Call An Asynchronous Javascript Function Synchronously

Call An Asynchronous Javascript Function Synchronously

First, this is a very specific case of doing it the wrong way on-purpose to retrofit an asynchronous call into a very synchronous codebase that is many thousands of lines long and time doesn’t currently afford the ability to make the changes to “do it right.” It hurts every fiber of my being, but reality and ideals often do not mesh. I know this sucks.
OK, that out of the way, how do I make it so that I could:
function doSomething() {

var data;

function callBack(d) {
data = d;
}

myAsynchronousCall(param1, callBack);

// block here and return data when the callback is finished
return data;
}

The examples (or lack thereof) all use libraries and/or compilers, both of which are not viable for this solution. I need a concrete example of how to make it block (e.g. NOT leave the doSomething function until the callback is called) WITHOUT freezing the UI. If such a thing is possible in JS.

Solutions/Answers:

Solution 1:

“don’t tell me about how I should just do it “the right way” or whatever”

OK. but you should really do it the right way… or whatever

” I need a concrete example of how to make it block … WITHOUT freezing the UI. If such a thing is possible in JS.”

No, it is impossible to block the running JavaScript without blocking the UI.

Given the lack of information, it’s tough to offer a solution, but one option may be to have the calling function do some polling to check a global variable, then have the callback set data to the global.

function doSomething() {

      // callback sets the received data to a global var
  function callBack(d) {
      window.data = d;
  }
      // start the async
  myAsynchronousCall(param1, callBack);

}

  // start the function
doSomething();

  // make sure the global is clear
window.data = null

  // start polling at an interval until the data is found at the global
var intvl = setInterval(function() {
    if (window.data) { 
        clearInterval(intvl);
        console.log(data);
    }
}, 100);

All of this assumes that you can modify doSomething(). I don’t know if that’s in the cards.

If it can be modified, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t just pass a callback to doSomething() to be called from the other callback, but I better stop before I get into trouble. 😉


Oh, what the heck. You gave an example that suggests it can be done correctly, so I’m going to show that solution…

function doSomething( func ) {

  function callBack(d) {
    func( d );
  }

  myAsynchronousCall(param1, callBack);

}

doSomething(function(data) {
    console.log(data);
});

Because your example includes a callback that is passed to the async call, the right way would be to pass a function to doSomething() to be invoked from the callback.

Of course if that’s the only thing the callback is doing, you’d just pass func directly…

myAsynchronousCall(param1, func);

Solution 2:

Take a look at JQuery Promises:

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http://api.jquery.com/promise/

http://api.jquery.com/jQuery.when/

http://api.jquery.com/deferred.promise/

Refactor the code:


    var dfd = new jQuery.Deferred();


    function callBack(data) {
       dfd.notify(data);
    }

    // do the async call.
    myAsynchronousCall(param1, callBack);

    function doSomething(data) {
     // do stuff with data...
    }

    $.when(dfd).then(doSomething);


Solution 3:

Async functions, a feature in ES2017, make async code look sync by using promises (a particular form of async code) and the await keyword. Also notice in the code examples below the keyword async in front of the function keyword that signifies an async/await function. The await keyword won’t work without being in a function pre-fixed with the async keyword. Since currently there is no exception to this that means no top level awaits will work (top level awaits meaning an await outside of any function). Though there is a proposal for top-level await.

ES2017 was ratified (i.e. finalized) as the standard for JavaScript on June 27th, 2017. Async await may already work in your browser, but if not you can still use the functionality using a javascript transpiler like babel or traceur. Chrome 55 has full support of async functions. So if you have a newer browser you may be able to try out the code below.

See kangax’s es2017 compatibility table for browser compatibility.

Here’s an example async await function called doAsync which takes three one second pauses and prints the time difference after each pause from the start time:

function timeoutPromise (time) {
  return new Promise(function (resolve) {
    setTimeout(function () {
      resolve(Date.now());
    }, time)
  })
}

function doSomethingAsync () {
  return timeoutPromise(1000);
}

async function doAsync () {
  var start = Date.now(), time;
  console.log(0);
  time = await doSomethingAsync();
  console.log(time - start);
  time = await doSomethingAsync();
  console.log(time - start);
  time = await doSomethingAsync();
  console.log(time - start);
}

doAsync();

When the await keyword is placed before a promise value (in this case the promise value is the value returned by the function doSomethingAsync) the await keyword will pause execution of the function call, but it won’t pause any other functions and it will continue executing other code until the promise resolves. After the promise resolves it will unwrap the value of the promise and you can think of the await and promise expression as now being replaced by that unwrapped value.

So, since await just pauses waits for then unwraps a value before executing the rest of the line you can use it in for loops and inside function calls like in the below example which collects time differences awaited in an array and prints out the array.

function timeoutPromise (time) {
  return new Promise(function (resolve) {
    setTimeout(function () {
      resolve(Date.now());
    }, time)
  })
}

function doSomethingAsync () {
  return timeoutPromise(1000);
}

// this calls each promise returning function one after the other
async function doAsync () {
  var response = [];
  var start = Date.now();
  // each index is a promise returning function
  var promiseFuncs= [doSomethingAsync, doSomethingAsync, doSomethingAsync];
  for(var i = 0; i < promiseFuncs.length; ++i) {
    var promiseFunc = promiseFuncs[i];
    response.push(await promiseFunc() - start);
    console.log(response);
  }
  // do something with response which is an array of values that were from resolved promises.
  return response
}

doAsync().then(function (response) {
  console.log(response)
})

The async function itself returns a promise so you can use that as a promise with chaining like I do above or within another async await function.

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The function above would wait for each response before sending another request if you would like to send the requests concurrently you can use Promise.all.

// no change
function timeoutPromise (time) {
  return new Promise(function (resolve) {
    setTimeout(function () {
      resolve(Date.now());
    }, time)
  })
}

// no change
function doSomethingAsync () {
  return timeoutPromise(1000);
}

// this function calls the async promise returning functions all at around the same time
async function doAsync () {
  var start = Date.now();
  // we are now using promise all to await all promises to settle
  var responses = await Promise.all([doSomethingAsync(), doSomethingAsync(), doSomethingAsync()]);
  return responses.map(x=>x-start);
}

// no change
doAsync().then(function (response) {
  console.log(response)
})

If the promise possibly rejects you can wrap it in a try catch or skip the try catch and let the error propagate to the async/await functions catch call. You should be careful not to leave promise errors unhandled especially in Node.js. Below are some examples that show off how errors work.

function timeoutReject (time) {
  return new Promise(function (resolve, reject) {
    setTimeout(function () {
      reject(new Error("OOPS well you got an error at TIMESTAMP: " + Date.now()));
    }, time)
  })
}

function doErrorAsync () {
  return timeoutReject(1000);
}

var log = (...args)=>console.log(...args);
var logErr = (...args)=>console.error(...args);

async function unpropogatedError () {
  // promise is not awaited or returned so it does not propogate the error
  doErrorAsync();
  return "finished unpropogatedError successfully";
}

unpropogatedError().then(log).catch(logErr)

async function handledError () {
  var start = Date.now();
  try {
    console.log((await doErrorAsync()) - start);
    console.log("past error");
  } catch (e) {
    console.log("in catch we handled the error");
  }
  
  return "finished handledError successfully";
}

handledError().then(log).catch(logErr)

// example of how error propogates to chained catch method
async function propogatedError () {
  var start = Date.now();
  var time = await doErrorAsync() - start;
  console.log(time - start);
  return "finished propogatedError successfully";
}

// this is what prints propogatedError's error.
propogatedError().then(log).catch(logErr)

If you go here you can see the finished proposals for upcoming ECMAScript versions.

An alternative to this that can be used with just ES2015 (ES6) is to use a special function which wraps a generator function. Generator functions have a yield keyword which may be used to replicate the await keyword with a surrounding function. The yield keyword and generator function are a lot more general purpose and can do many more things then just what the async await function does. If you want a generator function wrapper that can be used to replicate async await I would check out co.js. By the way co’s function much like async await functions return a promise. Honestly though at this point browser compatibility is about the same for both generator functions and async functions so if you just want the async await functionality you should use Async functions without co.js.

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Browser support is actually pretty good now for Async functions (as of 2017) in all major current browsers (Chrome, Safari, and Edge) except IE.

Solution 4:

There is one nice workaround at http://taskjs.org/

It uses generators which are new to javascript. So it’s currently not implemented by most browsers. I tested it in firefox, and for me it is nice way to wrap asynchronous function.

Here is example code from project GitHub

var { Deferred } = task;

spawn(function() {
    out.innerHTML = "reading...\n";
    try {
        var d = yield read("read.html");
        alert(d.responseText.length);
    } catch (e) {
        e.stack.split(/\n/).forEach(function(line) { console.log(line) });
        console.log("");
        out.innerHTML = "error: " + e;
    }

});

function read(url, method) {
    method = method || "GET";
    var xhr = new XMLHttpRequest();
    var deferred = new Deferred();
    xhr.onreadystatechange = function() {
        if (xhr.readyState === 4) {
            if (xhr.status >= 400) {
                var e = new Error(xhr.statusText);
                e.status = xhr.status;
                deferred.reject(e);
            } else {
                deferred.resolve({
                    responseText: xhr.responseText
                });
            }
        }
    };
    xhr.open(method, url, true);
    xhr.send();
    return deferred.promise;
}

Solution 5:

You can force asynchronous JavaScript in NodeJS to be synchronous with sync-rpc.

It will definitely freeze your UI though, so I’m still a naysayer when it comes to whether what it’s possible to take the shortcut you need to take. It’s not possible to suspend the One And Only Thread in JavaScript, even if NodeJS lets you block it sometimes. No callbacks, events, anything asynchronous at all will be able to process until your promise resolves. So unless you the reader have an unavoidable situation like the OP (or, in my case, are writing a glorified shell script with no callbacks, events, etc.), DO NOT DO THIS!

But here’s how you can do this:

./calling-file.js

var createClient = require('sync-rpc');
var mySynchronousCall = createClient(require.resolve('./my-asynchronous-call'), 'init data');

var param1 = 'test data'
var data = mySynchronousCall(param1);
console.log(data); // prints: received "test data" after "init data"

./my-asynchronous-call.js

function init(initData) {
  return function(param1) {
    // Return a promise here and the resulting rpc client will be synchronous
    return Promise.resolve('received "' + param1 + '" after "' + initData + '"');
  };
}
module.exports = init;

LIMITATIONS:

These are both a consequence of how sync-rpc is implemented, which is by abusing require('child_process').spawnSync:

  1. This will not work in the browser.
  2. The arguments to your function must be serializable. Your arguments will pass in and out of JSON.stringify, so functions and non-enumerable properties like prototype chains will be lost.

Solution 6:

Use Async Await and Promise.resolve / Promise.all 😊