# Asynchronous Functions

The benefit of the asynchronous approach is that all user-written code runs in a single-threaded environment while avoiding blocking. This means for the most part, we can write code the way we are used to, with a few tweaks for asynchronous functions.

Consider the two approaches for reading and printing the contents of a file, below:

const fs = require('fs');

// Synchronous approach
console.log(data);

// Asynchronous approach
console.log(data);
});


In the synchronous function, the contents of the file are returned, and assigned to the variable data. Conversely, in the asynchronous approach the file contents are passed into a callback function that is invoked when the asynchronous process finishes (and when the callback phase of the Node event loop is reached). The function itself returns nothing (undefined in Node). The important difference between the two is in the first approach, the program waits for the file to be read. In the second, the program keeps executing lines of code after the asynchronous call, even though the file hasn’t been read yet.

## Asynchronous Callback Structure

In most Node libraries, the callback function provided to the asynchronous function follows the same format - the first parameter is an error value, which will be populated with text or object if an error occurred, and otherwise will be a falsy value (a value that evaluates to false, like false, null, undefined, or 0). Successive arguments are the data the function was intended to retrieve - i.e. the contents of the file in the above example. Of course, if an error was encountered, the later values may be wrong. Thus, most programmers follow the pattern of checking for an error at the start of the callback, and halting execution if one is encountered. Rewriting the example above, we would see:

fs.readFile("file.txt", function(err, data){
if(err) return console.error(err);
console.log(data);
});


If err is a truthy value (any non-falsy value, in this case an Exception object or a string), we log the error to the console and return, halting execution of the rest of the function.

## Common Asynchronous Misconceptions

It is very important to understand that the callback is executed at a future point in time, and execution continues to further lines of code. Consider this example:

var contents;
contents = data;
});
console.log(contents);


Assuming the file example.txt contains only the line "hello world", what do you think is printed?

You might think that it would be "hello world", but the console.log(data) happens before the callback function is executed, so it will be undefined. If you wanted to print the file contents, you would have to instead do something like:

var contents;
contents = data;
console.log(contents);
});


Because the logging now happens inside the callback value, it will only occur after the file has been read, and the results added to the event queue, which is where the contents variable is initialized.