By: Raji Ayinla, Codesmith Intern
“A single-threaded non-blocking asynchronous concurrent language,” you answer.
“Yes, but what does that mean and how would you explain that to, say, someone on the UX team?”
What is a single-threaded language?
Simply put, a single threaded language uses a single call stack, meaning that it can only fire one event at a time. If you’re not exactly sure how to conceptualize a call stack, just picture a Jenga stack.
Note: If you’ve been wondering what all this talk about V8 is, well now you know. It’s a call stack and a heap (memory allocation) that is specific to the chrome browser. There are several others. For example, Firefox’s engine is Rhino.
What the heck is non-blocking and asynchronicity and concurrency?
Well, let us try to understand what blocking is first. In a nutshell, blocking is the traffic caused by too many synchronous calls. Imagine a narrow exit that funnels drivers into a single lane road. That road is guarded by a traffic police who only allows one car at a time to go beyond his stop sign.
Now imagine the headache you’d have if you’re the fifteenth car in line and you have to get to the emergency room. Similarly, websites coded with blocking code make for a clunky UI with images that load slower than a snail can run.
Here’s where things get really interesting.
We’ve mentioned Web APIs and an event loop. There’s also a callback queue. If you’re getting slightly confused, don’t panic. The comic will explain everything.
Web APIs: a third party data store that holds a message for however long it is instructed to hold it.
The callback queue: a loading dock for calls
The event loop: a little green droid with one simple job–check if the stack is empty. If it’s empty, take an event from the queue and place it onto the stack. Continue to do so while the condition is true.
On a very asynchronous day, all the call operator has to do is load all of the Web API functions, then he can leave the task to both the Web API and the mini droid aka the event loop. The Web APIs store the callbacks until they are ready to be staged onto the call back queue. All the event loop (mini droid) has to do is check if the stack is empty and place the callback onto the stack. Meanwhile, the call operator can focus on more important functions, like dinner with the wife.
Philip Robert’s awesome talk at JSConf EU 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aGhZQkoFbQ
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