What's the convention for when you offer an async variant of the same code?

  • A+

Let foo be sub or method. I have programmed a blocking and an async variant, so looking from the outside the essential difference is in the return value. I first thought of specifying it in the signature, but the dispatcher unfortunately only looks at the incoming end instead of both:

> multi sub foo (--> Promise) {}; multi sub foo (--> Cool) {}; > my Promise $p = foo Ambiguous call to 'foo(...)'; these signatures all match: :( --> Promise) :( --> Cool)   in block <unit> at <unknown file> line 1 

Should I add a Bool :$async to the signature? Should I add a name suffix (i.e. foo and foo-async) like in JS? Both don't feel much perlish to me. What are the solutions currently in use for this problem?


Multiple dispatch on return type cannot work, since the return value itself could be used as the argument to a multiple dispatch call (and since nearly every operator in Perl 6 is a multiple dispatch call, this would be a very common occurrence).

As to the question at hand: considering code in core, modules, and a bunch of my own code, it seems that a given class or module will typically offer a synchronous interface or an asynchronous interface, whichever feels most natural for the problem at hand. In cases where both make sense, they are often differentiated at type or module level. For example:

  • Core: there are both Proc and Proc::Async, and IO::Socket::INET and IO::Socket::Async. While it's sometimes the case that a reasonable asynchronous API can be obtained by providing Promise-returning alternatives for each synchronous routine, in other cases the overall workflow will be a bit different. For example, for a synchronous socket API it's quite reasonable to sit in a loop asking for data, whereas the asynchronous API is much more naturally expressed in Perl 6 by providing a Supply of the packets arriving over the network.
  • Libraries: Cro::HTTP::Client offers a consistently asynchronous interface to doing HTTP requests. There is no synchronous API.
  • Applications: considering a lot of my application code, things seem to be either consistently synchronous or consistently asynchronous in terms of their API. The only exceptions I'm finding are classes that are almost entirely synchronous, except they have a few Supply-returning methods in order to provide notifications of events. This isn't really the case being asked about, however, since notifications are naturally asynchronous.

It's interesting that we've ended up here, in contrast to in various other languages where providing async variants through a naming convention is common. I think much of the reason is that one can use await anywhere in Perl 6. This is not the case in languages that have an async/await pair, where in order to use await one must first refactor the calling routine to be async, and then refactor its callers to be async, etc.

So if we are writing a completely synchronous bit of code and want to use something from a module that returns a Promise, our entire cost is "just write await". That's it. Writing in a call to await is the same length as a -sync or -async suffix, or a :sync or :async named argument.

On the other hand, one might choose to provide a synchronous API to something, even if on the inside it is doing an await, because the feeling is most consumers will just want to use it synchronously. Should someone wish to call it asynchronously, there's another 5-letter word, start, that will trigger it on the threadpool, and any await that is performed inside of the code will not (assuming Perl 6.d) block up a real thread, but instead just schedule it to continue when the awaited work is done. That's, again, the same length - or shorter - than writing an async suffix, named argument, etc.

Which means the pattern we seem to be ending up with (given the usual caveats about young languages, and conventions taking time to evolve) is:

  • For the simple case: pick the most common use case and provide that, letting the caller adapt it with start (sync -> async) or await/react (async -> sync) if they want the other thing
  • For more complex cases where the sync and async workflows for using the functionality might look quite different, and are both valuable: provide them separately. Granted, one may be a facade of the other (for example, Proc in core is actually just a synchronous adaptation layer over Proc::Async).

A final observation I'd make is that individual consumers of a module will almost certainly be using it synchronously or asynchronously, not a mixture of the two. If wishing to provide both, then I'd probably instead look to using export tags, so I can do:

use Some::Thing :async; say await something(); 


use Some::Thing :sync; say something(); 

And not have to declare which I want upon each call.


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