Yann Gouffon, JavaScript Developer and photographer

Generators, the forgotten spec

Yann Gouffon — April 28, 2019

In a time just before the rise of the Promises, they came and fell to oblivion in a blink. Sadly nobody uses them, including me, but generators are still in the game (or not). Maybe you remember this strange yield expression or the tiny * declaration to transform your dummy function into a beautiful generator.

So yes, you can use Promise, async/await, almost any Array methods or even recursions to do exactly what generators can do AND without the need of knowing them. It's a fact and I'm the first to approach my code this way, but maybe, we can take a closer look and try to use all the goodness that JavaScript as to offer, generators included.

A simple form

Add a star (*) to your function declaration, multiple returns (yield) and voilà, you just have created a generator!

const generator = function* () {
  yield 1;
  yield 2;
  yield 3;

const counter = generator();
console.log(counter.next()); // {value: 1, done: false}
console.log(counter.next()); // {value: 2, done: false}
console.log(counter.next()); // {value: 3, done: false}
console.log(counter.next()); // {value: undefined, done: true}

A simple API

There are only three methods attached to the Generator's prototype :

  • .next(): return the next “yielded” value
  • .return(): return the given value and force the generator to end (kill switch)
  • .throw(): throw an error to the generator and finish it in a more errorish way

When to use it ?

Generators are very useful when you need a method that you can replay on demand with some kind of inner evolution. Something not as autonomous as a recursive method and not as dummy as a multi-parameters function. In summary, an iterator.

In the following example, we want to add a new item to our list when clicking on a button, but with a maximum of 10 items :

const itemMaker = function* ({ max }) {
  for (let i = 0; i <= max; i++) {
    const item = document.createElement('li');
    item.innerHTML = `item #${i}`;
    yield item;

const items = itemMaker({ max: 10 });
const list = document.getElementById('list');
const button = document.getElementById('btn');

button.addEventListener('click', () => {
  const newItem = items.next();
  if (!newItem.done) list.appendChild(newItem.value);

It illustrates how cool generator can be in that case. You can keep the iteration logic inside your method, no need to keep track of the current or last index in an external variable. Simple, clear, elegant, plus the useful done value to check the progress.


Generators are maybe not the most used JavaScript expression, but still, there are cases where they can be very handy. See it as a special type of iterator. Now, it's your call to choose if you prefer generators over the very appealing async/await syntax 😇

Supported with 💛 by Antistatique