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async/await for continuation-passing style functions

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Continuation-passing style (CPS) is a pattern where a function, instead of returning a value, calls the provided continuation function with that value. It's used in popular Clojure libraries (Ring's async handlers, clj-http) to avoid blocking the calling thread by long-running IO operations.

Writing correct CPS code is awkward and hard to get right however. Any non-trivial flow can quickly become unmanageable. This library delivers async/await expressions that let you write idiomatic, synchronous-looking code while leveraging the power of asynchronous, continuation-passing style functions.

API Docs


await the execution of asynchronous function in an async block just like it was a blocking function call.

(require '[await-cps :refer [async await]]
         '[clj-http.client :as http])

(defn star-wars-greeting-handler [request respond raise]
  ; initiate the async block
  (async respond raise
    (let [person-url (str "" (:id (:params request)))
          ; await the completion of asynchronous http request, doesn't block the thread 
          person (:body (await http/get person-url {:async? true :as :json}))]
      (str "Hi! I'm " (:name person) " from "
           ; await expression can go wherever a function call is allowed
           (get-in (await http/get (:homeworld person) {:async? true :as :json})
                   [:body :name])))))

Use defn-async for brevity.

(defn-async star-wars-greeting-handler [request]
  (let [person-url (str "" (:id (:params request)))
        person (:body (await http/get person-url {:async? true :as :json}))]

Asynchronous functions

Asynchronous function is any function that takes resolve and raise callbacks as the last two parameters. It is expected to evetually either call resolve with the result value, call raise with a Throwable or throw in the calling thread. The return value is ignored.

You can await the completion of asynchronous function in an async block calling await with the function and any parameters, leaving the callbacks out. You're free to use await wherever a function call is allowed. The execution does not block the calling thread, resuming in whatever thread the awaited function invokes the callback in instead. Awaiting will observe the resolved value as if it was returned or any exception thrown or raised as if it was thrown.

Asynchronous block boundary

async body can handle arbitrary Clojure code. Its boundary does not stretch inside nested defs nor the body of any nested function however. This includes def, fn, reify, deftype and functions in letfn. The code below does not work:

(async resolve raise
  (doall (map (fn [url] (await http/get url {:async true}))
              ["" ""])))
=> IllegalStateException await called outside async block

Use loop/recur to traverse collections.

(async resolve raise
  (loop [[url & urls] ["" ""]]
    (when url
      (println (:body (await http/get url {:async? true})))
      (recur urls))))

You can also use fn-async for ad-hoc asynchronous functions.

(async resolve raise
  (loop [[f & fs] (map (fn [url] (fn-async []
                                   (:body (await http/get url {:async? true}))))
                       ["" ""])]
    (when f
      (println (await f))
      (recur fs))))


Recurring is supported in the context of fn-async, defn-async and loop within async block.


try/catch/finally is fully supported. Note however that if a CPS function fails to call either the resolve or raise callback the finally block may never execute. This would be equivalent to killing a thread that's executing a regular try block.

Monitor operations

monitor-enter and monitor-exit (and by extension the locking macro) are JVM's low level concurrency primitives strictly bound to executing thread and therefore are not supported in async blocks. Used across asynchronous call will lead to concurrency bugs. Currently there's no warning if this is to happen.

Does it work?

Being cautious about third-party software applying chainsaw surgery to your production code is only fair. The goal of this library is for you to be able to use it with confidence.

The test suite included employs generative testing producing nested combinations of expressions, including special forms, synchronous and asynchronous function calls, failures and side-effects. It asserts that both the result (value returned or exception thrown) and the order of any side-effects is consistent with what you'd observe executing synchronously in a single thread.

At the same time, the project has not seen extensive production use yet, use with caution. Please, raise any issues through GitHub.

How is writing correct CPS code by hand hard?

Even though a bit awkward, a CPS implementation of the happy path tends to be straightforward enough. Covering exceptional cases, however, is a whole lot harder.

Uncaught exceptions

Any exceptions not handled by resolve callback will likely get swallowed. Just to be safe you should wrap all your resovle functions in a catch-all calling raise

Equivalent for try/catch/finally

Writing correct CPS equivalent for try/catch/finally block is about the trickiest problem this library solves. It needs to:

  • handle all 3 exit modes of asynchronous function (exception thrown, resolve called, raise called)
  • correctly scope the try/catch block outside the asynchronous function as well as inside the resolve callback
  • handle asynchronous body as well as asynchronous catches and finally
  • make sure finally is only ever run once in all cases above.

The amount of edge cases is exactly what inspired the use of generative testing in this library. I strongly recommend avoiding roll-your-own solutions without thorough coverage.

Even if you are confident that you can get an equivalent for try/catch/finally right, any try/finally facilities (like with-open, binding and others) won't ever work across asynchronous calls without transforming the macroexpanded form.


This project is distributed under The MIT License.

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