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3/12/20164 min read

Async/Await is a JavaScript ES7/ES2016 language feature that allows you to write asynchronous code that looks synchronous.

This feature has been available in other languages like C# and Visual Basic for a while.

It allows you to write your function declaration prefixed with async and then inside your function, use the await keyword to pause your function in a non-blocking way while you make your asynchronous function call that returns a promise. When it returns, the function continues on with the return value from the promise.

import fetch from ‘node-fetch’;

async function getGithubData() {
  const response = await fetch('');
  const githubData = response.json();

You can read more about them in the TC39 Proposal here.

Why would you want to write code like this?

  • You never have to write another Promise.then to get the value out of a promise.
  • No more context issues with then statements.
  • No more nested promises, caching variables to simulate an async waterfall.
  • No more callback hell to deal with asynchronous calls.

Using babel to transpile Async/Await

You have a few options to transpile Async/Await.

The first option transpiles it back to ES5. This is compatible with most browsers and uses Facebook's Regenerator library. You can find the babel-plugin-transform-regenerator here.

This option requires you to specify it in the plugins section of your .babelrc

    "plugins": ["transform-regenerator"]

This will bloat the transpiled code massively by sticking regenerator throughout your code where you've used async await.

Babel transform runtime claims to stop this by externalising the references and polyfills so that might be an option to clean this up.

I prefer to transpile the async/await statements into Bluebird Coroutines as it makes even the transpiled code much cleaner. This will help in debugging should you have to dig into an environment with no source maps available or supported.

To do this, you can use the babel plugin async-to-module-method.

and configure like this in your .babelrc

    "plugins": [
                "module": "bluebird",
                "method": "coroutine"

Don't forget to install bluebird so your compiled code can require it.

npm install --save bluebird

Minimum requirements

Generators are a minimum requirement for the transform-async-to-module-method option.

Our target node version is 4.x.x. Node 4 is the Long Term Support (LTS) version and supports generators.

There is a babel preset that fills in the ES2015 gaps that NodeJS@4 doesn't cover. Its called babel-preset-es2015-node4.

If you're not yet on Node4, you can use the regenerator method explained above to transpile the async/await back to ES5.

Error Handling

Promises come with their own error handling mechanism built in, the catch clause.

What happens when the promise you're awaiting to be resolved actually gets rejected?

const response = await Promise.reject();

Result: Unhandled promise rejection

Or even if the function you're awaiting throws an error?

function throwErr() {
    throw new Error();

async function testError() {
    const response = await throwErr();

Result: Unhandled promise rejection Error

So how do we do error handling with async await? Time to bring out the old try/catch statements.

This feels like it is a dirty option just to catch error from an asynchronous function but it is exactly the use case for try/catch statements.

This gives us a great opportunity to do disaster recovery or graceful degradation depending on the scenario.

So our new functions with error handling could look something like this.

function getUserFromDb() {
    throw new Error('No users in db');

async function testTryCatch() {
    let response;
    try {
        response = await getUserFromDb();
    } catch (err) {
        response = { user: 'default' };
    const { user } = response;
    return user;


But wait, doesn't V8 find it really hard to optimise code that's wrapped in a try/catch statement?

Well yes, there are performance impacts of wrapping all your code in try/catches but when you just wrap the function call itself, it has minimal impact.

You can see for yourself in this jsperf.

After playing with this for a few weeks, I'm willing to take the leap towards using this in production, it's a solid feature and a really nice way to write your asynchronous code in such a way that it looks synchronous. It eliminates some of my pet peeves with callbacks and promises due to scoping and I think it's really easy to wrap your head around.

If you're already using babel, drop it in and give it a go.

UPDATE: I've discovered a small edgecase with this and I've written about it and how to get around it here

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