safe-async

Provides a standard interface for async APIs that supports promises, callbacks and catches errors properly.

npm install safe-async
11 downloads in the last week
22 downloads in the last month

safe-async.js

Provides a standard interface for async APIs with useful features.

It catches errors for you. It makes your async functions work with promises or callbacks. In essence: it helps you write useful async API.

Travis

When to use it

Protip: Any time you're writing a function that takes a callback, use safe-async.js. Yes. All of them. Why?

  • Ensures proper error propagation.
    No need for lots of try/catch blocks: those will be taken care of for you.

  • Support promises or callbacks.
    It makes your functions work with both async callbacks or promises with no extra code.

  • Portable.
    Works for Node.js and the browser. It's also pretty damn small (~70loc).

When not to use it: when your library does its async duties with 100% promises and doesn't work with anything that expects callbacks. q.js already features great error handling (q.try). But then again, when is this ever the case?

Get started in 20 seconds

Install:

$ npm install safe-async

Then use it. Bonus: you can optionally hook in a promise provider if you want to take advantage of the promise features. (See safe.promise)

var safe = require('safe-async');
safe.promise = require('q').promise;

Instead of writing an async function like so:

// Old-fashioned callback way
x = function(a, b, c, next) {
  if (success)
    next(null, "Result here");
  else
    next("uh oh, error");
};

Wrap that function in safe instead. (See safe())

// New safe-async way
x = safe(function(a, b, c, next) {
  if (success)
    next.ok("Result here");
  else
    throw "uh oh, error";
});

When invoking another async function, wrap the callback in next.wrap too. This will catch errors inside that function, and catch instances when that function is invoked to call an error. (See next.wrap())

x = safe(function(a, b, c, next) {
  fs.readFile('x', next.wrap(function() { /* <-- here */
    if (success)
      next.ok("Result here");
    else
      throw "uh oh, error";
  });
});

Bonus: now your function can be used as a promise or a regular callback-powered async:

// Callback style
// (called with a function as the last param)
x(a, b, c, function(err, result) {
  if (err)
    console.log("Fail:", err);
  else
    console.log("OK:", result);
});
// Promise/A+ style
// (called without a function in the last param)
x(a, b, c)
  .then(function(result) {
    console.log("OK:", result);
  }, function(err) {
    console.log("Fail:", err);
  });

What it's not

  • It's not async.js, because that lets you work many async callback-functions in parallel (among other things).

  • It's not q.js or when.js or rsvp.js or promise.js, which helps you write promise functions and work with many promise objects. However, you can hook up safe-async to use any of those to generate promises.

What it solves

What follows is a long-winding explanation of safe-async's reason for living. If you're already convinced of its need for existence, skip on over to API.

Error catching

Perhaps the most inelegant thing about asynchronous JavaScript callbacks is error handling. Or rather: proper error handling.

To illustrate how this can get particularly hairy, let's start with an innocent function that expects a Node-style callback:

/**
 * Fetch the feed user (via AJAX) for a given `user`.
 */
getFeed = function(user, done) {
  var id = user.name.toLowerCase();

  $.get('/user/'+id+'/feeds.json', function(data) {
    if (data.entries)
      done(null, data);
    else
      done("No such user");
  });
};

This function expects an argument (done) callback that can be passed errors or data. Great! It can return errors! This is the style that most of the Node.js API is written in (along with thousands of Node packages), so it's got to be a good idea. Let's try to put it to test:

var john = {
  email: "john@gmail.com",
  name: "John"
};

getFeed(john, function(err, data) {
  if (err) console.log("Error:", err);
  console.log("John's entries:", data);
});

We just wrote a function that captures an errors (if (err) ...), or consumes the data otherwise. That's got to work right! Until it does something unfortunately unexpected:

var john = {
  email: "john@gmail.com",
  name: null  /* <-- uh oh. why doesn't he have a name? */
}; 

getFeed(john, function(err, data) {
  if (err) console.log("Error:", err);
  console.log("John's entries:", data);
});
TypeError: Cannot call method 'toLowerCase' of null
  at feed.js:5 [var id = user.name.toLowerCase();]

Gasp! Shouldn't this error have been caught and handled? Of course not--we never put any provisions to catch it. No problem, we can rewrite that getFeed() function to put its contents in a try/catch block.

getFeed = function(user, done) {
  try {
    var id = user.name.toLowerCase();

    $.get('/user/'+id+'/feeds.json', function(data) {
      if (data.entries)
        done(null, data);
      else
        done("No such user");
    });
  }
  catch (err) { /* <-- alright, let's relay some errors to the callback. */
    done(err);
  }
});

This works as expected, but wrapping all your functions in a try/catch blocks cat be a very cathartic exercise. Safe-async to the rescue! Simply wrap your function inside safe(...) and it'll take care of that for you.

Instead of writing x = function(a,b,c,done) { ... }, use x = safe(function(a,b,c,next) { ... });.

var safe = require('safe-async');

// Wrap your function inside `safe(...)`.
getFeed = safe(function(user, next) {
  var id = user.name.toLowerCase();

  $.get('/user/'+id+'/feeds.json', function(data) {
    if (data.entries)
      next.ok(data);
    else
      next.err("No such user");
  });
});

Now you got your errors trapped and passed for you. Let's try to consume getFeed() again:

var john = null;
getFeed(john, function(err, data) {
  if (err) {
    console.log("Uh oh! Caught an error.");
    console.log("=> "+ err);
    return;
  }
  console.log("John's entries:", data);
});

This now catches the error in err as we expected.

Uh oh! Caught an error.
=> TypeError: Cannot call method 'toLowerCase' of null

Deep error catching

"So what? We can easily write this decorator without safe-async," you may be thinking. In fact, it's this very line of thinking that got me to writing safe-async in the first place.

Let's move on to a more complex example. Let's say we're writing an async function to fetch some data, crunch it, and return it.

/*
 * Fetches posts and gets the title of the first post.
 */
getFirstPost = function(done) {
  fs.readFile('posts.json', function(err, data) {
    if (err) return done(err);
    var post = data.entries[0].title;
    done(null, post);
  });
};

Let's use it:

getFirstPost(function(title) {
  $("h1").html(title);
});

It works, but it'll get you an unexpected result in some circumstances. What if data.entries is empty?

TypeError: Cannot read property 'title' of undefined
  at getfirstpost.js:6 [data.entries[0].title]

Uh oh: we have an error that happens in an async callback. We need to catch that too. Without safe-async, we may need to do 2 try/catch blocks: one for inside the function body, and another for inside the callback function's body. This is borderline asinine.

getFirstPost = function(next) {
  try {
    fs.readFile('posts.json', function(err, data) {
      try {
        if (err) return done(err);
        var post = data.entries[0].title;
        next(null, post);
      }
      catch (err) {
        next(err);
      }
    });
  } catch (err) {
    next(err);
  }
}

Safe-async provides a next.wrap() function that wraps any new callback for you, which ensures that any errors it throws gets propagated properly. That colossal function can be written more concisely with safe-async:

getFirstPost = safe(function(next) {
  fs.readFile('posts.json', next.wrap(function(err, data) {
    var post = data.entries[0].title;
    next.ok(post);
  }));
});

Note that we've also gotten rid of the if (err) return done(err) line: this is used to ensure that errors are propagated when fs.readFile() fails. There's no need for this anymore, since next.wrap() already assumes an error is passed to it when there's a first argument.

Working with promises

Get Promise support by tying it in with your favorite Promise library. You can swap it out by changing safe.promise to the provider of when.js, q.js, promise.js or anything else that follows their API.

var safe = require('safe-async');

safe.promise = require('q').promise;
safe.promise = require('when').promise;
safe.promise = require('promise');

Call it with promises or not

Just write any safe-async-powered async function and it can work with Node-style callbacks or promises. The same getFirstPost() function we wrote can be used as a promise:

// As promises
getFirstPost()
  .then(function(title) {
    $("h1").html(title);
  });

or it can be invoked with a callback:

// As a Node-style async function
getFirstPost(function(err, title) {
  $("h1").html(title);
});

Use it to run promises

In the real world, you may be using libraries that only support Promises, and have it play safe with libraries that use traditional callbacks.

Safe-async helps you with this. Any safe-powered function you write can use promises. Instead of using the next() callback, make it return a promise object: safe automatically knows what to do.

getFirstPost = safe(function() {
  return $.get("/posts.json")
  .then(function(data) {
    return data.entries[0];
  })
  .then(function(post) {
    return post.title;
  });
});

You now get a function that can be used as a promise or an async function.

getFirstPost(function(err, data) {
  // used with a callback
});

getFirstPost()
.then(function(data) {
  // used as a promise
});

API

safe(fn)

A decorator that creates a function derived from fn, enhanced with safe-async superpowers.

When this new function is invoked (getName in the example below), it runs fn with the same arguments ([a] below), except with the last callback replaced with a new callback called next().

When next() is invoked inside [a], the callback given ([b]) will run. (next() is described in detail later below.)

getName = safe(function(next) { //[a]
  next("John");
});

getName(function(err, name) { //[b]
  alert("Hey " + name);
});

Arguments: All arguments will be passed through. In the example below, the names passed onto man and companion are passed through as usual, but the last argument (a function) has been changed to next.

getMessage = safe(function(man, companion, next) {
  var msg = "How's it goin, " + man + " & " + companion);
  next(msg);
});

getMessage("Doctor", "Donna", function(err, msg) {
  alert(msg);
  /* => "How's it goin, Doctor & Donna" */
});

Errors: Any errors thrown inside fn will be passed the callback.

getName = safe(function(next) {
  var name = user.toUpperCase();
  next("John");
});

getName(function(err, data) {
  if (err) {
    /* err.message === "Cannot call method 'toUpperCase' of undefined" */
  }
});

Promises: The resulting function can be used as a promise as well.

getName = safe(function(next) {
  next.ok("John");
});

getName()
  .then(function(name) {
    alert("Name: "+name);
  });

safe.promise

The promise provider function that allows you to plug in the promise library of your choice.

Provider Code
q.js safe.promise = require('q').promise;
when.js safe.promise = require('when').promise;
promise.js safe.promise = require('promise');
rsvp.js safe.promise = require('rsvp').Promise;

safe.promise is expected to be a function used to create promises in this manner below. Most promise libraries implement a function similar to this.

var promise = safe.promise(function(ok, err, progress) {
  ok("This returns a result");
  err("This returns an error");
  progress("This sends progress updates");
});

next()

Resolves the async (success or error) by resolving the promise or running the callback.

It can return a success in these ways:

  • next(null, result, [args...])
  • next.ok(result, [args...])

or an error like so:

  • next(msg) -- return an error
  • next.err(msg) -- return an error

That is, you invoke it as next(err, data) as if it was the callback.

getName = safe(function(next) {
  next(null, "John");
});

getName(function(err, name) {
  alert("Hey " + name);
});

Returning errors: You may return errors by invoking next(error), or next.err(error), or throwing something.

getName = safe(function(next) {
  throw new Error("Something happened");
}

getName(function(err, name) {
  if (err) {
    alert(err.message); //=> "Something happened"
  }
});

Wrapping other callbacks: When next.wrap() is invoked with a function as an argument, it wraps ("decorates") that function to ensure that any errors it produces is propagated properly. See next.wrap().

getArticles = safe(function(next) {
  $.get('/articles.json', next(function(data) {
    var articles = data.articles;
    next(articles);
  }));
};

getArticles(function(err, articles) {
  if (err)
    console.error("Error:", err);
    /*=> "TypeError: cannot read property 'articles' of undefined" */
  else
    console.log("Articles:", articles);
});

With promises: You can also return a promise from the function. Safe-async will automatically figure out what to do from that.

getFirstPost = safe(function() {
  return $.get("/posts.json")
  .then(function(data) {
    return data.entries[0];
  })
  .then(function(post) {
    return post.title;
  });
});

You now get a function that can be used as a promise or an async function.

getFirstPost(function(err, data) {
  // used with a callback
});

getFirstPost()
.then(function(data) {
  // used as a promise
});

next.ok()

Returns a result. This is the same as calling next().

getName = safe(function(next) {
  if (user.name)
    next(user.name);
  else
    throw "User has no name";
}

next.err()

Returns an error. This is the same as throwing an error, but is convenient when used inside deeper callbacks that you can't wrap with next.wrap.

getName = safe(function(next) {
  $.get("/user.json")
  .then(function(data) {
    if (!data.name)
      next.err("oops, no name here");
  })
}

next.wrap()

Wraps a function ("decorates") to ensure that all errors it throws are propagated properly.

When next() is invoked with a function as an argument, it works the same way as next.wrap().

In this example below, any errors happening within the function [a] will be reported properly.

getArticles = safe(function(next) {
  fs.readFile('/articles.json', next.wrap(function(err, data) { //[a]
    var articles = data.articles;
    next(articles);
  }));
};

getArticles(function(err, articles) {
  if (err)
    console.error("Error:", err);
    /*=> "TypeError: cannot read property 'articles' of undefined" */
  else
    console.log("Articles:", articles);
});

Also, if fs.readFile will fail, it will invoke the decorated callback (produced by next.wrap) with an error as the first argument. When the decorated callback receives a first argument, it assumes its an error and will propagate it.


next.cwrap()

Wraps a function ("decorates") to ensure that all errors it throws are propagated properly.

cwrap is short for "catch-only wrap" -- unlike next.wrap(), cwrap does not care about arguments passed onto the decorated function. It only catches thrown errors, nothing more.

This is great for wrapping callbacks that don't accept error arguments. It doesn't expect the first argument of the function to be an error, unlike next.wrap(). In this example below, the wrapped function expects a chunk argument, which is not an error.

readInput = safe(function (next) {
  var data = '';

  process.stdin.on('data', next.cwrap(function (chunk) {
    // If isClean throws an error, it'll be propagated into readInput's
    // error callback.
    if (!isClean(chunk)) return;
    data += chunk;
  });

  process.stdin.on('end', next.cwrap(function () {
    next.ok(data);
  });
});

Practical uses

Express

Safe-async makes working with promises easy. It ensures that errors are propogated to the next callback, so you get errors rendered to your browser instead of failing silently.

app.get '/feed', safe (req, res, next) ->
  Article.fetchAll()
  .then (articles) ->
    res.locals.articles = articles
    res.render "index"

Acknowledgements

© 2013, Rico Sta. Cruz. Released under the MIT License.

npm loves you