Implementing

by Forbes Lindesay

Introduction

This article was originally written as an answer on Stack Overflow. The hope is that by seeing how you would go about implementing Promise in JavaScript, you may gain a better understanding of how promises behave.

State Machine

Since a promise is just a state machine, we should start by considering the state information we will need later.

var PENDING = 0;
var FULFILLED = 1;
var REJECTED = 2;

function Promise() {
  // store state which can be PENDING, FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var state = PENDING;

  // store value or error once FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var value = null;

  // store sucess & failure handlers attached by calling .then or .done
  var handlers = [];
}

Transitions

Next, lets consider the two key transitions that can occur, fulfilling and rejecting:

var PENDING = 0;
var FULFILLED = 1;
var REJECTED = 2;

function Promise() {
  // store state which can be PENDING, FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var state = PENDING;

  // store value once FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var value = null;

  // store sucess & failure handlers
  var handlers = [];

  function fulfill(result) {
    state = FULFILLED;
    value = result;
  }

  function reject(error) {
    state = REJECTED;
    value = error;
  }
}

That gives us the basic low level transitions, but lets consider an extra, higher-level transition called resolve

var PENDING = 0;
var FULFILLED = 1;
var REJECTED = 2;

function Promise() {
  // store state which can be PENDING, FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var state = PENDING;

  // store value once FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var value = null;

  // store sucess & failure handlers
  var handlers = [];

  function fulfill(result) {
    state = FULFILLED;
    value = result;
  }

  function reject(error) {
    state = REJECTED;
    value = error;
  }

  function resolve(result) {
    try {
      var then = getThen(result);
      if (then) {
        doResolve(then.bind(result), resolve, reject)
        return
      }
      fulfill(result);
    } catch (e) {
      reject(e);
    }
  }
}

Note how resolve accepts either a promise or a plain value and if it's a promise, waits for it to complete. A promise must never be fulfilled with another promise, so it is this resolve function that we will expose, rather than the internal fulfill. We've used a couple of helper methods, so lets define those:

/**
 * Check if a value is a Promise and, if it is,
 * return the `then` method of that promise.
 *
 * @param {Promise|Any} value
 * @return {Function|Null}
 */
function getThen(value) {
  var t = typeof value;
  if (value && (t === 'object' || t === 'function')) {
    var then = value.then;
    if (typeof then === 'function') {
      return then;
    }
  }
  return null;
}

/**
 * Take a potentially misbehaving resolver function and make sure
 * onFulfilled and onRejected are only called once.
 *
 * Makes no guarantees about asynchrony.
 *
 * @param {Function} fn A resolver function that may not be trusted
 * @param {Function} onFulfilled
 * @param {Function} onRejected
 */
function doResolve(fn, onFulfilled, onRejected) {
  var done = false;
  try {
    fn(function (value) {
      if (done) return
      done = true
      onFulfilled(value)
    }, function (reason) {
      if (done) return
      done = true
      onRejected(reason)
    })
  } catch (ex) {
    if (done) return
    done = true
    onRejected(ex)
  }
}

Constructing

We now have the completed internal state machine, but we have yet to expose either a method of resolving the promise or of observing it. Lets start by adding a way of resolving the promise.

var PENDING = 0;
var FULFILLED = 1;
var REJECTED = 2;

function Promise(fn) {
  // store state which can be PENDING, FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var state = PENDING;

  // store value once FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var value = null;

  // store sucess & failure handlers
  var handlers = [];

  function fulfill(result) {
    state = FULFILLED;
    value = result;
  }

  function reject(error) {
    state = REJECTED;
    value = error;
  }

  function resolve(result) {
    try {
      var then = getThen(result);
      if (then) {
        doResolve(then.bind(result), resolve, reject)
        return
      }
      fulfill(result);
    } catch (e) {
      reject(e);
    }
  }

  doResolve(fn, resolve, reject);
}

As you can see, we re-use doResolve because we have another untrusted resolver. The fn is allowed to call both resolve and reject multiple times, and even throw exceptions. It is up to us to ensure that the promise is only resolved or rejected once, and then never transitions into a different state ever again.

Observing (via .done)

We now have a completed state machine, but we still have no way to observe any changes to it. Our ultimate goal is to implement .then, but the semantics of .done are much simpler so lets implement that first.

Our goal here is to implement promise.done(onFulfilled, onRejected) such that:

var PENDING = 0;
var FULFILLED = 1;
var REJECTED = 2;

function Promise(fn) {
  // store state which can be PENDING, FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var state = PENDING;

  // store value once FULFILLED or REJECTED
  var value = null;

  // store sucess & failure handlers
  var handlers = [];

  function fulfill(result) {
    state = FULFILLED;
    value = result;
    handlers.forEach(handle);
    handlers = null;
  }

  function reject(error) {
    state = REJECTED;
    value = error;
    handlers.forEach(handle);
    handlers = null;
  }

  function resolve(result) {
    try {
      var then = getThen(result);
      if (then) {
        doResolve(then.bind(result), resolve, reject)
        return
      }
      fulfill(result);
    } catch (e) {
      reject(e);
    }
  }

  function handle(handler) {
    if (state === PENDING) {
      handlers.push(handler);
    } else {
      if (state === FULFILLED &&
        typeof handler.onFulfilled === 'function') {
        handler.onFulfilled(value);
      }
      if (state === REJECTED &&
        typeof handler.onRejected === 'function') {
        handler.onRejected(value);
      }
    }
  }

  this.done = function (onFulfilled, onRejected) {
    // ensure we are always asynchronous
    setTimeout(function () {
      handle({
        onFulfilled: onFulfilled,
        onRejected: onRejected
      });
    }, 0);
  }

  doResolve(fn, resolve, reject);
}

We make sure to notify the handlers when the Promise is resolved or rejected. We only ever do this in the next tick.

Observing (via .then)

Now that we have .done implemented, we can easily implement .then to just do the same thing, but construct a new Promise in the process.

this.then = function (onFulfilled, onRejected) {
  var self = this;
  return new Promise(function (resolve, reject) {
    return self.done(function (result) {
      if (typeof onFulfilled === 'function') {
        try {
          return resolve(onFulfilled(result));
        } catch (ex) {
          return reject(ex);
        }
      } else {
        return resolve(result);
      }
    }, function (error) {
      if (typeof onRejected === 'function') {
        try {
          return resolve(onRejected(error));
        } catch (ex) {
          return reject(ex);
        }
      } else {
        return reject(error);
      }
    });
  });
}

Further Reading