Async Handlers

Async Handlers provide us with the option of reacting to Application Contexts set on the TAO in a "tangential" asynchronous execution outside of the normal line.

Generally, this is used for creating side effects of the Application Context.

Async not async

In the TAO, Async Handlers are not async handlers, which are functions added to the TAO as handlers for Application Contexts which happen to operate using JavaScript Promises.

Due to not implementing this library sooner (the original inception was before the async keyword existed in C#) as well as not being able to think of a better word to capture its meaning, Async Handlers exist to provide a way to react to Application Contexts apart from Inline Handlers, out-of-band from a sequential set of operations.

Origins of Async Handlers

The original intent was specifically to provide execution on a separate thread when this was more difficult and clumsy to code (in C# and Java), and give control of the main thread back to the caller. Or, exactly what the async keyword itself has come to be for modern languages.

Although the implementation of the TAO (which is now only in JavaScript, a language that is "single-threaded") has changed based on the changes in languages since its inception, the concept behind Async Handlers remains and provides a specific need when modeling Systems and Applications apart from the implemention details associated with asynchronous calls to network or other resources.

The underlying implementation of Async Handlers, while important, may change to get closer to the ideal so you should not rely on how it is implemented now, rather rely on the interface and guarantees provided by the TAO's handling of Async Handlers.

Async = Out of Band

The purpose of Async Handlers is to allow our Systems and Apps to react to Application Contexts in a separate execution context apart from the one that set the Application Context on the TAO. We call this out of band execution because the intent is that the main line of execution will continue without regard for the Async Handler or its eventual conclusion.

From an Event-based development perspective, Async Handlers provide a mechanism to fire off reactions and not care where they go or what they're doing and get back to the main line of execution (mostly captured using Inline Handlers).

For it's part, the TAO will execute each Async Handler within its own execution context ensuring that any Inline Handlers are not affected by any Async Handlers.

What makes for using an Async Handler?

It's tempting to use Async Handlers when deciding to make calls that would use an async function (or Promises). However, that's not always the designed intent of Async Handlers.

Let's use an example to illustrate fetching data from an API that needs to be rendered in a UI.

From this example, this would be a sequence better modeled using Inline Handlers due to the ordered nature of the operations along with Inline Handlers' ability to handle, block and chain using async functions.

Describing Async Handlers for our Apps

Based on the example above, because there's a very sequential ordering of Application Contexts to move the App from one State to the next, the handlers are better added to the TAO as Inline Handlers rather than Async Handlers.

We want to use Async Handlers to react to Application Contexts when we need "Out of Band" operations.

Let's use an example of bootstrapping our App on the front end when a user first comes to the Home Page. We want to either fetch an existing Session or initialize a new Session, and we want this to happen out of band so it doesn't block the User's experience of getting the Home Page.

We'll now add our Session to our previous example Use Case: User Enters the App in the Basics Defining Handlers guide:

Use Case: User Enters the App

From our earlier example, the intial Use Case of a User coming to the App, the AppCons we defined and the handlers that need to perform:

TAO-Path: Bootstrap Home Page

# chain Term Action Orient mode handler spec
0 Open App App Enter Portal => initialize App data and prepare the UI
1 App Enter Portal =>/a kick off getting User's Session by chaining to Bootstrap User Session
2 => App View Portal => get the Portal's containing View and render it
3 => Space Find Portal => fetch all of the Spaces from api
4 => Space List Portal => show the Space List View in the Portal

Notice the duplicated taople ({App,Enter,Portal}) added to the table and new (=>/a ) mode symbol. The mode symbol is a way to distinguish handling an AppCon asynchronously (=>/) vs inline (=>), where the Async Handler can include a reference ( a ) to another TAO-Path or chained AppCon.

In the above table, we're stating that after the {App,Enter,Portal} AppCon, we want to both asynchronously kick off a search for the User's Session (Bootstrap User Sessiona ) and inline View the Portal (chained as => {App,View,Portal}).

Because Async Handlers create an out of band execution context, we separate the description into a new table below.

TAO-Path: Bootstrap User Session

# chain Term Action Orient mode handler spec
0 a:=> Session Find Portal => find the current Session for the User
if the Session isn't found, create a new one 1a
if the Session is found, enter it 1b
1 \1a:=> Session Create Portal => create a new Session then enter it 1b
2 \1b:=> Session Enter Portal => set the Session local to the App

Here we see new chain symbols (\xx:=>) describing a situation where the App may enter different Application Contexts depending on what the result of the previous handler is.

In this example, the {Session,Find,Portal} may or may not find a User Session, in which case we want to communicate which AppCon is triggered depending on the outcome.

The backslash (\) preceding the normal chain arrow (=>) denotes that the result will not fall through to the row below.

TAO-Path: Refined Bootstrap User Session

Finding a Session may also lead to fetching a User in order to personalize the App as well as fire off Tracking code for the visit.

# chain Term Action Orient mode handler spec
0 a2:/=> Session Find Portal => find the current Session for the User
if the Session isn't found, create a new one2a
if the Session is found, enter it2b
1 \2a:=> Session Create Portal => create a new Session then enter it2b
2 \2b:=> Session Enter Portal => set the Session local to the App
3 Session Enter Portal =>/ update analytics tracking with Session data
4 +=> User Find Portal =>/ fetch the User in the Session from the api

Which would then lead to its own TAO-Path for Getting the User which we want out of band from the Bootstrap User Session TAO-Path.

Adding Async Handlers to the TAO

Adding Async Handlers to the TAO is similar to adding Inline Handlers, except we're going to call the addAsyncHandler method instead:

// add Async Handler to trigger our out of band search for the User's Session by chaining
TAO.addAsyncHandler({ t: 'App', a: 'Enter', o: 'Portal' }, (tao, data) => {
  return new AppCon('Session', 'Find', 'Portal');
});

// add Async Handler to fetch a User when a Session is entered
TAO.addAsyncHandler({ t: 'Session', a: 'Enter', o: 'Portal' }, (tao, data) => {
  return new AppCon('User', 'Find', 'Portal', {
    Find: { id: data.Session.userId }
  });
});

// update tracking for user in external tracking system
TAO.addAsyncHandler({ t: 'Session', a: 'Enter', o: 'Portal' }, (tao, data) => {
  tracking.updateSession(data.Session, data.Portal);
})

Async Handlers don't block

By their very definition, Async Handlers do not block the setCtx or setAppCtx calls on the TAO. The TAO will cycle through all of the handlers in the same order described in Inline Handlers Ordering but unlike Inline Handlers, Async Handlers provide no guarantees around ordering.

The non-blocking means that if any of the handlers called within an Async Handler do use a Promise, then another Async Handler execution context can take over execution.

Chaining Async Handlers

Often, as seen in the examples above, an Async Handler is used to chain to a new set of AppCons by simply returning the new AppCon that will kick off the new TAO-Path within the new execution context that the TAO provides and do nothing else.

This is an effective way of utilizing Async Handlers to create a clear and meaningful fork in execution and should not be seen as "cheating" or excess verbosity. The purpose being served is to provide relevant semantics to the desired logic of our App.

When chaining by returning an AppCon from an Async Handler, the TAO will set the AppCon within the execution context for the Async Handler. Because each individual Async Handler is executed within its own context, a whole new set of handlers of all types can be executed within this execution context.

Error Handling - All Errors are Swallowed

Async Handlers differ from the other types in that because the TAO provides a new execution context for them, to ensure the TAO can guarantee any code cannot unintentially blow up the App, the TAO will swallow any Errors thrown within the Async Handler or any downstream (chained) handlers.

TAO.addAsyncHandler({ t: 'User', a: 'Find', o: 'Portal' }, (tao, data) => {
  throw new Error('I can\'t find Users now!');
});

TAO.setCtx('User', 'Find', 'Portal'); // <---- Error swallowed

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