Understanding the async behavior is one of the largest milestone in learning JavaScript. I will give you a very first overview what it is.

Procedural code

JavaScript is a language which supports procedural code. What does this mean? It means just the code runs line by line:

const variable;
variable = 'example';

The order what happens is easy to understand:

  • The variable gets defined
  • It gets assigned with example
  • It gets logged out to the console

Event loop and process.nextTick()

But procedural is not all, JavaScript have an event loop. It runs all the code line by line, have a look if there is something next in the event loop, runs this code line by line and so on:

process.nextTick(() => {

The order the code runs now is not anymore the same order we wrote the lines:

  • First 1 gets logged
  • Then we add a function to the end of the event loop
  • 2 gets logged
  • The current loop is over, JavaScript look at the event loop, find and run our function we added, 3 gets logged

This is what single threaded and non blocking means. The code run in a single thread, only one part of the code can run at the same time. But its possible to add something to the end of the event loop without blocking the followed code.

Async behavior

With this in mind we now better understand how async behaves:

let user;
db.findUserById(1, record => {
  user = record;

We get an undefined, because db.findUserById() add the callback at the end of the event loop. So the console.log(user) runs before the callback which assign user to the record.

Event driven

In the last example we got in touch with another concept named event driven. The db.findUserById() will not run immediately at the end of the event loop, because the database need some time to find the user. It register an event which will be triggered after the user is found. But that doesn’t change the async behavior, because also if the database is fast enough to find the user, the callback can’t run before the current code in the event loop is finished.


It’s a very important step to understand async and start to think about which functions runs async and which code runs in which order.

Read more about how to write async code in JavaScript.