For some reason, I’ve found most walkthroughs of asynchronous Javascript constructs, i.e. everything based on the Promise, difficult to come to a fundamental understanding of. I could follow recipes but it wasn’t clicking. This was most obvious when I was simply trying to wait for a “ready” status on some html element and execute code once that occurred (or immediately if it was already ready).

This post walks through how to do that in a way I think would have found helpful, ending in a function called once that sets this up for you, removing a fair amount of duplicated code if you do this sort of thing a lot.

This post assumes basic familiarity with ES6 constructs such as arrow functions. There are tons of online works about these, so I won’t repeat them.

The Promise

The basic usage of Promise is straightforward.

const p = new Promise(function(resolve, reject) {

  // ... do something that may take a long time

  if (it_succeeded) {
  } else {
    reject(new Error("Here's an error message"))

p.then(function(value) {
  // Do something else with `value`, passed into `resolve`, above.
}).catch(function(err) {
  // Do something with error, passed into `reject`, above.`

For a barebones demo, try

(new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
  setTimeout(() => resolve('foo'), 1000)
})).then(x => console.log(x))

Basically, you expect with a Promise that something will eventually call the arbitrarily named functions resolve or reject, and this will trigger actions set up by then or catch clauses.

A very common use case is fetching data from a server, where some fetch method is made to return a promise rather than be a blocking call:

fetch(data_url).then(response => {

Nested thens started becoming a problem in Javascriptland, so more recently we got the async/await construct:

async function requestTableUpdates() {
  response = await fetch(data_url);


Simple enough. And yet, when I just wanted to wait for an existing value to meet some criteria, when I needed to build my own Promise that didn’t just have a stupid setTimeout, I stumbled.

Wait for me!

What was the simplest way to write and use Promise that would let me trigger code once a condition was met? Did I have to write a timeout loop? I thought Promises let you not have to do that! Couldn’t I just create a simple Promise whose function simply checked the value I was interested in? Could I use await? What about promisify?

All of these options teased me with names that implied they would do this for me. After all, Javascript engines already have a lot of optimized mechanics to poll for timers and execute callbacks. Can’t I just throw some function or object into that same mechanism and quite simply on(myValue, doSomething)? But, in fact, the Promise and async/await constructs are simpler constructs that let you accomplish this but only with a little extra Dorito grease. You have to build the poller yourself and wrap it in a Promise.

Note: if you know a better way, please add it to the comments! I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the way to go. Perhaps its for the best; if you could add an arbitrary function into, say, Node’s event loop, you could probably very easily bring the entire engine to a halt with one bad line of code.

Are we there yet?

Let’s say we want to wait for a boolean variable x to become true, then do something. But we don’t have any callback functions available to us. To solve this, let’s build a polling loop inside a Promise:

let x = false

const wait_for_x = new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
  const poll = () => {
    if (x) { resolve(); }
    else { setTimeout(poll, 100); }

wait_for_x.then(() => console.log("Huzzah!")).catch((err) => console.error(err));

Note that this poller does not have any timeout errors, just to keep it dead simple right now.

One point I missed in my early wrestling with this topic was to create the poller within the scope of the Promise so it could call the resolve (or reject) functions. You can’t compose these independently – that is, you can’t create a poller that you access in the Promise (the poller can’t call resolve), and you can’t create a Promise that you pass the the poller (what would you even do with it?).

For completeness, let’s add a timeout and error handling.

let y = false

const wait_for_y = new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
  const start_time = new Date();
  const poll = () => {
    if (y) { resolve(); }
    else if ((new Date()) - start_time > 5000) { reject(new Error("Timeout!")); }
    else { setTimeout(poll, 100); }
}).catch(err => { throw(err) })

wait_for_y.then(() => console.log("Huzzah!")).catch((err) => console.error(err));

This is about as simple as it can get, but I’d have to write this block of code tailored to each variable or value I wanted to wait for. I objected.

In particular, it surprised me that it was being left to hand-written code to implement mechanics such as polling, polling interval, and timeout. A lot of boilerplate with possible bugs. I was surprised that there wasn’t a more idiomatic and built-in way of easily saying “wait for x to be true then do something”. I thought Promises were all about this.

Wrapping it up

How do we write a reusable construct to avoid all this code duplication for every time we want to write “wait for x then do y”? Let’s write a function named once that lets us do just this: once(x).then(y).

const once = function(checkFn, opts = {}) {
  return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    const startTime = new Date();
    const timeout = opts.timeout || 10000;
    const interval = opts.interval || 100;
    const timeoutMsg = opts.timeoutMsg || "Timeout!";

    const poll = function() {
      const ready = checkFn();
      if (ready) {
      } else if ((new Date()) - startTime > timeout) {
        reject(new Error(timeoutMsg));
      } else {
        setTimeout(poll, interval);


The once function returns a nice, easy Promise, and wraps up the polling and timeout mechanisms as I’ve seen fit to implement them here.

Now we can simply use it like this:

let z = false;
once(() => z).then(() => console.log("Huzzah!!"));

// ...
// to trigger:
setTimeout(() => { z = true; }, 2000)

Or we can get fancy with the options:

let metadata = {status: 'pending', value: null}
  () => metadata.status == 'ready',
  {interval: 1000, timeout: 30000}
).then(val => {
  console.log('Got value: ', metadata.value);

// to trigger:
setTimeout(() => {
  metadata.value = 42;
  metadata.status = 'ready';
}, 2000);

Or even use the sugary await:

let data = {status: 'pending', value: null}

async function respondToData() {
  await once(
    () => data.status == 'ready',
    {interval: 1000, timeout: 30000}

  console.log('Got value: ', data.value);


// to trigger:
setTimeout(() => {
  data.value = 42;
  data.status = 'ready';
}, 2000);