(function(a, b) {
        if (self.options.sort === 'forward') {
          return a - b;
        } else if (self.options.sort === 'reverse') {
          return b - a;
      return callback(null, results);
    name: function(callback) {
      return callback(null, 'List');
  }, callback);

// Subclass (subclasses List)
function ReverseList(options, methods, callback) {
  var self = this;
  principal.subclass(self, List, options, methods, {
    sort: 'reverse',
    paths: { $append: [ '/bar' ] }
  }, {
    index: {
      $before: function(header, _super, _final) {
        header += '-suffixed';
        return _super(header, _final);
    name: function(callback) {
      return callback(null, 'ReverseList');
  }, callback);

About P'unk Avenue and Apostrophe

principal was created at P'unk Avenue for use in Apostrophe, an open-source content management system built on node.js. If you like principal you should definitely check out Also be sure to visit us on github.


Feel free to open issues on github.