Node.js 8: util.promisify() 💡

Importance of Teaching Children to Code

Node.js 8 has a new utility function: util.promisify(). It converts a callback-based function to a Promise-based one. Since we are on this topic I would like to highlight one of the most straight forward explanation for promises that I have come across by Jecelyn Yeen

Imagine you are a kid. Your mom promises you that she'll get you a new phone next week. You don't know if you will get that phone until next week. Your mom can either really buy you a brand new phone, or stand you up and withhold the phone if she is not happy :(. Jecelyn Yeen

So now, what does util.promisify do?

In a very abstract way, it does the following:

Takes a function following the common Node.js callback style, i.e. taking a (err, value) => ... callback as the last argument, and returns a version that returns promises.


promisify(original) assumes that original is a function taking a callback as its final argument in all cases, and the returned function will result in undefined behaviour if it does not.

If you haven't got it already, it basically, a utility function that takes a regular function and converts it to a function that returns a promise.

It has the following syntax:

const wait = (delay, callback) => {
  /* … */
  1. The last parameter of the function passed to promisify must be a callback
  2. The callback must follow Node's callback style

But at the same time you can couple this with async to avoid the callback hell effectively.

Callback Hell

Lets see it in action
const { promisify } = require('util');

const fs = require('fs');
const readFileAsync = promisify(fs.readFile); // (A)

//some path
const filePath = process.argv[2];

readFileAsync(filePath, { encoding: 'utf8' })
  .then((text) => {
    console.log('CONTENT:', text);
  .catch((err) => {
    console.log('ERROR:', err);

us implement the same using asnyc function:

const { promisify } = require('util');

const fs = require('fs');
const readFileAsync = promisify(fs.readFile);

const filePath = process.argv[2];

async function main() {
  try {
    const text = await readFileAsync(filePath, { encoding: 'utf8' });
    console.log('CONTENT:', text);
  } catch (err) {
    console.log('ERROR:', err);

There are a few changes and qwirks you should adher to before implementing promisify, they are:

Promisifying functions whose callbacks have more than two parameters

callbacks of the following functions receive more than one result value (in addition to the error value):


If you promisify one of these functions, it returns an object of values (not a single value). For example, the callback of dns.lookup() has the following callback parameters:

  • err : Error
  • address : string
  • family : integer
const util = require('util');
const dns = require('dns');
const lookupAsync = util.promisify(dns.lookup);

lookupAsync('').then((obj) => console.log(obj));
// { address: '', family: 4 }
A polyfill for older versions of Node.js

There is a polyfill avaliable to take care of the older version of node servers you'll be running your application on. It can be installed via npm in the following manner:

npm install util.promisify

Now you can patch module utl on older versions of Node

const util = require('util');

const fs = require('fs');
const readFileAsync = util.promisify(fs.readFile);

I hope this post will make your life a tad easier. I recommend signing up to our newsletter to get the most of what's happening in the grizzly world.

Happy Grizzly 🐻 Coding

Zubair Ahmed

Published on 2017-09-29

Zubair Ahmed

I'm a developer, an entrepreneur, an ambitious tweaker, author, traveller and over-scrutinizer 😝 . I work at RAZRLAB as the Chief Technology Officer.