11 August 2019

How to chain multiple functions properly in Javascript properly with await/async

Next to my main job of building out and running electrade I help a friend’s team with their project. Recently, we wanted to build a Craiglist-style anonymous email relay with a “serverless” Google Firebase Function (same as AWS Lambda, Azure Functions, etc) for this project. So far I’ve found handling async operations with .then() callbacks easier to think through, but wanted to use async/await here because it’s so much cleaner to read. I found most articles out there on chaining multiple functions unhelpful as they tend to post incomplete demo code that’s copy/pasted from MSDN. There are a few hard-to-debug pitfalls on async/await, and since I fell into all of them I’ll post my complete code here and explain my learnings so you don’t have to.

Here’s working code that chains multiple functions, waits for everything to resolve, and then sends the result. Main mistakes were:

  1. Every async function myFunction(){ <your code here> } declaration automatically wraps the whole async function’s code (ie. <your code here>) in a new Promise, and turns any return x within the code into resolve(x). But you still need to await outside of it (ie. let y = await myFunction()) or it won’t actually wait. The debugging around this is super annoying.
  2. Side note – in cloud functions, you must send a response with res.send(), or the function will assume it’s failed and re-run it. This obviously must happen once everything has run or your promises will get cancelled.

The code below:

  • First, we have 2 normal sync functions on lines 10 & 11 – getFieldsFromRequest() and extractCourseIdFromEmailAddress() – no issues here.
  • Then on line 12 we have async function getEmailOfCourseWithCourseId() which gets the course’s email address from Firestore. We don’t know how long getting stuff from Firestore will take so it’s async on line 29, and will return (or ‘resolve’ in Promise parlance) the courseEmail we need to run the next 2 functions.
  • The next 2 functions on line 13 & 14, saveToCloudFirestore() and sendEmailInSendgrid(), must not be run before getEmailOfCourseWithCourseId() is run and has returned courseEmail. If they do run too early, they will run with courseEmail as undefined and everything goes to shit. The key to chaining: Pass in courseEmail as an argument to both functions, and on line 12 let courseEmail await getEmailOfCourseWithCourseId(). Result: The two following functions that we’ve passed courseEmail as an argument to will both wait until courseEmail is ready (aka the function has been run and promise has resolved), then run.
  • Finally, res.send() must not be sent until saveToCloudFirestore() and sendEmailInSendgrid() have been run and returned their values, otherwise our whole cloud function will interrupt before the work is done. For this, same pattern: We save the saveToCloudFireStore() and sendEmailInSendgrid() responses (the stuff they return) into a variable whose sole purpose this time round is to mark when the above function is done. This in a sense replaces a .then(): it waits till both of these variables (savedToCloud and sentEmail) “have arrived” (aka their Promise has been resolved), then runs res.send() with them. FYI this is so that Firebase/SendGrid know that cloud function has worked and don’t re-send endlessly.
  • For readability’s sake, I have removed the try/catch wrappings here that you should be doing in practice. You should never not catch errors, but removing them makes the async/await concept easier to understand.

      this is the cloud function you can call over HTTP. It is basically for email relay:
      it gets an email from sendgrid, parses the fields, looks up the real email with the courseId,
      saves to FireStore and sends and email with sendgrid.
      Finally, it sends a res.send() to end the cloud function
      _ import a bunch of shit _
      // main function
      exports.emailFunction = functions.https.onRequest(async (req, res) => {
          let fields = getFieldsFromRequest(req); // sync
          let courseId = extractCourseIdFromEmailAddress(fields); // sync
          let courseEmail = await getEmailOfCourseWithCourseId(courseId); // async
          let savedToCloud = await saveToCloudFirestore(fields, courseEmail, courseId); // async, will run once courseEmail above has been populated (aka Promise has been returned)
          let sentEmail = await sendEmailWithSendgrid(fields, courseEmail); // async, will also run once courseEmail above has been populated (aka Promise has been returned)
          res.status(200).send(savedToCloud, sentEmail); // will run once sentEmail and saveToCloud have been populated by their functions (aka their functions' Promises have been resolved).
      // Helper functions below
          function getFieldsFromRequest(req) { // sync
          let fields = readTheFieldsFromReqWithBusboy(req)
          return fields;
      function extractCourseIdFromEmailAddress(fields) { // sync
          let courseId = fields.to.substring(0, fields.to.indexOf('@'));
          return courseId;
      async function getEmailOfCourseWithCourseId(courseId) { // async important
          let courseData = await database.get(courseId)
          let courseEmail = courseData.email;
          return courseEmail; // due to function being labeled async above, this is the equivalent of wrapping the whole function in 'return new Promise(resolve) => {}' and then returning a 'resolve(result)'
      async function sendEmailWithSendgrid(fields, courseEmail) { // async important
          let msg = {to: courseEmail, from: fields.from, text: fields.text}
          let sentEmail = await sendgrid.send(msg)
          return sentEmail; // due to function being labeled async above, this is the equivalent of wrapping the whole function in 'return new Promise(resolve) => {}' and then returning a 'resolve(result)'
      async function saveToCloudFirestore(fields, courseEmail, courseId) { // async important
          let savedToCloud = await database.add(fields, courseEmail, courseId)
          return savedToCloud;

Again, wrap the 3 last async functions and the main function in try{}catch{} to catch errors. Also, the database code cannot be copied over like this – it’s just for illustrative purposes. You have been warned!

Korean Translation by Toast UI here. Thanks guys!