A lightweight approach to cancelable promises

npm install @rtm/cancelable-promise@0.2.0


Cancelable promises: a lightweight approach

This repository proposes a lightweight mechanism for cancelable promises, and provides a fully-functional polyfill.

In this proposal, canceled promises are viewed as remaining in a permanently pending state. Cancellations are reported with a new method onCancel.

For more information, see the design notes.

Basic notions

Promise lifecycle

"Canceled" is a substate of "pending". Once canceled, promises may no longer be resolved or rejected, and remain in pending/canceled state forever. (This makes sense, because they did not run, and therefore have have neither succeeded nor failed.) Once settled, promises can no longer be canceled.

Who cancels

Promises are not cancelable from the outside. Cancellation logic is defined when promises are created, in the same way that resolve/reject behavior is defined, by calling the new third cancel parameter to the executor. Often, the cancellation will be driven by a promise provided from outside known as the "canceler".

Being notified of cancellations

You can be notified of cancellations with the new method Promise#onCancel, passing in a handler which will be invoked immediately if the promise is already canceled, or when the promise is canceled in the future.

Basic use cases

Passing a canceler to the Promise constructor

Simply pass a promise as a second parameter to the Promise constructor. This is called the "canceler". When and if the canceler fulfills, then the promise is canceled.

For instance, let's create a promise which fulfills after five seconds, but cancel it after two seconds:

// Define executor for a promise fulfilling after ms time.
function timeout(ms, msg) {
  return resolve => setTimeout(() => resolve(msg), ms);

// Create the canceler as a promise fulfilling after two seconds.
const canceler = new Promise(timeout(2000, "canceled"));

// Create the promise resolving after five seconds, specifying the canceler.
new CancelablePromise(timeout(5000, "elapsed"), canceler)
  .onCancel(reason => console.log(`promise canceled with reason ${reason}`));

This yields

promise canceled with reason canceled

Defining your own cancellation logic

For cases where providing a canceler to the constructor does not suffice, you may define your own cancellation behavior inside the "executor", using the new, third parameter called 'cancel'. For example, this would facilitate cleaning up. The following is a made-up example of this:

function http(url, userPressedCancel) {
  return new CancelablePromise(function(resolve, reject, cancel) {
    var httpRequest = myHttpService.request(url).then(resolve);
    userPressedCancel.then(() => {
      cancel("user requested cancellation")

http(myUrl, canceler)
  .onCancel(reason => console.log(`"HTTP request aborted for reason ${reason}`));
  .then(...proceed with processing results...)


This section gives the complete specification of this proposal for canceable promises. There are four items:

Additional cancel parameter to executor

Executors (the functions passed to the CancelablePromise constructor) get a third parameter, giving them the signature(resolve, reject, cancel). The newcancel` parameter is a function which may be invoked from within the executor to cancel the promise, passing along a cancellation reason.

Addition canceler parameter to Promise constructor

A new, optional, second parameter to the CancelablePromise constructor, a promise called the canceler, if present, cancels the underlying promise when and if it resolves.

New onCancel instance method on promises

The new promise.onCancel(handler) method is called to notify you when a promise is canceled. It returns the underlying promise, so you can continue to chain from it using .then or .catch.

New canceled instance property on promises

The canceled property on cancelable promises is a promise which fulfills when a promise is canceled.


If canceled promises remain pending forever, won't that be a memory leak?

No, it won't.

How do I tell chained promises that an earlier promise has been canceled?

They don't need to be told. They will never be triggered.

If I already know I want to cancel, how do I avoid constructing the promise in the first place?

This is already how it works. If the canceler to the Promise constructor has already resolved, the executor won't be run at all, and the promise will immediately go into canceled state.

How do I use cancelable promises in async functions?

Of course, you can't await something that will never resolve, like a canceled promise. You'll need to wait for either the promise resolving or it being canceled. One possibility is Promise.race. In the example below, we turn a cancellation into a rejection, which might be easier to handle downstream:

const cancelablePromise = ...;
const result = Promise.race([cancelablePromise, cancelablePromise.canceled.then(() => { throw "rejected"; })]);

This uses the canceled property available on cancelable promises, which triggers when the promise is canceled.

Running tests

npm test

Implementation notes

This requires node >= 6.0.0. The polyfill is written in TypeScript.


To use cancelable promises in your own project:

npm install --save @rtm/cancelable-promise

const {CancelablePrmoise} = require('@rtm/cancelable-promise');

// Construct a new promise:
new CancelablePromise((resolve, reject[, cancel]) => {...})

// Cancel a promise via a canceler:
new CancelablePromise((resolve, reject) => {...}, canceler])

// Be alerted when a promise is canceled: