q

A library for promises (CommonJS/Promises/A,B,D)

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:warning: This is Q version 2 and is experimental at this time. If you install the latest Q from npm, you will get the latest from the version 1 release train. You will get the lastet of version 2 if you use npm install q@~2. Consult CHANGES.md for details on what has changed

Among the significant differences in version 2, the source is CommonJS only and versions suitable for use with AMD and plain <script> tags are built and published for download with each release.

If a function cannot return a value or throw an exception without blocking, it can return a promise instead. A promise is an object that represents the return value or the thrown exception that the function may eventually provide. A promise can also be used as a proxy for a remote object to overcome latency.

Getting Started

The Q module can be loaded as:

Q can exchange promises with jQuery, Dojo, When.js, WinJS, and more.

Resources

Our wiki contains a number of useful resources, including:

  • A method-by-method Q API reference.
  • A growing examples gallery, showing how Q can be used to make everything better. From XHR to database access to accessing the Flickr API, Q is there for you.
  • There are many libraries that produce and consume Q promises for everything from file system/database access or RPC to templating. For a list of some of the more popular ones, see Libraries.
  • If you want materials that introduce the promise concept generally, and the below tutorial isn't doing it for you, check out our collection of presentations, blog posts, and podcasts.
  • A guide for those coming from jQuery's $.Deferred.

We'd also love to have you join the Q-Continuum mailing list.

Introduction

There are many reasons to use promises. The first reward is that promises implicitly propagate errors and values downstream. Consider this synchronous solution to reading a file and parsing its content.

var FS = require("fs");
var readJsonSync = function (path) {
    return JSON.parse(FS.readSync(path, "utf-8"));
};

The asynchronous analog would ideally look and behave exactly the same except it would explicitly mark anywhere it might yield to other tasks, which is to say, between calling and returning, and reading and parsing. Control flow constructs like return, throw, if, for, break and continue would still work, except asynchronously. Exceptions, such as the SyntaxError that JSON.parse might throw, would propagate through the promise graph just as they do through the synchronous stack. Forbes Lindesay illustrates the way to this happy ideal in his presentation, “Promises and Generators”.

var FS = require("q-io/fs");
var readJsonPromise = Q.async(function *(path) {
    return JSON.parse(yield FS.read(path));
});

Explicitly marking yield points makes it possible for users to take advantage of the invariant that they can arrange for a consistent internal state between events, and be guaranteed that only they can alter their state during an event. Fibers and threads do not provide this guarantee, so programmers must work with a heightened sense of caution—their work may be interrupted and their state modified at any function call boundary for fibers, or at any time at all with threads.

But even without generators, by using promises, we can at least get exceptions to implicitly propagate asynchronously with very little noise.

var FS = require("q-io/fs");
function readJsonPromise(path) {
    return FS.read(path).then(JSON.parse);
}

Compare these solutions to the equivalent using bare callbacks. It must use an explicit try block to catch the exception that JSON.parse might throw and must manually forward all errors to the subscriber. It also must take care not to call the subscriber inside the try block, since this would catch errors thrown by nodeback and throw them back at nodeback in the catch block. In general, writing callback-based functions that handle errors robustly is difficult and error-prone, and even if you do it right, rather verbose.

var FS = require("fs");
var readJsonWithNodebacks = function (path, nodeback) {
    FS.readFile(path, "utf-8", function (error, content) {
        var result;
        if (error) {
            return nodeback(error);
        }
        try {
            result = JSON.parse(result);
        } catch (error) {
            return nodeback(error);
        }
        nodeback(null, result);
    });
}

The second reward for using promises is that they implicitly guarantee that interfaces you create will be strictly asynchronous. Oliver Steele’s Minimizing Code Paths in Asynchronous Code succinctly captures the issue and Isaac Schlueter’s more recent treatise, Designing APIs for Asynchrony, reframed the edict as “Do Not Release Zalgo”.

If you are using Q, you can cast any promise, even a jQuery “promise”, into a well-behaved promise that will not call event handlers until your event is done.

var x = 10;
var part1 = Q($.ajax(...))
.then(function () {
    x = 20;
});
var part2 = Q($.ajax(...))
.then(function () {
    x = 30;
});
expect(x).toBe(10); // still, no matter what

Using promises also preserves the signatures of synchronous functions. Continuation passing style is an “inversion of control”, where you pass control forward instead of getting it back when a function returns. Promises un-invert the inversion, cleanly separating the input arguments from control flow arguments. This simplifies the use and creation of API’s, particularly variadic, rest and spread arguments.

Another point to using promises is that multiple subscribers can wait for a result, and new subscribers can be added even after the result has been published. Consider how much simpler it would be to wait for DOMContentLoaded with promises. No need to worry about whether the event has already passed.

return document.ready.then(setup);

Promises go on to be a useful primitive for capturing the “causal graph” of an asynchronous program, providing “long traces” that capture the stacks from all the events that led to an exception. Promises are also useful as proxies for objects in other processes, pipelining messages over any inter-process message channel.

The point of promises is that they have scouted the way ahead and will help you avoid set-backs and dead-ends, from simple problems like synchronizing local work, to more advanced problems like distributed robust secure escrow exchange.

Tutorial

Promises have a then method, which you can use to get the eventual return value (fulfillment) or thrown exception (rejection).

promiseMeSomething()
.then(function (value) {
}, function (reason) {
});

If promiseMeSomething returns a promise that gets fulfilled later with a return value, the first function (the fulfillment handler) will be called with the value. However, if the promiseMeSomething function gets rejected later by a thrown exception, the second function (the rejection handler) will be called with the exception.

Note that resolution of a promise is always asynchronous: that is, the fulfillment or rejection handler will always be called in the next turn of the event loop (i.e. process.nextTick in Node). This gives you a nice guarantee when mentally tracing the flow of your code, namely that then will always return before either handler is executed.

In this tutorial, we begin with how to consume and work with promises. We'll talk about how to create them, and thus create functions like promiseMeSomething that return promises, below.

Propagation

The then method returns a promise, which in this example, I’m assigning to outputPromise.

var outputPromise = getInputPromise()
.then(function (input) {
}, function (reason) {
});

The outputPromise variable becomes a new promise for the return value of either handler. Since a function can only either return a value or throw an exception, only one handler will ever be called and it will be responsible for resolving outputPromise.

  • If you return a value in a handler, outputPromise will get fulfilled.

  • If you throw an exception in a handler, outputPromise will get rejected.

  • If you return a promise in a handler, outputPromise will “become” that promise. Being able to become a new promise is useful for managing delays, combining results, or recovering from errors.

If the getInputPromise() promise gets rejected and you omit the rejection handler, the error will go to outputPromise:

var outputPromise = getInputPromise()
.then(function (value) {
});

If the input promise gets fulfilled and you omit the fulfillment handler, the value will go to outputPromise:

var outputPromise = getInputPromise()
.then(null, function (error) {
});

Q promises provide a fail shorthand for then when you are only interested in handling the error:

var outputPromise = getInputPromise()
.fail(function (error) {
});

If you are writing JavaScript for modern engines only or using CoffeeScript, you may use catch instead of fail.

Promises also have a fin function that is like a finally clause. The final handler gets called, with no arguments, when the promise returned by getInputPromise() either returns a value or throws an error. The value returned or error thrown by getInputPromise() passes directly to outputPromise unless the final handler fails, and may be delayed if the final handler returns a promise.

var outputPromise = getInputPromise()
.fin(function () {
    // close files, database connections, stop servers, conclude tests
});
  • If the handler returns a value, the value is ignored
  • If the handler throws an error, the error passes to outputPromise
  • If the handler returns a promise, outputPromise gets postponed. The eventual value or error has the same effect as an immediate return value or thrown error: a value would be ignored, an error would be forwarded.

If you are writing JavaScript for modern engines only or using CoffeeScript, you may use finally instead of fin.

Chaining

There are two ways to chain promises. You can chain promises either inside or outside handlers. The next two examples are equivalent.

return getUsername()
.then(function (username) {
    return getUser(username)
    .then(function (user) {
        // if we get here without an error,
        // the value returned here
        // or the exception thrown here
        // resolves the promise returned
        // by the first line
    })
});
return getUsername()
.then(function (username) {
    return getUser(username);
})
.then(function (user) {
    // if we get here without an error,
    // the value returned here
    // or the exception thrown here
    // resolves the promise returned
    // by the first line
});

The only difference is nesting. It’s useful to nest handlers if you need to capture multiple input values in your closure.

function authenticate() {
    return getUsername()
    .then(function (username) {
        return getUser(username);
    })
    // chained because we will not need the user name in the next event
    .then(function (user) {
        return getPassword()
        // nested because we need both user and password next
        .then(function (password) {
            if (user.passwordHash !== hash(password)) {
                throw new Error("Can't authenticate");
            }
        });
    });
}

Combination

You can turn an array of promises into a promise for the whole, fulfilled array using all.

return Q.all([
    eventualAdd(2, 2),
    eventualAdd(10, 20)
]);

If you have a promise for an array, you can use spread as a replacement for then. The spread function “spreads” the values over the arguments of the fulfillment handler. The rejection handler will get called at the first sign of failure. That is, whichever of the received promises fails first gets handled by the rejection handler.

function eventualAdd(a, b) {
    return Q.spread([a, b], function (a, b) {
        return a + b;
    })
}

But spread calls all initially, so you can skip it in chains.

return getUsername()
.then(function (username) {
    return [username, getUser(username)];
})
.spread(function (username, user) {
});

The all function returns a promise for an array of values. When this promise is fulfilled, the array contains the fulfillment values of the original promises, in the same order as those promises. If one of the given promises is rejected, the returned promise is immediately rejected, not waiting for the rest of the batch. If you want to wait for all of the promises to either be fulfilled or rejected, you can use allSettled.

Q.allSettled(promises)
.then(function (results) {
    results.forEach(function (result) {
        if (result.state === "fulfilled") {
            var value = result.value;
        } else {
            var reason = result.reason;
        }
    });
});

Sequences

If you have a number of promise-producing functions that need to be run sequentially, you can of course do so manually:

return foo(initialVal).then(bar).then(baz).then(qux);

However, if you want to run a dynamically constructed sequence of functions, you'll want something like this:

var funcs = [foo, bar, baz, qux];

var result = Q(initialVal);
funcs.forEach(function (f) {
    result = result.then(f);
});
return result;

You can make this slightly more compact using reduce (a method of arrays introduced in ECMAScript 5):

return funcs.reduce(function (soFar, f) {
    return soFar.then(f);
}, Q(initialVal));

Or, you could use the ultra-compact version:

return funcs.reduce(Q.when, Q());

Handling Errors

One sometimes-unintuive aspect of promises is that if you throw an exception in the fulfillment handler, it will not be caught by the error handler.

return foo()
.then(function (value) {
    throw new Error("Can't bar.");
}, function (error) {
    // We only get here if "foo" fails
});

To see why this is, consider the parallel between promises and try/catch. We are try-ing to execute foo(): the error handler represents a catch for foo(), while the fulfillment handler represents code that happens after the try/catch block. That code then needs its own try/catch block.

In terms of promises, this means chaining your rejection handler:

return foo()
.then(function (value) {
    throw new Error("Can't bar.");
})
.fail(function (error) {
    // We get here with either foo's error or bar's error
});

Progress Notification

It's possible for promises to report their progress, e.g. for tasks that take a long time like a file upload. Not all promises will implement progress notifications, but for those that do, you can consume the progress values using a third parameter to then:

return uploadFile()
.then(function () {
    // Success uploading the file
}, function (err) {
    // There was an error, and we get the reason for error
}, function (progress) {
    // We get notified of the upload's progress as it is executed
});

Like fail, Q also provides a shorthand for progress callbacks called progress:

return uploadFile().progress(function (progress) {
    // We get notified of the upload's progress
});

The End

When you get to the end of a chain of promises, you should either return the last promise or end the chain. Since handlers catch errors, it’s an unfortunate pattern that the exceptions can go unobserved.

So, either return it,

return foo()
.then(function () {
    return "bar";
});

Or, end it.

foo()
.then(function () {
    return "bar";
})
.done();

Ending a promise chain makes sure that, if an error doesn’t get handled before the end, it will get rethrown and reported.

This is a stopgap. We are exploring ways to make unhandled errors visible without any explicit handling.

The Beginning

Everything above assumes you get a promise from somewhere else. This is the common case. Every once in a while, you will need to create a promise from scratch.

Using Q.fcall

You can create a promise from a value using Q.fcall. This returns a promise for 10.

return Q.fcall(function () {
    return 10;
});

You can also use fcall to get a promise for an exception.

return Q.fcall(function () {
    throw new Error("Can't do it");
});

As the name implies, fcall can call functions, or even promised functions. This uses the eventualAdd function above to add two numbers.

return Q.fcall(eventualAdd, 2, 2);

Using Deferreds

If you have to interface with asynchronous functions that are callback-based instead of promise-based, Q provides a few shortcuts (like Q.nfcall and friends). But much of the time, the solution will be to use deferreds.

var deferred = Q.defer();
FS.readFile("foo.txt", "utf-8", function (error, text) {
    if (error) {
        deferred.reject(new Error(error));
    } else {
        deferred.resolve(text);
    }
});
return deferred.promise;

Note that a deferred can be resolved with a value or a promise. The reject function is a shorthand for resolving with a rejected promise.

// this:
deferred.reject(new Error("Can't do it"));

// is shorthand for:
var rejection = Q.fcall(function () {
    throw new Error("Can't do it");
});
deferred.resolve(rejection);

This is a simplified implementation of Q.delay.

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

This is a simplified implementation of Q.timeout

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

Finally, you can send a progress notification to the promise with deferred.notify.

For illustration, this is a wrapper for XML HTTP requests in the browser. Note that a more thorough implementation would be in order in practice.

function requestOkText(url) {
    var request = new XMLHttpRequest();
    var deferred = Q.defer();

    request.open("GET", url, true);
    request.onload = onload;
    request.onerror = onerror;
    request.onprogress = onprogress;
    request.send();

    function onload() {
        if (request.status === 200) {
            deferred.resolve(request.responseText);
        } else {
            deferred.reject(new Error("Status code was " + request.status));
        }
    }

    function onerror() {
        deferred.reject(new Error("Can't XHR " + JSON.stringify(url)));
    }

    function onprogress(event) {
        deferred.notify(event.loaded / event.total);
    }

    return deferred.promise;
}

Below is an example of how to use this requestOkText function:

requestOkText("http://localhost:3000")
.then(function (responseText) {
    // If the HTTP response returns 200 OK, log the response text.
    console.log(responseText);
}, function (error) {
    // If there's an error or a non-200 status code, log the error.
    console.error(error);
}, function (progress) {
    // Log the progress as it comes in.
    console.log("Request progress: " + Math.round(progress * 100) + "%");
});

The Middle

If you are using a function that may return a promise, but just might return a value if it doesn’t need to defer, you can use the “static” methods of the Q library.

The when function is the static equivalent for then.

return Q.when(valueOrPromise, function (value) {
}, function (error) {
});

All of the other methods on a promise have static analogs with the same name.

The following are equivalent:

return Q.all([a, b]);
return Q.fcall(function () {
    return [a, b];
})
.all();

When working with promises provided by other libraries, you should convert it to a Q promise. Not all promise libraries make the same guarantees as Q and certainly don’t provide all of the same methods. Most libraries only provide a partially functional then method. This thankfully is all we need to turn them into vibrant Q promises.

return Q($.ajax(...))
.then(function () {
});

If there is any chance that the promise you receive is not a Q promise as provided by your library, you should wrap it using a Q function. You can even use Q.invoke as a shorthand.

return Q.invoke($, 'ajax', ...)
.then(function () {
});

Over the Wire

A promise can serve as a proxy for another object, even a remote object. There are methods that allow you to optimistically manipulate properties or call functions. All of these interactions return promises, so they can be chained.

direct manipulation         using a promise as a proxy
--------------------------  -------------------------------
value.foo                   promise.get("foo")
value.foo = value           promise.put("foo", value)
delete value.foo            promise.del("foo")
value.foo(...args)          promise.post("foo", [args])
value.foo(...args)          promise.invoke("foo", ...args)
value(...args)              promise.fapply([args])
value(...args)              promise.fcall(...args)

If the promise is a proxy for a remote object, you can shave round-trips by using these functions instead of then. To take advantage of promises for remote objects, check out Q-Connection.

Even in the case of non-remote objects, these methods can be used as shorthand for particularly-simple fulfillment handlers. For example, you can replace

return Q.fcall(function () {
    return [{ foo: "bar" }, { foo: "baz" }];
})
.then(function (value) {
    return value[0].foo;
});

with

return Q.fcall(function () {
    return [{ foo: "bar" }, { foo: "baz" }];
})
.get(0)
.get("foo");

Adapting Node

If you're working with functions that make use of the Node.js callback pattern, where callbacks are in the form of function(err, result), Q provides a few useful utility functions for converting between them. The most straightforward are probably Q.nfcall and Q.nfapply ("Node function call/apply") for calling Node.js-style functions and getting back a promise:

return Q.nfcall(FS.readFile, "foo.txt", "utf-8");
return Q.nfapply(FS.readFile, ["foo.txt", "utf-8"]);

If you are working with methods, instead of simple functions, you can easily run in to the usual problems where passing a method to another function—like Q.nfcall—"un-binds" the method from its owner. To avoid this, you can either use Function.prototype.bind or some nice shortcut methods we provide:

return Q.ninvoke(redisClient, "get", "user:1:id");
return Q.npost(redisClient, "get", ["user:1:id"]);

You can also create reusable wrappers with Q.denodeify or Q.nbind:

var readFile = Q.denodeify(FS.readFile);
return readFile("foo.txt", "utf-8");

var redisClientGet = Q.nbind(redisClient.get, redisClient);
return redisClientGet("user:1:id");

Finally, if you're working with raw deferred objects, there is a makeNodeResolver method on deferreds that can be handy:

var deferred = Q.defer();
FS.readFile("foo.txt", "utf-8", deferred.makeNodeResolver());
return deferred.promise;

Long Stack Traces

Q comes with optional support for “long stack traces,” wherein the stack property of Error rejection reasons is rewritten to be traced along asynchronous jumps instead of stopping at the most recent one. As an example:

function theDepthsOfMyProgram() {
  Q.delay(100).done(function explode() {
    throw new Error("boo!");
  });
}

theDepthsOfMyProgram();

usually would give a rather unhelpful stack trace looking something like

Error: boo!
    at explode (/path/to/test.js:3:11)
    at _fulfilled (/path/to/test.js:q:54)
    at resolvedValue.promiseDispatch.done (/path/to/q.js:823:30)
    at makePromise.promise.promiseDispatch (/path/to/q.js:496:13)
    at pending (/path/to/q.js:397:39)
    at process.startup.processNextTick.process._tickCallback (node.js:244:9)

But, if you turn this feature on by setting

Q.longStackSupport = true;

then the above code gives a nice stack trace to the tune of

Error: boo!
    at explode (/path/to/test.js:3:11)
From previous event:
    at theDepthsOfMyProgram (/path/to/test.js:2:16)
    at Object.<anonymous> (/path/to/test.js:7:1)

Note how you can see the the function that triggered the async operation in the stack trace! This is very helpful for debugging, as otherwise you end up getting only the first line, plus a bunch of Q internals, with no sign of where the operation started.

This feature does come with somewhat-serious performance and memory overhead, however. If you're working with lots of promises, or trying to scale a server to many users, you should probably keep it off. But in development, go for it!

License

Copyright 2009–2013 Kristopher Michael Kowal MIT License (enclosed)

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