paint-brush
Introduction to Web Workers API in JavaScriptby@mozilla
170 reads

Introduction to Web Workers API in JavaScript

by Mozilla ContributorsMay 4th, 2020
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

Web Workers makes it possible to run a script operation in a background thread separate from the main execution thread of a web application. The advantage of this is that laborious processing can be performed in a separate thread, allowing the main (usually the UI) thread to run without being blocked/slowed down. You can run whatever code you like inside the worker thread, with some exceptions. Workers run in another global context that is represented by either a DedicatedWorkerGlobalScope object (in the case of dedicated workers - workers that are utilized by a single script), or a SharedWorker globalScope.

Company Mentioned

Mention Thumbnail
featured image - Introduction to Web Workers API in JavaScript
Mozilla Contributors HackerNoon profile picture

Web Workers makes it possible to run a script operation in a background thread separate from the main execution thread of a web application. The advantage of this is that laborious processing can be performed in a separate thread, allowing the main (usually the UI) thread to run without being blocked/slowed down.

Web Workers concepts and usage

A worker is an object created using a constructor (e.g.

Worker()
) that runs a named JavaScript file — this file contains the code that will run in the worker thread; workers run in another global context that is different from the current
window
.

This context is represented by either a

DedicatedWorkerGlobalScope
object (in the case of dedicated workers - workers that are utilized by a single script), or a
SharedWorkerGlobalScope
(in the case of shared workers - workers that are shared between multiple scripts).

You can run whatever code you like inside the worker thread, with some exceptions. For example, you can't directly manipulate the DOM from inside a worker, or use some default methods and properties of the

window
object.

But you can use a large number of items available under

window
, including WebSockets, and data storage mechanisms like IndexedDB. See Functions and classes available to workers for more details.

Data is sent between workers and the main thread via a system of messages — both sides send their messages using the

postMessage()
method, and respond to messages via the
onmessage
event handler (the message is contained within the
Message
event's data property). The
data
is copied rather than shared.

Workers may in turn spawn new workers, as long as those workers are
hosted within the same origin as the parent page.  In addition, workers
may use

XMLHttpRequest
for network I/O, with the exception that the
responseXML
and
channel
attributes on
XMLHttpRequest
always return
null
.

In addition to dedicated workers, there are other types of worker:

  • Shared workers are workers that can be utilized by multiple scripts running in different windows, IFrames, etc., as long as they are in the same domain as the worker. They are a little more complex than dedicated workers — scripts must communicate via an active port. See
    SharedWorker
    for more details.
  • ServiceWorkers essentially act as proxy servers that sit between web applications, the browser, and the network (when available). They are intended, among other things, to enable the creation of effective offline experiences, intercept network requests and take appropriate action based on whether the network is available, and update assets residing on the server. They will also allow access to push notifications and background sync APIs.
  • Chrome Workers are a Firefox-only type of worker that you can use if you are developing add-ons and want to use workers in extensions and have access to js-ctypes in your worker. See
    ChromeWorker
    for more details. 
  • Audio Workers provide the ability for direct scripted audio processing to be done inside a web worker context.
Note: As per the Web workers Spec, worker error events should not bubble (see bug 1188141. This has been implemented in Firefox 42.

Web Worker interfaces

AbstractWorker

Abstracts properties and methods common to all kind of workers (i.e.

Worker
or
SharedWorker
).

Worker

Represents a running worker thread, allowing you to pass messages to the running worker code.

WorkerLocation

Defines the absolute location of the script executed by the

Worker
.

SharedWorker

Represents a specific kind of worker that can be accessed from several browsing contexts, being several windows, iframes or even workers.

WorkerGlobalScope

Represents the generic scope of any worker (doing the same job as

Window
does for normal web content). Different types of worker have scope objects that inherit from this interface and add more specific features.

DedicatedWorkerGlobalScope

Represents the scope of a dedicated worker, inheriting from

WorkerGlobalScope
and adding some dedicated features.

SharedWorkerGlobalScope

Represents the scope of a shared worker, inheriting from

WorkerGlobalScope
and adding some dedicated features.

WorkerNavigator

Represents the identity and state of the user agent (the client):

Examples

We have created a couple of simple demos to show basic usage:

You can find out more information on how these demos work in Using web workers.

Specifications

See also

Credits