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JavaScript-to-JavaScript code rewriter for taming async-callback-style code

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This package is a source-to-source translator that outputs JavaScript. The input dialect looks a lot like JavaScript, but introduces the await primitive, which allows asynchronous callback style code to work more like straight-line threaded code. tamejs is written in JavaScript.

One of the core powers of the tamejs rewriting idea is that it's fully compatible with existing vanilla-JS code (like node.js's libraries). That is, existing node.js can call code that's been output by the tamejs rewriter, and conversely, code output by the tamejs rewriter can call existing node.js code. Thus, tamejs is incrementally deployable --- you can keep all of your old code and just write the new bits in tamejs! So try it out and let us know what you think.


Now available in Version v0.4 just released, with initial support for what everyone has been asking for --- Tame-aware stack traces! See the section "Debugging and Stack Traces..." below for more details. Also, we've added autocbs, that fire whenever your tamed function returns.

Code Examples

Here is a simple example that prints "hello" 10 times, with 100ms delay slots in between:

for (var i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
    await { setTimeout (defer (), 100); }
    console.log ("hello");

There is one new language addition here, the await { ... } block, and also one new primitive function, defer. The two of them work in concert. A function must "wait" at the close of a await block until all deferrals made in that await block are fulfilled. The function defer returns a callback, and a callee in an await block can fulfill a deferral by simply calling the callback it was given. In the code above, there is only one deferral produced in each iteration of the loop, so after it's fulfilled by setTimer in 100ms, control continues past the await block, onto the log line, and back to the next iteration of the loop. The code looks and feels like threaded code, but is still in the asynchronous idiom (if you look at the rewritten code output by the tamejs compiler).

This next example does the same, while showcasing power of the await{..} language addition. In the example below, the two timers are fired in parallel, and only when both have fulfilled their deferrals (after 100ms), does progress continue...

for (var i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
    await { 
        setTimeout (defer (), 100); 
        setTimeout (defer (), 10); 
    console.log ("hello");

Now for something more useful. Here is a parallel DNS resolver that will exit as soon as the last of your resolutions completes:

var dns = require("dns");

function do_one (cb, host) {
    var err, ip;
    await { dns.resolve (host, "A", defer (err, ip));}
    if (err) { console.log ("ERROR! " + err); } 
    else { console.log (host + " -> " + ip); }

function do_all (lst) {
    await {
        for (var i = 0; i < lst.length; i++) {
            do_one (defer (), lst[i]);

do_all (process.argv.slice (2));

You can run this on the command line like so:

node src/13out.js

And you will get a response: ->,,,, ->,,,,, -> -> ->,

If you want to run these DNS resolutions in serial (rather than parallel), then the change from above is trivial: just switch the order of the await and for statements above:

function do_all (lst) {
    for (var i = 0; i < lst.length; i++) {
        await {
            do_one (defer (), lst[i]);

Slightly More Advanced Example

We've shown parallel and serial work flows, what about something in between? For instance, we might want to make progress in parallel on our DNS lookups, but not smash the server all at once. A compromise is windowing, which can be achieved in tamejs conveniently in a number of different ways. The 2007 academic paper on tame suggests a technique called a rendezvous. A rendezvous is implemented in tamejs as a pure JS construct (no rewriting involved), which allows a program to continue as soon as the first deferral is fulfilled (rather than the last):

function do_all (lst, windowsz) {
    var rv = new tame.Rendezvous ();
    var nsent = 0;
    var nrecv = 0;

    while (nrecv < lst.length) {
        if (nsent - nrecv < windowsz && nsent < n) {
            do_one ( (nsent).defer (), lst[nsent]);
        } else {
            var evid;
            await { rv.wait (defer (evid)); }
            console.log ("got back lookup nsent=" + evid);

This code maintains two counters: the number of requests sent, and the number received. It keeps looping until the last lookup is received. Inside the loop, if there is room in the window and there are more to send, then send; otherwise, wait and harvest. Rendezvous.defer makes a deferral much like the defer primitive, but it can be labeled with an idenfitier. This way, the waiter can know which deferral has fulfileld. In this case we use the variable nsent as the defer ID --- it's the ID of this deferral in launch order. When we harvest the deferral, rv.wait fires its callback with the ID of the deferral that's harvested.

Note that with windowing, the arrival order might not be the same as the issue order. In this example, a slower DNS lookup might arrive after faster ones, even if issued before them.

Composing Serial And Parallel Patterns

In Tame, arbitrary composition of serial and parallel control flows is possible with just normal functional decomposition. Therefore, we don't allow direct await nesting. With inline anonymous JavaScript functions, you can consicely achieve interesting patterns. The code below launches 10 parallel computations, each of which must complete two serial actions before finishing:

function f(cb) {
    await {
        for (var i = 0; i < n; i++) {
            (function (cb) {
                await { setTimeout (defer (), 5*Math.random ()); }
                await { setTimeout (defer (), 4*Math.random ()); }
             })(defer ());


Most of the times, a tamed function will call its callback and return at the same time. To get this behavior "for free", you can simply name this callback autocb and it will fire whenver your tamed function returns. For instance, the above example could be equivalently written as:

function f(autocb) {
    await {
        for (var i = 0; i < n; i++) {
            (function (autocb) {
                await { setTimeout (defer (), 5*Math.random ()); }
                await { setTimeout (defer (), 4*Math.random ()); }
             })(defer ());

In the first example, recall, you call cb() explicitly. In this example, because the callback is named autocb, it's fired automatically when the tamed function returns.

If your callback needs to fulfill with a value, then you can pass that value via return. Consider the following function, that waits for a random number of seconds between 0 and 4. After waiting, it then fulfills its callback cb with the amount of time it waited:

function rand_wait(cb) {
    var time = Math.floor (Math.random()*5);
    if (time == 0) {
         cb(0); return;
    await setTimeout (defer (), time);
    cb(time); // return here, implicitly.....

This function can written equivalently with autocb as:

function rand_wait(autocb) {
    var time = Math.floor (Math.random()*5);
    if (time == 0) {
        return 0;
    await setTimeout (defer (), time);
    return time;

Implicitly, return 0; is mapped by the tamejs compiler to autocb(0); return.

Installing and Using

Install via npm:

npm install -g tamejs

You can their either use the tamejs compiler on the command line:

tamejs -o <outfile> <infile>
node <outfile> # or whatever you want

Or as an extension to node's module import system:

require ('tamejs').register (); // register the *.tjs suffix
require ("mylib.tjs");          // then use node.js's import as normal

If you want a different extension, this will work:

require ('tamejs').register ('tamejs'); // register the *.tamejs suffix
require ("mylib.tamejs");               // then use node.js's import as normal

Or, finally, you can call register to do a few things at once, including multiple suffix registrations:

// Will register suffixes 'tamejs' and 'yojs'; will
// also enable tame stack tracing, and disable caching of
// .tjs files included at runtime
require ('tamejs').register ({ extension       : [ 'tamejs', 'yojs'], 
                               catchExceptions : true,
			       disableCache    : true })
require ("mylib.tamejs");
require ("yourlib.yojs");

API and Documentation


defer can be called in one of two ways.

Inline Variable Declaration

The first allows for inline declaration of the callback slot variables:

await { dns.resolve ("", defer (var err, ip)); }

In the tamed output code, the variables err and ip will be declared right before the start of the await block that contains them.

Generic LHS Assignment w/ "Rest" Parameters

The second approach does not auto-declare the callback slot variables, but allows more flexibility:

var d = {};
var err = [];
await { dns.resolve ("", defer (err[0], d.ip)); }

This second version allows anything you'd normally put on the left-hand side of an assignment.

For callbcacks with variadic return, tamejs also supports the rest parameter proposal. The above code could have been written as:

var d = {};
var err = [];
var rest;
await { dns.resolve ("", defer (; }
err[0] = rest[0];
d.ip = rest[1];

And of course, it's allowable to mix and match:

var d = {};
var err = [];
var rest;
await { dns.resolve ("", defer (err[0],; }
d.ip = rest[0];


The Rendezvous is a not a core tamejs feature, meaning it's written as a straight-ahead JavaScript library. It's quite useful for more advanced control flows, so we've included it in the main runtime library.

The Rendezvous is similar to a blocking condition variable (or a "Hoare sytle monitor") in threaded programming. (i).defer (slots,...)

Associate a new deferral with the given Rendezvous, whose deferral ID is i, and whose callbacks slots are supplied as slots. Those slots can take the two forms of defer return as above (i.e., declarative, or generic). As with standard defer, the return value of the Rendezvous's defer is fed to a function expecting a callback. As soon as that callback fires (and the deferral is fulfilled), the provided slots will be filled with the arguments to that callback.

tame.Rendezvous.defer (slots,...)

You don't need to explicitly assign an ID to a deferral generated from a Rendezvous. If you don't, one will automatically be assigned, in ascending order starting from 0.

tame.Rendezvous.wait (cb)

Wait until the next deferral on this rendezvous is fulfilled. When it is, callback cb with the ID of the fulfilled deferral. If an unclaimed deferral fulfilled before wait was called, then cb is fired immediately.

Though wait would work with any hand-rolled JS function expecting a callback, it's meant to work particularly well with tamejs's await function.


Here is an example that shows off the different inputs and outputs of a Rendezvous. It does two parallel DNS lookups, and reports only when the first returns:

var hosts = [ "", "" ];
var ips = [ ], errs = [];
var rv = new tame.Rendezvous ();
for (var i in hosts) {
    dns.resolve (hosts[i], (i).defer (errs[i], ips[i]));
await rv.wait (defer (var which));
console.log (hosts[which] + " -> " + ips[which]);


A connector is a tamejs function that takes as input a callback, and outputs another callback. The best example is a timeout, given here:

connectors.timeout(cb, time, res = [])

Timeout an arbitrary async operation.

Given a callback cb, a time to wait time, and an array to output a result res, return another callback. This connector will set up a race between the callback returned to the caller, and the timer that fires after time milliseconds. If the callback returned to the caller fires first, then fill res[0] = true;. If the timer won (i.e., if there was a timeout), then fill res[0] = false;.

In the following example, we timeout a DNS lookup after 100ms:

require ('tamejs').register (); // since connectors is a tamed library...
var timeout = require ('tamejs/lib/connectors').timeout;
var info = [];
var host = "";
await dns.lookup (host, timeout (defer (var err, ip), 100, info));
if (!info[0]) {
    console.log (host + ": timed out!");
} else if (err) {
    console.log (host + ": error: " + err);
} else {
    console.log (host + " -> " + ip);

The Pipeliner library

There's another way to do the windowed DNS lookups we saw earlier --- you can use the control flow library called Pipeliner, which manages the common pattern of having "m calls total, with only n of them in flight at once, where m > n."

The Pipeliner class is available in the connectors library:

require ('tamejs').register (); // since connectors is a tamed library...
var Pipeliner = require ('tamejs/lib/connectors').Pipeliner;
var pipeliner = new Pipeliner (w,s);

Using the pipeliner, we can rewrite our earlier windowed DNS lookups as follows:

function do_all (lst, windowsz) {
    var pipeliner = new Pipeliner (windowsz);

    for (var i in lst) {
        await pipeliner.waitInQueue (defer ());
        do_one (pipeliner.defer (), lst[i]);
    await pipeliner.flush (defer ());

The API is as follows:

new Pipeliner (w, s)

Create a new Pipeliner controller, with a window of at most w calls out at once, and waiting s seconds before launching each call. The default values are w = 10 and s = 0.

Pipeliner.waitInQueue (c)

Wait in a queue until there's room in the window to launch a new call. The callback c will be fulfilled when there is room.

Pipeliner.defer (...args)

Create a new deferal for this pipeline, and pass it to whatever function is doing the actual work. When the work completes, fulfill this deferal --- that will update the accounting in the pipeliner class, allowing queued actions to proceed.

Pipeliner.flush (c)

Wait for the pipeline to clear out. Fulfills the callback c when the last action in the pipeline is done.

Debugging and Stack Traces -- Now Greatly Improved!

An oft-cited problem with async-style programming, with Tame or hand-rolled, is that stack traces are often incomplete or incomprehensible. If an exception is caught in a tamed function, the stack trace will only show the "bottom half" of the call stack, or all of those functions that are descendents of the main event loop. The "top half" of the call stack, telling you "who really called this function," is probably long gone.

Tame has a workaround to this problem. When a tamed function is entered, the runtime will find the first argument to the function that was output by defer(). Such callbacks are annotated to contain the file, line and function where they were created. They also are annotated to hold a refernce to defer()-generated callback passed to the function in which they were created. This chaining creates an implicit stack that can be walked when an exception is thrown.

Consider this example:

tame.catchExceptions ();

function foo (y) {
    await setTimeout (defer (), 10);
    throw new Error ("oh no!")

function bar (x) {
    await foo (defer ());

function baz () {
   await bar (defer ());

baz ();

The function tame.catchExceptions sets the uncaughtException handler in Node to print out the standard callstack, and also the Tame "callstack", and then to exit. The callback generated by defer() in the function bar holds a reference to x. Similarly, the callback generated in foo holds a reference to y. Here's what happens when this program is run:

Error: oh no!
    at /home/max/node/tamejs/8.js:31:23
    at callChain (/home/max/node/tamejs/lib/runtime.js:38:2)
    at Deferrals._continuation (/home/max/node/tamejs/lib/runtime.js:38:23)
    at Deferrals._fulfill (/home/max/node/tamejs/lib/runtime.js:149:11)
    at Object._onTimeout (/home/max/node/tamejs/lib/runtime.js:64:4)
    at Timer.callback (timers.js:83:39)
Tame 'stack' trace:
    at bar (8.tjs:10)
    at baz (8.tjs:15)

The first stack trace is the standard Node stacktrace. It is inscrutable, since it mainly covers Tame internals, and has line numbering relative to the translated file (I still haven't fixed this bug, sorry). The second stack trace is much better. It tells the sequence of tamed calls the lead to this exception. Line numbers are relative to the original input file.

In future releases, we'll be cleaning this feature up, but for now, it's a marked improvement over previous versions of tamejs.

The relavant API is as follows:

tame.stackWalk (cb)

Start from the given cb, or use the currently active callback if none was given, and walk up the Tame-generated stack. Return a list of call site descriptions. You can call this from your own exception-handling code.


Tell the Tame runtime to catch uncaught exceptions, and to print a Tame-aware stack dump as above.

How It's Implemented In JavaScript

The key idea behind the tamejs implementation is Continuation-Passing Style (CPS) compilation. That is, elements of code like for, while and if statements are converted to anonymous JavaScript functions written in continuation-passing style. Then, await blocks just grab those continuations, store them away, and call them when the time is right (i.e., when all relevant deferrals have been fulfilled).

For example, the simple program:

if (true) { await { setTimeout (defer (), 100); } }

Is rewritten to something like the following (which has been hand-simplified for demonstration purposes):

var tame = require('tamejs').runtime;
var f0 = function (k) {
    var f1 = function (k) {
        var __cb = new tame.Deferrals (k);
        setTimeout ( __cb.defer(), 100 ) ;
    if (true) {
        f1 (k);
    } else {
f0 (tame.end);

That is, the function f0 is the rewrite of the if statement. Function f0 takes as a parameter the continuation k, which signifies "the rest of the program". In the case of this trivial program, the rest of the program is just a call to the exit function tame.end. Inside the if statement, there are two branches. In the true branch, we call into f1, the rewrite of the await block, and in the false branch, it's just go on with the rest of the program by calling the continuation k. Function f1 is doing something a little bit different --- it's passing its continuation into the pure JavaScript class tame.Deferrals, which will hold onto it until all associated deferrals (like the one passed to setTimeout) have been fulfilled. When the last deferral is fulfileld (here after 100ms), then the tame.Deferrals class calls the continuation k, which here refers to tame.end.

The tamejs implementation uses other CPS-conversions for while and for loops, turning standard iteration into tail-recursion. If you are curious to learn more, examine the output of the tamejs compiler to see what your favorite JavaScript control flow is translated to. The translation of switch is probably the trickiest.

As you might guess, the output code is less efficient than the input code. All of the anonymous functions add bloat. This unfortunate side-effect of our approach is mitigated by skipping CPS compilation when possible. Functions with no await blocks are passed through unmolested. Similarly, blocks within tamed functions that don't call await can also pass through.

Another concern is that the use of tail recursion in translated loops might overflow the runtime callstack. That is certainly true for programs like the following:

while (true) { await { i++; } }

...but you should never write programs like these! That is, there's no reason to have a await block unless your program needs to wait for some asynchronous event, like a timer fired, a packet arrival, or a user action. Programs like these:

while (true) { await { setTimeout (defer (), 1); i++; } }

will not overflow the runtime stack, since the stack is unwound every iteration through the loop (via setTimeout). And these are the types of programs that you should be using await for.


See the github issue tracker for the more immediate issues.

  • Optimizations
    • Can passThrough blocks in a tamed function that don't have awaits, so can get more aggressive here --- in progress, but can still seek out some more optimizations....
  • Parsing
    • Switch to uglify's parser? Would have to slightly modify it.


The Tame rewriting idea come about at OkCupid in 2006. Until that time, the website was written in an entirely asynchronous-callback-based style with OKWS in C++. This serving technology was extremely fast, and led to huge cost savings in hardware and hosting, but as the site's code grew, it became increasingly unmanageable. Simple serial loops with network access, like the sequential DNS example above, required "stack-ripping" into multiple mutually recursive calls. As more employees began to work the code, and editted code that they didn't write, development slowed to a crawl.

Chris Coyne, OkCupid's director of product, demanded that something be done. The requirements were manifold. The new solution had to be compatible with existing code; it had to be incrementally deployable, so that the whole codebase wouldn't need to be rewritten at once; it had to be nearly as fast as the status quo; it had to clean the code up, so that it was readable; it had to speed up and simplify development.

The answer that emerged was Tame for C++. It's a source-to-source translator that mapped C++ with a few language additions into regular C++, which is then compiled with a standard compiler (like gcc). The key implementation ideas behind Tame C++ are: (1) generate a heap-allocated "closure" for each tamed function; (2) use labels and goto to jump back into tamed function as asynchronous events fired. Once Tame was brought to bear on OkCupid's code, it offered almost all of the flexibilty and performance of hand-crafted asynchronous-callback-passing code without any of the stack-ripping headaches. New employees picked it right up, and contributed to the incremental effort to modernize OkCupid's code to the Tame dialect.

OkCupid to this day runs Tame and OKWS in C++ to churn out high-performance, parallel applications, without worrying about traditional thread-based headaches, like deadlock and race-conditions. Our goal with tamejs is to bring these benefits to JavaScript and the node.js platform.

See our "Glossy Page"

See for documentation and information on tamejs.

pubjs is yet another a node.js templating engine. But it allows arbtirarily nested code and output sections. Check it out, if you like this sample code:

  foreach (match in matches) {
    if (match.score > 60) {{<div>Excellent Match (%{match.score})</div>}}
    else                  {{<div>Crap Match  (%{match.score})</div>}}
    foreach (friend in match.friends) {{
        Has a friend named %{}
          if (friend.gender == "f") {{ and she's a girl }}

Also Available In C++!

As described above, the Tame source-to-source translator was originally written for asynchronous C++ code. It's an actively maintained project, and it is in widespread use at See the sfslite/tame Wiki for more information, or read the 2007 Usenix ATC paper.


  • Max Krohn (first name AT okcupid DOT com)
  • Chris Coyne (first name AT okcupid DOT com)
  • Eddie Kohler (original Tame coauthor, and advisor)
  • Martin Schürrer (vim mode; see extras/vim, see


Copyright (c) 2011 Max Krohn for HumorRainbow, Inc., under the MIT license



Last updated on 03 Jul 2014

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