[javascript] How do I return the response from an asynchronous call?


If you're not using jQuery in your code, this answer is for you

Your code should be something along the lines of this:

function foo() {
    var httpRequest = new XMLHttpRequest();
    httpRequest.open('GET', "/echo/json");
    return httpRequest.responseText;

var result = foo(); // always ends up being 'undefined'

Felix Kling did a fine job writing an answer for people using jQuery for AJAX, I've decided to provide an alternative for people who aren't.

(Note, for those using the new fetch API, Angular or promises I've added another answer below)

What you're facing

This is a short summary of "Explanation of the problem" from the other answer, if you're not sure after reading this, read that.

The A in AJAX stands for asynchronous. That means sending the request (or rather receiving the response) is taken out of the normal execution flow. In your example, .send returns immediately and the next statement, return result;, is executed before the function you passed as success callback was even called.

This means when you're returning, the listener you've defined did not execute yet, which means the value you're returning has not been defined.

Here is a simple analogy

function getFive(){ 
    var a;
    return a;


The value of a returned is undefined since the a=5 part has not executed yet. AJAX acts like this, you're returning the value before the server got the chance to tell your browser what that value is.

One possible solution to this problem is to code re-actively , telling your program what to do when the calculation completed.

function onComplete(a){ // When the code completes, do this

function getFive(whenDone){ 
    var a;

This is called CPS. Basically, we're passing getFive an action to perform when it completes, we're telling our code how to react when an event completes (like our AJAX call, or in this case the timeout).

Usage would be:


Which should alert "5" to the screen. (Fiddle).

Possible solutions

There are basically two ways how to solve this:

  1. Make the AJAX call synchronous (lets call it SJAX).
  2. Restructure your code to work properly with callbacks.

1. Synchronous AJAX - Don't do it!!

As for synchronous AJAX, don't do it! Felix's answer raises some compelling arguments about why it's a bad idea. To sum it up, it'll freeze the user's browser until the server returns the response and create a very bad user experience. Here is another short summary taken from MDN on why:

XMLHttpRequest supports both synchronous and asynchronous communications. In general, however, asynchronous requests should be preferred to synchronous requests for performance reasons.

In short, synchronous requests block the execution of code... ...this can cause serious issues...

If you have to do it, you can pass a flag: Here is how:

var request = new XMLHttpRequest();
request.open('GET', 'yourURL', false);  // `false` makes the request synchronous

if (request.status === 200) {// That's HTTP for 'ok'

2. Restructure code

Let your function accept a callback. In the example code foo can be made to accept a callback. We'll be telling our code how to react when foo completes.


var result = foo();
// code that depends on `result` goes here


foo(function(result) {
    // code that depends on `result`

Here we passed an anonymous function, but we could just as easily pass a reference to an existing function, making it look like:

function myHandler(result) {
    // code that depends on `result`

For more details on how this sort of callback design is done, check Felix's answer.

Now, let's define foo itself to act accordingly

function foo(callback) {
    var httpRequest = new XMLHttpRequest();
    httpRequest.onload = function(){ // when the request is loaded
       callback(httpRequest.responseText);// we're calling our method
    httpRequest.open('GET', "/echo/json");


We have now made our foo function accept an action to run when the AJAX completes successfully, we can extend this further by checking if the response status is not 200 and acting accordingly (create a fail handler and such). Effectively solving our issue.

If you're still having a hard time understanding this read the AJAX getting started guide at MDN.


I have a function foo which makes an Ajax request. How can I return the response from foo?

I tried returning the value from the success callback as well as assigning the response to a local variable inside the function and returning that one, but none of those ways actually return the response.

function foo() {
    var result;

        url: '...',
        success: function(response) {
            result = response;
            // return response; // <- I tried that one as well

    return result;

var result = foo(); // It always ends up being `undefined`.

Have a look at this example:

var app = angular.module('plunker', []);

app.controller('MainCtrl', function($scope,$http) {

    var getJoke = function(){
        return $http.get('http://api.icndb.com/jokes/random').then(function(res){
            return res.data.value;  

    getJoke().then(function(res) {

As you can see getJoke is returning a resolved promise (it is resolved when returning res.data.value). So you wait until the $http.get request is completed and then console.log(res.joke) is executed (as a normal asynchronous flow).

This is the plnkr:


The following example I have written shows how to

  • Handle asynchronous HTTP calls;
  • Wait for response from each API call;
  • Use Promise pattern;
  • Use Promise.All pattern to join multiple HTTP calls;

This working example is self-contained. It will define a simple request object that uses the window XMLHttpRequest object to make calls. It will define a simple function to wait for a bunch of promises to be completed.

Context. The example is querying the Spotify Web API endpoint in order to search for playlist objects for a given set of query strings:


For each item, a new Promise will fire a block - ExecutionBlock, parse the result, schedule a new set of promises based on the result array, that is a list of Spotify user objects and execute the new HTTP call within the ExecutionProfileBlock asynchronously.

You can then see a nested Promise structure, that lets you spawn multiple and completely asynchronous nested HTTP calls, and join the results from each subset of calls through Promise.all.

NOTE Recent Spotify search APIs will require an access token to be specified in the request headers:

-H "Authorization: Bearer {your access token}" 

So, you to run the following example you need to put your access token in the request headers:

var spotifyAccessToken = "YourSpotifyAccessToken";
var console = {
    log: function(s) {
        document.getElementById("console").innerHTML += s + "<br/>"

// Simple XMLHttpRequest
// based on https://davidwalsh.name/xmlhttprequest
SimpleRequest = {
    call: function(what, response) {
        var request;
        if (window.XMLHttpRequest) { // Mozilla, Safari, ...
            request = new XMLHttpRequest();
        } else if (window.ActiveXObject) { // Internet Explorer
            try {
                request = new ActiveXObject('Msxml2.XMLHTTP');
            catch (e) {
                try {
                  request = new ActiveXObject('Microsoft.XMLHTTP');
                } catch (e) {}

        // State changes
        request.onreadystatechange = function() {
            if (request.readyState === 4) { // Done
                if (request.status === 200) { // Complete
        request.open('GET', what, true);
        request.setRequestHeader("Authorization", "Bearer " + spotifyAccessToken);

var promiseAll = function(items, block, done, fail) {
    var self = this;
    var promises = [],
                   index = 0;
    items.forEach(function(item) {
        promises.push(function(item, i) {
            return new Promise(function(resolve, reject) {
                if (block) {
                    block.apply(this, [item, index, resolve, reject]);
        }(item, ++index))
    Promise.all(promises).then(function AcceptHandler(results) {
        if (done) done(results);
    }, function ErrorHandler(error) {
        if (fail) fail(error);
}; //promiseAll

// LP: deferred execution block
var ExecutionBlock = function(item, index, resolve, reject) {
    var url = "https://api.spotify.com/v1/"
    url += item;
    console.log( url )
    SimpleRequest.call(url, function(result) {
        if (result) {

            var profileUrls = JSON.parse(result).playlists.items.map(function(item, index) {
                return item.owner.href;
        else {
            reject(new Error("call error"));

arr = [

promiseAll(arr, function(item, index, resolve, reject) {
    console.log("Making request [" + index + "]")
    ExecutionBlock(item, index, resolve, reject);
}, function(results) { // Aggregated results

    console.log("All profiles received " + results.length);
    //console.log(JSON.stringify(results[0], null, 2));

    ///// promiseall again

    var ExecutionProfileBlock = function(item, index, resolve, reject) {
        SimpleRequest.call(item, function(result) {
            if (result) {
                var obj = JSON.parse(result);
                    name: obj.display_name,
                    followers: obj.followers.total,
                    url: obj.href
            } //result
    } //ExecutionProfileBlock

    promiseAll(results[0], function(item, index, resolve, reject) {
        //console.log("Making request [" + index + "] " + item)
        ExecutionProfileBlock(item, index, resolve, reject);
    }, function(results) { // aggregated results
        console.log("All response received " + results.length);
        console.log(JSON.stringify(results, null, 2));

    , function(error) { // Error


  function(error) { // Error
<div id="console" />

I have extensively discussed this solution here.

2017 answer: you can now do exactly what you want in every current browser and node 7+

This is quite simple:

  • Use the 'await', which will tell JavaScript to await a thing that returns a promise to be resolved
  • Add the 'async' keyword to the parent function

Here's a working version of your code:

(async function(){

var response = await superagent.get('...')


await is supported in all current browsers and node 8

ECMAScript 6 has 'generators' which allow you to easily program in an asynchronous style.

function* myGenerator() {
    let response = yield $.ajax("https://.com", {complete: asyncCallback});
    console.log("response is:", response);

    // examples of other things you can do
    yield setTimeout(asyncCallback, 1000);
    console.log("it delayed for 1000ms");
    while (response.statusText === "error") {
        response = yield* anotherGenerator();

To run the above code you do this:

const gen = myGenerator();
const asyncCallback = (...args) => gen.next(...args);

If you need to target browsers that don't support ES6 you can run the code through Babel or closure-compiler to generate ECMAScript 5.

Let's see the forest first before looking at the trees.

There are many informative answers with great details here, I won't repeat any of them. The key to programming in JavaScript is having first the correct mental model of overall execution.

  1. Your entry point(s) is executed as the result of an event. For example, a script tag with code is loaded into the browser. (Accordingly, this is why you may need to be concerned with the readiness of the page to run your code if it requires dom elements to be constructed first, etc.)
  2. Your code executes to completion--however many asynchronous calls it makes--without executing any of your callbacks, including XHR requests, set timeouts, dom event handlers, etc. Each of those callbacks waiting to be executed will sit in a queue, waiting their turn to be run after other events that fired have all finished execution.
  3. Each individual callback to an XHR request, set timeout or dom the event once invoked will then run to completion.

The good news is that if you understand this point well, you will never have to worry about race conditions. You should first and foremost thing of how you want to organize your code as essentially the response to different discrete events, and how you want to thread them together into a logical sequence. You can use promises or higher level new async/await as tools to that end, or you can roll your own.

But you shouldn't use any tactical tools to solve a problem until you are comfortable with the actual problem domain. Draw a map of these dependencies to know what needs to run when. Attempting an ad-hoc approach to all these callbacks is just not going to serve you well.

While promises and callbacks work fine in many situations, it is a pain in the rear to express something like:

if (!name) {
  name = async1();

You'd end up going through async1; check if name is undefined or not and call the callback accordingly.

async1(name, callback) {
  if (name)
  else {

async1(name, async2)

While it is okay in small examples it gets annoying when you have a lot of similar cases and error handling involved.

Fibers helps in solving the issue.

var Fiber = require('fibers')

function async1(container) {
  var current = Fiber.current
  var result
  doSomething(function(name) {
    result = name
  return result

Fiber(function() {
  var name
  if (!name) {
    name = async1()
  // Make any number of async calls from here

You can checkout the project here.

If you're using promises, this answer is for you.

This means AngularJS, jQuery (with deferred), native XHR's replacement (fetch), EmberJS, BackboneJS's save or any node library that returns promises.

Your code should be something along the lines of this:

function foo() {
    var data;
    // or $.get(...).then, or request(...).then, or query(...).then
        data = response.json();
    return data;

var result = foo(); // result is always undefined no matter what.

Felix Kling did a fine job writing an answer for people using jQuery with callbacks for AJAX. I have an answer for native XHR. This answer is for generic usage of promises either on the frontend or backend.

The core issue

The JavaScript concurrency model in the browser and on the server with NodeJS/io.js is asynchronous and reactive.

Whenever you call a method that returns a promise, the then handlers are always executed asynchronously - that is, after the code below them that is not in a .then handler.

This means when you're returning data the then handler you've defined did not execute yet. This in turn means that the value you're returning has not been set to the correct value in time.

Here is a simple analogy for the issue:

    function getFive(){
        var data;
        setTimeout(function(){ // set a timer for one second in the future
           data = 5; // after a second, do this
        }, 1000);
        return data;
    document.body.innerHTML = getFive(); // `undefined` here and not 5

The value of data is undefined since the data = 5 part has not executed yet. It will likely execute in a second but by that time it is irrelevant to the returned value.

Since the operation did not happen yet (AJAX, server call, IO, timer) you're returning the value before the request got the chance to tell your code what that value is.

One possible solution to this problem is to code re-actively , telling your program what to do when the calculation completed. Promises actively enable this by being temporal (time-sensitive) in nature.

Quick recap on promises

A Promise is a value over time. Promises have state, they start as pending with no value and can settle to:

  • fulfilled meaning that the computation completed successfully.
  • rejected meaning that the computation failed.

A promise can only change states once after which it will always stay at the same state forever. You can attach then handlers to promises to extract their value and handle errors. then handlers allow chaining of calls. Promises are created by using APIs that return them. For example, the more modern AJAX replacement fetch or jQuery's $.get return promises.

When we call .then on a promise and return something from it - we get a promise for the processed value. If we return another promise we'll get amazing things, but let's hold our horses.

With promises

Let's see how we can solve the above issue with promises. First, let's demonstrate our understanding of promise states from above by using the Promise constructor for creating a delay function:

function delay(ms){ // takes amount of milliseconds
    // returns a new promise
    return new Promise(function(resolve, reject){
        setTimeout(function(){ // when the time is up
            resolve(); // change the promise to the fulfilled state
        }, ms);

Now, after we converted setTimeout to use promises, we can use then to make it count:

function delay(ms){ // takes amount of milliseconds
  // returns a new promise
  return new Promise(function(resolve, reject){
    setTimeout(function(){ // when the time is up
      resolve(); // change the promise to the fulfilled state
    }, ms);

function getFive(){
  // we're RETURNING the promise, remember, a promise is a wrapper over our value
  return delay(100).then(function(){ // when the promise is ready
      return 5; // return the value 5, promises are all about return values
// we _have_ to wrap it like this in the call site, we can't access the plain value
   document.body.innerHTML = five;

Basically, instead of returning a value which we can't do because of the concurrency model - we're returning a wrapper for a value that we can unwrap with then. It's like a box you can open with then.

Applying this

This stands the same for your original API call, you can:

function foo() {
    // RETURN the promise
    return fetch("/echo/json").then(function(response){
        return response.json(); // process it inside the `then`

    // access the value inside the `then`

So this works just as well. We've learned we can't return values from already asynchronous calls but we can use promises and chain them to perform processing. We now know how to return the response from an asynchronous call.

ES2015 (ES6)

ES6 introduces generators which are functions that can return in the middle and then resume the point they were at. This is typically useful for sequences, for example:

function* foo(){ // notice the star, this is ES6 so new browsers/node/io only
    yield 1;
    yield 2;
    while(true) yield 3;

Is a function that returns an iterator over the sequence 1,2,3,3,3,3,.... which can be iterated. While this is interesting on its own and opens room for a lot of possibility there is one particular interesting case.

If the sequence we're producing is a sequence of actions rather than numbers - we can pause the function whenever an action is yielded and wait for it before we resume the function. So instead of a sequence of numbers, we need a sequence of future values - that is: promises.

This somewhat tricky but very powerful trick lets us write asynchronous code in a synchronous manner. There are several "runners" that do this for you, writing one is a short few lines of code but is beyond the scope of this answer. I'll be using Bluebird's Promise.coroutine here, but there are other wrappers like co or Q.async.

var foo = coroutine(function*(){
    var data = yield fetch("/echo/json"); // notice the yield
    // code here only executes _after_ the request is done
    return data.json(); // data is defined

This method returns a promise itself, which we can consume from other coroutines. For example:

var main = coroutine(function*(){
   var bar = yield foo(); // wait our earlier coroutine, it returns a promise
   // server call done here, code below executes when done
   var baz = yield fetch("/api/users/"+bar.userid); // depends on foo's result
   console.log(baz); // runs after both requests done

ES2016 (ES7)

In ES7, this is further standardized, there are several proposals right now but in all of them you can await promise. This is just "sugar" (nicer syntax) for the ES6 proposal above by adding the async and await keywords. Making the above example:

async function foo(){
    var data = await fetch("/echo/json"); // notice the await
    // code here only executes _after_ the request is done
    return data.json(); // data is defined

It still returns a promise just the same :)

Use a callback() function inside the foo() success. Try in this way. It is simple and easy to understand.  

var lat = "";
var lon = "";
function callback(data) {
    lat = data.lat;
    lon = data.lon;
function getLoc() {
    var url = "http://ip-api.com/json"
    $.getJSON(url, function(data) {


in node you can use deasync: https://www.npmjs.com/package/deasync

var deasync = require('deasync');
var cp = require('child_process');
var exec = deasync(cp.exec);
// output result of ls -la
    console.log(exec('ls -la'));
// done is printed last, as supposed, with cp.exec wrapped in deasync; first without.

Here are some approaches to work with asynchronous requests:

  1. Browser Promise object
  2. Q - A promise library for JavaScript
  3. A+ Promises.js
  4. jQuery deferred
  5. XMLHttpRequest API
  6. Using callback concept - As implementation in first answer

Example: jQuery deferred implementation to work with multiple requests

var App = App || {};

App = {
    getDataFromServer: function(){

      var self = this,
                 deferred = $.Deferred(),
                 requests = [];


      $.when.apply(jQuery, requests).done(function(xhrResponse) {
        return deferred.resolve(xhrResponse.result);
      return deferred;

    init: function(){

        this.getDataFromServer().done(_.bind(function(resp1, resp2) {

           // Do the operations which you wanted to do when you
           // get a response from Ajax, for example, log response.
        }, this));


For people who are using AngularJS, can handle this situation using Promises.

Here it says,

Promises can be used to unnest asynchronous functions and allows one to chain multiple functions together.

You can find a nice explanation here also.

Example found in docs mentioned below.

  promiseB = promiseA.then(
    function onSuccess(result) {
      return result + 1;
    ,function onError(err) {
      //Handle error

 // promiseB will be resolved immediately after promiseA is resolved 
 // and its value will be the result of promiseA incremented by 1.

Angular2 and Later

In Angular2 with look at the following example, but its recommended to use Observables with Angular2.

 search(term: string) {
     return this.http
  .map((response) => response.json())


You can consume that in this way,

search() {
      .then((result) => {
    this.result = result.artists.items;
  .catch((error) => console.error(error));

See the original post here. But Typescript does not support native es6 Promises, if you want to use it, you might need plugin for that.

Additionally here is the promises spec define here.

We find ourselves in a universe which appears to progress along a dimension we call "time". We don't really understand what time is, but we have developed abstractions and vocabulary that let us reason and talk about it: "past", "present", "future", "before", "after".

The computer systems we build--more and more--have time as an important dimension. Certain things are set up to happen in the future. Then other things need to happen after those first things eventually occur. This is the basic notion called "asynchronicity". In our increasingly networked world, the most common case of asynchonicity is waiting for some remote system to response to some request.

Consider an example. You call the milkman and order some milk. When it comes, you want to put it in your coffee. You can't put the milk in your coffee right now, because it is not here yet. You have to wait for it to come before putting it in your coffee. In other words, the following won't work:

var milk = order_milk();

Because JS has no way to know that it needs to wait for order_milk to finish before it executes put_in_coffee. In other words, it does not know that order_milk is asynchronous--is something that is not going to result in milk until some future time. JS, and other declarative languages, execute one statement after another without waiting.

The classic JS approach to this problem, taking advantage of the fact that JS supports functions as first-class objects which can be passed around, is to pass a function as a parameter to the asynchonous request, which it will then invoke when it has complete its task sometime in the future. That is the "callback" approach. It looks like this:


order_milk kicks off, orders the milk, then, when and only when it arrives, it invokes put_in_coffee.

The problem with this callback approach is that it pollutes the normal semantics of a function reporting its result with return; instead, functions must nost reports their results by calling a callback given as a parameter. Also, this approach can rapidly become unwieldy when dealing with longer sequences of events. For example, let's say that I want to wait for the milk to be put in the coffee, and then and only then perform a third step, namely drinking the coffee. I end up needing to write something like this:

order_milk(function(milk) { put_in_coffee(milk, drink_coffee); }

where I am passing to put_in_coffee both the milk to put in it, and also the action (drink_coffee) to execute once the milk has been put in. Such code becomes hard to write, and read, and debug.

In this case, we could rewrite the code in the question as:

var answer;
$.ajax('/foo.json') . done(function(response) {

function callback(data) {

Enter promises

This was the motivation for the notion of a "promise", which is a particular type of value which represents a future or asynchronous outcome of some sort. It can represent something that already happened, or that is going to happen in the future, or might never happen at all. Promises have a single method, named then, to which you pass an action to be executed when the outcome the promise represents has been realized.

In the case of our milk and coffee, we design order_milk to return a promise for the milk arriving, then specify put_in_coffee as a then action, as follows:

order_milk() . then(put_in_coffee)

One advantage of this is that we can string these together to create sequences of future occurrences ("chaining"):

order_milk() . then(put_in_coffee) . then(drink_coffee)

Let's apply promises to your particular problem. We will wrap our request logic inside a function, which returns a promise:

function get_data() {
  return $.ajax('/foo.json');

Actually, all we've done is added a return to the call to $.ajax. This works because jQuery's $.ajax already returns a kind of promise-like thing. (In practice, without getting into details, we would prefer to wrap this call so as return a real promise, or use some alternative to $.ajax that does so.) Now, if we want to load the file and wait for it to finish and then do something, we can simply say

get_data() . then(do_something)

for instance,

get_data() . 
  then(function(data) { console.log(data); });

When using promises, we end up passing lots of functions into then, so it's often helpful to use the more compact ES6-style arrow functions:

get_data() . 
  then(data => console.log(data));

The async keyword

But there's still something vaguely dissatisfying about having to write code one way if synchronous and a quite different way if asynchronous. For synchronous, we write


but if a is asynchronous, with promises we have to write

a() . then(b);

Above, we said "JS has no way to know that it needs to wait for the first call to finish before it executes the second". Wouldn't it be nice if there was some way to tell JS that? It turns out that there is--the await keyword, used inside a special type of function called an "async" function. This feature is part of the upcoming version of ES, but is already available in transpilers such as Babel given the right presets. This allows us to simply write

async function morning_routine() {
  var milk   = await order_milk();
  var coffee = await put_in_coffee(milk);
  await drink(coffee);

In your case, you would be able to write something like

async function foo() {
  data = await get_data();

The simplest solution is create a JavaScript function and call it for the Ajax success callback.

function callServerAsync(){
        url: '...',
        success: function(response) {


function successCallback(responseObj){
    // Do something like read the response and show data
    alert(JSON.stringify(responseObj)); // Only applicable to JSON response

function foo(callback) {

        url: '...',
        success: function(response) {
           return callback(null, response);

var result = foo(function(err, result){
          if (!err)

You can use this custom library (written using Promise) to make a remote call.

function $http(apiConfig) {
    return new Promise(function (resolve, reject) {
        var client = new XMLHttpRequest();
        client.open(apiConfig.method, apiConfig.url);
        client.onload = function () {
            if (this.status >= 200 && this.status < 300) {
                // Performs the function "resolve" when this.status is equal to 2xx.
                // Your logic here.
            else {
                // Performs the function "reject" when this.status is different than 2xx.
        client.onerror = function () {

Simple usage example:

    method: 'get',
    url: 'google.com'
}).then(function(response) {
}, function(error) {