What is the explicit promise construction antipattern and how do I avoid it? [Answered]



I was writing code that does something that looks like:

function getStuffDone(param) {           | function getStuffDone(param) {
    var d = Q.defer(); /* or $q.defer */ |     return new Promise(function(resolve, reject) {
    // or = new $.Deferred() etc.        |     // using a promise constructor
    myPromiseFn(param+1)                 |         myPromiseFn(param+1)
    .then(function(val) { /* or .done */ |         .then(function(val) {
        d.resolve(val);                  |             resolve(val);
    }).catch(function(err) { /* .fail */ |         }).catch(function(err) {
        d.reject(err);                   |             reject(err);
    });                                  |         });
    return d.promise; /* or promise() */ |     });
}                                        | }

Someone told me this is called the “deferred antipattern” or the “Promise constructor antipattern” respectively, what’s bad about this code and why is this called an antipattern?

What is the explicit promise construction antipattern and how do I avoid it? Answer #1:

The deferred antipattern (now explicit-construction anti-pattern) coined by Esailija is a common anti-pattern people who are new to promises make, I’ve made it myself when I first used promises. The problem with the above code is that is fails to utilize the fact that promises chain.

Promises can chain with .then and you can return promises directly. Your code in getStuffDone can be rewritten as:

function getStuffDone(param){
    return myPromiseFn(param+1); // much nicer, right?

Promises are all about making asynchronous code more readable and behave like synchronous code without hiding that fact. Promises represent an abstraction over a value of one time operation, they abstract the notion of a statement or expression in a programming language.

You should only use deferred objects when you are converting an API to promises and can’t do it automatically, or when you’re writing aggregation functions that are easier expressed this way.

Quoting Esailija:

This is the most common anti-pattern. It is easy to fall into this when you don’t really understand promises and think of them as glorified event emitters or callback utility. Let’s recap: promises are about making asynchronous code retain most of the lost properties of synchronous code such as flat indentation and one exception channel.

What is the explicit promise construction antipattern and how do I avoid it? Answer #2:

What’s wrong with it?

But the pattern works!

Lucky you. Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t, as you likely forgot some edge case. In more than half of the occurrences I’ve seen, the author has forgotten to take care of the error handler:

return new Promise(function(resolve) {
    getOtherPromise().then(function(result) {

If the other promise is rejected, this will happen unnoticed instead of being propagated to the new promise (where it would get handled) – and the new promise stays forever pending, which can induce leaks.

The same thing happens in the case that your callback code causes an error – e.g. when result doesn’t have a property and an exception is thrown. That would go unhandled and leave the new promise unresolved.

In contrast, using .then() does automatically take care of both these scenarios, and rejects the new promise when an error happens:

 return getOtherPromise().then(function(result) {
     return result.property.example;

The deferred antipattern is not only cumbersome, but also error-prone. Using .then() for chaining is much safer.

But I’ve handled everything!

Really? Good. However, this will be pretty detailed and copious, especially if you use a promise library that supports other features like cancellation or message passing. Or maybe it will in the future, or you want to swap your library against a better one? You won’t want to rewrite your code for that.

The libraries’ methods (then) do not only natively support all the features, they also might have certain optimisations in place. Using them will likely make your code faster, or at least allow to be optimised by future revisions of the library.

How do I avoid it?

So whenever you find yourself manually creating a Promise or Deferred and already existing promises are involved, check the library API first. The Deferred antipattern is often applied by people who see promises [only] as an observer pattern – but promises are more than callbacks: they are supposed to be composable. Every decent library has lots of easy-to-use functions for the composition of promises in every thinkable manner, taking care of all the low-level stuff you don’t want to deal with.

If you have found a need to compose some promises in a new way that is not supported by an existing helper function, writing your own function with unavoidable Deferreds should be your last option. Consider switching to a more featureful library, and/or file a bug against your current library. Its maintainer should be able to derive the composition from existing functions, implement a new helper function for you and/or help to identify the edge cases that need to be handled.

What is the explicit promise construction antipattern and how do I avoid it? Answer #3:

Now 7 years later there is a simpler answer to this question:

How do I avoid the explicit constructor antipattern?

Use async functions, then await every Promise!

Instead of manually constructing nested Promise chains such as this one:

function promised() {
  return new Promise(function(resolve) {
    getOtherPromise().then(function(result) {
      getAnotherPromise(result).then(function(result2) {

just turn your function async and use the await keyword to stop execution of the function until the Promise resolves:

async function promised() {
   const result =  await getOtherPromise();
   const result2 = await getAnotherPromise(result);
   return result2;

This has various benefits:

  • Calling the async function always returns a Promise, which resolves with the returned value and rejects if an error get’s thrown inside the async function
  • If an awaited Promise rejects, the error get’s thrown inside the async function, so you can just try { ... } catch(error) { ... } it like the synchronous errors.
  • You can await inside loops and if branches, making most of the Promise chain logic trivial
  • Although async functions behave mostly like chains of Promises, they are way easier to read (and easier to reason about)

How can I await a callback?

If the callback only calls back once, and the API you are calling does not provide a Promise already (most of them do!) this is the only reason to use a Promise constructor:

 // Create a wrapper around the "old" function taking a callback, passing the 'resolve' function as callback
 const delay = time => new Promise((resolve, reject) =>
   setTimeout(resolve, time)

 await delay(1000);

If await stops execution, does calling an async function return the result directly?

No. If you call an async function, a Promise gets always returned. You can then await that Promise too inside an async function. You cannot wait for the result inside of a synchronous function (you would have to call .then and attach a callback).

Conceptually, synchronous functions always run to completion in one job, while async functions run synchronously till they reach an await, then they continue in another job.

About ᴾᴿᴼᵍʳᵃᵐᵐᵉʳ

Linux and Python enthusiast, in love with open source since 2014, Writer at programming-articles.com, India.

View all posts by ᴾᴿᴼᵍʳᵃᵐᵐᵉʳ →