Condanna - A simple implementation of Promises/A+
Condanna (italian for "sentence") is a short, but complete implementation of the Promises/A+ standard. It was written to show interested readers one way to implement promises.
Web browsers recently implemented (or ar still implementing) a technology called Web Workers that allows code to start another thread from a web page that executes in the background, but communication between the parent environment controlling the user interface and the background thread is highly restricted. The usual characteristic of a multi-threaded environment, the shared memory, is not present when working with web workers.
In general, operations are taking different orders of magnitudes of time
depending on the scope of them. Calculations on the CPU are very fast, while
requests to some remote server take a comparatively long time. To keep pages
responsive while loading more data from somewhere else traditionally plain
callbacks were used.
functions were registered with the environment and called
later, when the result was present.
Unfortunately, this approach can easily lead to unmanageable and unwieldy code. Promises introduce an abstracting layer encapsulating callbacks for success and error. We can treat promises as a piece of data that happens to give us a result of some operation later. The great advantage of having a piece of data is that it is storable in a variable or pass to functions, in other words treat a long-running operation as a first-level citizen.
Promises had a rocky start, and a lot of incompatible implementations popped up. Not all of them provided the same semantics, and compatibility between promises from different libraries was not given. This semantic compatibility however is crucial for treating promises as first-level citizens (A function can always be invoked the same way, regardless from where it's imported).
As a joint effort from major libraries, a common set of rules was established. Since then, the Promises/A+ standard specifies a set of rules for compatible implementations.
A promise encapsulates the result of a calculation, but usually has no (and shouldn't have) means of specifying this result. Deferreds are a loose concept covering a promise and accompanying functions setting this result. This is part of the interface a promise library provides to construct promises.
For simplicity deferreds will be used in this library. Another common approach is the use of a constructor function that receives the functions to resolve or reject the promise as parameters.
The implementation of the library will contain three major modules:
- a deferred
- a promise resolver
- a function call queue
These modules will be introduced in the following. During the implementation the paragraph from the standard demanding that design choice will be referred to.
The standard differentiates between 'thenables' and 'promises'. A thenable is
an object with a
then method, while a promise is an object with a
method according to the standard. Certain guarantees can be taken for granted
when an object is a promise, leading to more performant code. In this
implementation there won't be a way of distinguishing between foreign thenables
and trusted promises, which is why any thenable will be treated as just
that: a thenable. No difference will be made between the two in this document,
and the terms used interchangeably.
A deferred is constructed (the main API for this library) by calling
deferred(). The first piece of state the deferred needs is a moded queue that
will run function calls having the appropriate mode. For example, if
there were two callbacks for the mode
resolved and three callbacks for
reject and later the mode set to
'resolved', the two callbacks mentioned
first will be called. The mode of a queue can not be changed once it has been
set. The chapter introducing the moded queue will talk more about it.
deferred = -> queue = modedQueue()
This is all the internal state that a deferred is going to keep. The next step is to construct the resulting promise and the two functions setting the actual result. Firstly, the promise:
promise: then: (onFulfilled, onRejected) ->
The only method provided as part of the promise is the
then method. It can
take up to two callback as parameters. Standard dictates (2.2.7) that it has
to return a promise, so let's just create the accompanying deferred
(the promise will be returned later) here:
resultingDeferred = deferred()
When the promise is fulfilled, ...
If the passed parameter is a function (188.8.131.52), a callback to be executed when the F queue is flushed is to be registered in the queue of this promise:
if typeof onFulfilled is \function queue.push 'F', (resolvedWith) !->
At this point,
this promise has been resolved, e.g., there is an actual
answer from the remote server. It is now possible to call the supplied
callback from the user of this library. If this function throws (which it is
certainly allowed to do), the new promise has to be rejected with the throwed
value, i.e. the reason (184.108.40.206).
onFulfilled is called as a function, and does not have a context
try newValue = onFulfilled resolvedWith catch resultingDeferred.reject e
newValue now holds the value that the new promise represented by
resultingDeferred.promise should resolve with. This value might still be a
promise, and it is to be resolved first. A standardized procedure is mandated
by the standard to make sure that the correct type of value is returned to the
user of the library here (220.127.116.11). Note that the standard names this
procedure 'resolve', which could lead to confusion with the
resolve method of
the deferred. In this document the procedure will be referred to it by
resolvePromise instead. This procedure will be implemented in the next
chapter, for now it is just executed:
resolvePromise resultingDeferred, newValue
The section above handled the case where the user gave a callback for the case of
fulfillment. This parameter however is optional. If it is not set, the value
that resolved this promise has to be forwarded to the new promise as
fulfillment value (18.104.22.168). The easiest way to do this is to register the
resolve method of the new deferred as callback for the current promise,
onFulfilled parameter is not given or not a function:
else queue.push 'F', resultingDeferred.resolve
and when it's not, ...
Promises can be fulfilled, but can also be rejected if they can't be fulfilled,
for example because of a network error when fetching external data.
Callbacks can be registered for this case by supplying them as a second parameter
to this, such as:
fetch(url).then(null, (reason) -> alert(reason)).
To register the callback in the moded queue, the same steps have to be executed, but with different variables. The callback will be placed in the 'R' queue, if it is given (22.214.171.124). A thrown exception in the handler will also reject the promise (126.96.36.199), and omission of the handler will forward the reject to the new promise (188.8.131.52).
if typeof onRejected is \function queue.push 'R', (rejectedWith) !-> try newValue = onRejected rejectedWith catch resultingDeferred.reject e resolvePromise resultingDeferred, newValue else queue.push 'R', resultingDeferred.reject
It is worth noting that a rejection handler can bring the promise 'back on course' by returning a new value, e.g. by resolving the reason for the exception and trying again, but can as well decide to keep the promise chain in rejection by rethrowing the reason.
At this point, the
then method is complete. It's a method that registers the
supplied parameters in a queue to be executed when the deferred resolves, and
either lets these callbacks transform the value of the resulting promise or
forwards the status to the next one. The new promise (as controlled by the
given callbacks) is given back to the caller:
The whole deferred is almost done as well. What is left is to give the caller methods to resolve and reject the deferred. If the deferred resolves, all registered callbacks for fulfillment have to be run (and any subsequently registered callbacks as well), and similarly for rejection. This will be implemented in the moded queue chapter, for now it suffices to just set mode and value for the queue if the deferred resolves
resolve: (value) -> queue.setModeAndValue 'F', value
reject: (reason) -> queue.setModeAndValue 'R', reason
The Promise Resolver
The promise resolver is a procedure defined in great detail by the standard. There are already calls for the method in the code above, but it isn't implement yet.
resolvePromise = (deferred, value) !->
Firstly, a safety layer is introduced to make it more difficult to establish
'endless loops'. Otherwise, if a user did something like
the library would wait for the result of promise
d.promise to resolve the promise
d.promise, which will never finish. The deferred is therefore rejected immediately,
if the promise accompanying the deferred is the same object as the given
and exit from the procedure (2.3.1).
if deferred.promise is value deferred.reject new TypeError("Tried to resolve promise with itself") return
The next step of the procedure allows the adoption of the state of a promise
whose implementation is known and trusted, and whose state is accessable
(2.3.2). Because of simplicity, there is no way of knowing whether the given
value is a promise created from this library, and also no means of accessing its
state from outside¹. Adopting the state of a promise in
value is left as an
exercise to the reader. An approach could be to reuse the queue of the
promise as the queue of the current deferred.
Afterwards, it has to be checked whether
value is an object or a function
value is neither, the deferred can directly be resolved with
value (2.3.4), because
value cannot be a promise if it's not an object or
function (it can't have a
.then). A test for
object as well.
unless value? and (typeof value is \object or typeof value is \function) deferred.resolve value return
At this point, it is known that a)
value is an object or a function and b)
that it has properties (since it's not
null). To protect against problems
caused by different results of repeatedly getting
value.then it has to be
fetched exactly once (184.108.40.206 and 3.5). If anything goes wrong when the method
is retrieved, the deferred has to be rejected with the thrown exception
(220.127.116.11), and exited from the procedure.
Although fetching a property might seem unproblematic, it is in fact not: It is now
possible to define
getters, hiding a method call behind a property access.
Subsequent accesses might result in different results, and accesses might fail
because of exceptions.
_then = null try _then := value.then catch deferred.reject e return
value has a property called
then, it is not guaranteed that
this is actually a function. If it is not, it is not a thenable and the promise
has to be resolved with
value instead (18.104.22.168) and exited the procedure:
unless typeof _then is \function deferred.resolve value return
At this point,
_then points to a method
then of an object. Unfortunately,
it is still not known if it is well behaved, i.e. conforms to the standard. A
safeguard has to be established to protect against multiple (instead of up to
one) calls to the callbacks that are given to it. The easiest way to do this is
to keep a flag around which tells if there were already calls and any
subsequent calls are to be ignored (22.214.171.124.3):
alreadyReceivedCalls = no
When the promise is fulfilled, i.e. the first callback is called,
resolvePromise is called 'recursively' again (126.96.36.199.1), but only if no
other callbacks have been called yet. This makes it possible to nest promises
fulfill = (value) !-> unless alreadyReceivedCalls alreadyReceivedCalls := yes resolvePromise deferred, value
If the promise rejects, the promise is only rejected if no other callback has yet been received (188.8.131.52.2).
reject = (reason) !-> unless alreadyReceivedCalls alreadyReceivedCalls := yes deferred.reject reason
What remains is to call
then. If anything goes wrong when calling
(i.e. an exception is thrown), the promise is rejected, unless it's already
received another call (e.g. if any of the callbacks were called synchronously
before returning from
_then is called with its
containing object as context (184.108.40.206).
try _then.call value, fulfill, reject catch reject e
The moded queue will make sure that the deferred can only change its state once.
Why is the safeguard neccessary here as well? The answer is simple:
If the thenable firstly calls the fulfillment callback,
resolvePromise might resolve
the deferred asynchronously because it first has to wait for a passed promise.
If in the meantime the thenable rejects, the standard mandates that the deferred will
be resolved anyways with the value of the first call (220.127.116.11.3).
This concludes the chapter implementing the promise resolver. It implements checks testing whether the passed value is a thenable, and if yes, resolves them asynchronously and passes the fulfilling values or the reasons for rejection on to the callbacks stored in the queue, which will be implemented in the next chapter.
The Moded Queue
The standard gives a few requirements for the calling of callbacks registered
then method. It doesn't mandate how these callbacks are executed.
- The callbacks are to be executed in the order they were registered (18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124).
- The callbacks are called as functions, with no
- The callbacks are executed with only platform code in the stack (2.2.4).
- The callbacks must not be executed more than once (126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52).
Each of this requirements is implemented by code, and they will be mentioned at the the appropriate locations.
The moded queue will have the following characteristics:
- Initially, the moded queue won't be set to a mode. Callbacks can be added by specifying a queue and a function, and they are remembered for later invocation.
- A mode and value can be set at any time. Callbacks of the queue with the given mode will then be asynchronously called in order and with the value as parameter.
- Any subsequent addings to the moded queue will either result in an immediate schedule of the callback with parameter if the mode matches, or will be ignored.
modedQueue = ->
To satisfy condition 1, callbacks will be stored in an array. Each new entry will be appended to the existing list.
queue = 
Initially, the moded queue isn't set to a mode, and the argument isn't set either:
mode = null arg = null
Later in this function, function calls with a single parameter will be scheduled
asynchronously. For portability
setTimeout with a delay
of zero is used.
The function is called without a context (2) and directly from the platform, with no application code in the stack (3).
scheduleFunctionCall = (f) !-> setTimeout (!-> f arg), 0
What remains is to define the 'public' interface of the queue. If the user of the moded queue wants to register a new callback, she has to specify a mode and a function:
push: (callbackMode, callback) !->
mode is not yet set, add it to the queue:
if not mode? queue.push(mode: callbackMode, f: callback)
Otherwise, if the mode is set and equal to the mode of the callback, the callback is to be immediately scheduled for execution.
else if mode is callbackMode scheduleFunctionCall callback
If the mode is set, but does not match the mode of this callback, the call is simply ignored. The other method of the queue is setting the mode and value:
setModeAndValue: (newMode, value) !->
If the mode as already been set, ignore this call. The mode can't be changed once it's been set.
return unless not mode?
The new mode and value are now written into the corresponding variables, and then all callbacks waiting in the queue that have the specified mode are executed.
mode := newMode arg := value queue .filter((entry) -> entry.mode is mode) .map (.f) .forEach scheduleFunctionCall queue := null
The implemented library only implements the bare minimum of functionality. However, it is very easy to extend it.
Some libraries provide the ability to add another type of callback to the promises, which is fired when the promises settles, i.e. either when it resolves or rejects. This can be added quite easily by a new method on the promise and adding the callback to both queues.
The de facto standard interface to create promises appears to be
new Promise((resolve, reject) -> ...). Since the deferred is available, it is
possible to synchronously call a constructor method.
Helpers to wait for the fulfillment of a whole array of promises are commonly found in promise libraries. Adding such a method is also quite easy, as one only has to count the number of already fulfilled promises and resolve the final promise in the end.
Condanna = deferred: deferred
This concludes the implementation of a fully working promises library. The build tool will pick up the Condanna object and export it to the various environments.
An object with a
deferred method is exactly the format expected by the
official promises test suite. The test suite can be called directly on
the library to make sure it's compliant.
$ promises-aplus-tests condanna
872 passing (16s)
1: Omission is not a blocker for Promises/A+ compliance, since state adoption can also happen (with probably wore performance) by treating the promise as an unknown and untrustable thenable.