Here’s a quick overview of how to use Promises in JavaScript. I hope it’s helpful for learning, quick reference, and helping others learn.

Say we have a set of functions that make calls to a web service and return the data via Promises.

import { getRestaurant, getSpecialDish } from './api';

When we call one of the functions, the return value is a Promise object.

const promise = getRestaurant();
console.log(promise); // Promise { <pending> }

We can’t get access to the web service response data right away, because that happens synchronously, and the web service responds asynchronously.

Handling Results

To get access to its value when it is available, we call the Promise’s .then() method and pass a callback function to it. The callback function receives the value as its argument. This is called the Promise “resolving”, and the value is called the “resolved value.”

getRestaurant().then(restaurant => {
  console.log(restaurant); // Sushi Place
});

The .then() method returns another Promise.

const promise = getRestaurant().then(() => {
  /*...*/
});
console.log(promise); // Promise { <pending> }

If you return a value from a .then() callback, its returned Promise resolves to the returned value. This allows you to chain multiple .then() callbacks so you can transform values and pass them along.

getRestaurant()
  .then(restaurant => {
    return `The Best ${restaurant}`;
  })
  .then(editedRestaurant => {
    console.log(editedRestaurant); // The Best Sushi Place
  });

If within a .then() callback you return another Promise that resolves, the outer Promise resolves to the inner Promise’s resolved value.

getRestaurant()
  .then(() => {
    return Promise.resolve('Pizza Place');
  })
  .then(resolvedValue => {
    console.log(resolvedValue); // Pizza Place
  });

Returning a Promise you make yourself isn’t that useful, because, as we saw previously, you can just return the value directly. What is useful is calling another function that returns a Promise, and passing that Promise along.

getRestaurant()
  .then(restaurant => {
    return getSpecialDish(restaurant);
  })
  .then(dish => {
    console.log(dish); // Sushi Place Special Roll
  });

You have to make sure to return that Promise as the return value of the function, though. Just calling the function doesn’t work, because its return value is lost.

getRestaurant()
  .then(restaurant => {
    getSpecialDish(restaurant);
  })
  .then(dish => {
    console.log(dish); // undefined
  });

If you need to get access to the resolved values of two Promises you call in sequence, you can chain a .then() on the second promise inside the first Promise’s .then(). That way both resolved values are in scope.

getRestaurant()
  .then(restaurant => {
    return getSpecialDish(restaurant).then(dish => {
      return { restaurant, dish };
    });
  })
  .then(resolvedValue => {
    console.log(resolvedValue); // { restaurant: 'Sushi Place',
                                // dish: 'Sushi Place Special Roll' }
  });

Handling Errors

When an error occurs, instead of resolving, a Promise is said to “reject”. You can handle that error using a .catch() callback function. When an error occurs, any .then() callbacks are skipped.

getRestaurant()
  .then(restaurant => {
    console.log(restaurant); // (not called)
  })
  .catch(error => {
    console.error(error); // Something went wrong
  });

Like .then(), .catch() returns a new Promise. If an error is caught, the Promise returned by .catch() resolves; it doesn’t reject. This may be surprising.

getRestaurant()
  .catch(error => {
    /* ... */
  })
  .then(resolvedValue => {
    console.log(resolvedValue); // undefined
    // Wait, why did this "succeed"?
  });

One reason Promises work this way is so that you can handle an error and pass along a value to “get things working again”. You can just return a value you want the Promise to resolve to. As we saw before, returning Promise.resolve() is unnecessary; you can return the value directly.

getRestaurant()
  .catch(error => {
    // an error occurred; let's use a default value
    return 'a default value';
  })
  .then(resolvedValue => {
    console.log(resolvedValue); // a default value
  });

If you want to do something in response to an error but then pass it along, you can return a rejected Promise. This will make the outer Promise reject, so you can chain another .catch() call. This is useful if another part of your app also needs to know about the error.

getRestaurant()
  .catch(error => {
    console.error(error); // Something went wrong
    return Promise.reject(error);
  })
  .catch(error => {
    console.error(error); // Something went wrong
  });

Alternatively, you can use the throw keyword to throw the error.

getRestaurant()
  .catch(error => {
    console.error(error); // Something went wrong
    throw error;
  })
  .catch(error => {
    console.error(error); // Something went wrong
  });

Throwing an error also works inside a .then() callback:

getRestaurant()
  .then(() => {
    throw 'actually an error';
  })
  .catch(error => {
    console.error(error); // actually an error
  });

So the Promise returned by both .then() and .catch() works the same: they both return a Promise that resolves by default, and they only reject if you throw or return a rejected Promise.

Learn More

To dive in deeper into how Promises work, check out the Promises chapter of Dr. Axel Rauschmayer’s JavaScript for Impatient Programmers.