Handling rejected promises in React with an error boundary

Treat unhandled promise rejections (exceptions in async code) consistently with regular synchronous exceptions in React.

Error Boundaries

In React, an error boundary is a component responsible for trapping unhandled exceptions & responding appropriately (e.g. logging to an API and/or rendering a friendly error page for the user).

Error Boundaries are typically near the top of the component tree (in the same way that a console app might catch unhandled exceptions in its main() method).

Because (at time of writing!) there is no equivalent hook for React’s getDerivedStateFromError, Error Boundaries must be implemented as class-based components (rather than function-based).

From the React docs, their structure is approximately:

class ErrorBoundary extends React.Component {
  constructor(props) {
    this.state = { hasError: false };

  static getDerivedStateFromError(error) {
    // Update state so the next render will show the fallback UI.
    return { hasError: true };

  componentDidCatch(error, errorInfo) {
    // You can also log the error to an error reporting service
    logErrorToMyService(error, errorInfo);

  render() {
    if (this.state.hasError) {
      // You can render any custom fallback UI
      return <h1>Something went wrong.</h1>;

    return this.props.children; 

Background on Promises

If you know all about Promises already, feel free to skip this section (& the following section on async / await).

A Promise represents the eventual result of an asynchronous operation.

An asynchronous operation is a task you start without “standing around” waiting for it to complete. In other words, after starting the task code execution resumes immediately - regardless of how long the task actually takes to complete.

There are of course cases where the asynchronous operation is “fire and forget”, but usually the application will perform further processing when the task eventually completes (successfully or otherwise).

An example of an asynchronous operation that most web developers are familiar with is a “xhr” (aka “AJAX”) request.

A Promise is an abstraction that makes dealing with asynchronous operations much simpler (and more consistent). Before Promises were introduced around 2014, asynchronous code was typically handled in JavaScript by continuation-passing.

Consider an asynchronous operation that produces data of type T (e.g. a GET request to a server that returns a UserProfile DTO). With a promise-based API, calling code will invoke the asynchronous operation by calling a function - rather than returning the result T directly, the function returns an object (a Promise).

The Promise object has method named then() which takes a couple of arguments, both callback functions:

  • onSuccess1: Function to be called (with the data of type T) when the asynchronous operation completes successfully. The function may return either
    • null or undefined
    • Data of some T1 (i.e. by transforming the T it receives into a T1)
    • A Promise for for data of type T1 (e.g. by calling another function that returns a Promise)
  • onRejected: Function to be called (with a rejection reason i.e. error) when the asynchronous operation fails. Similarly to onSuccess, the function may return either
    • null or undefined
    • Data of type T2. This might be derived from the rejection reason somehow, or it could be a default value
    • A Promise for for data of type T2 (e.g. by calling another function that returns a Promise). Note that T1 & T2 could potentially be the same type.

Some important things to know about Promises:

  • Promises may resolve synchronously (immediately). This doesn’t need to concern the calling code (which is great!)
  • Promises are intended to be chained. The return value from calling then is always another (new) Promise.
  • If a Promise is rejected then downstream promises in the chain will be rejected too.
  • If the reference to a Promise is saved, it is possible to create multiple independent chains from the resolution.
        const somePromise = doSomethingThatReturnsAPromise();
          .then(computeAverage)    // new promise
          .then(logAverage);       // new promise
          .then(computeMaximum)    // new promise
          .then(renderMaxValue);   // new promise

For completeness, here is the TypeScript definition for then:

interface PromiseLike<T> {
     * Attaches callbacks for the resolution and/or rejection of the Promise.
     * @param onfulfilled The callback to execute when the Promise is resolved.
     * @param onrejected The callback to execute when the Promise is rejected.
     * @returns A Promise for the completion of which ever callback is executed.
    then<TResult1 = T, TResult2 = never>(onfulfilled?: ((value: T) => TResult1 | PromiseLike<TResult1>) | undefined | null, onrejected?: ((reason: any) => TResult2 | PromiseLike<TResult2>) | undefined | null): PromiseLike<TResult1 | TResult2>;

Shrewd readers will notice the glaring omission of catch. In reality, catch is really just a convenience method/ thin-wrapper for then:

  • It registers a onRejected callback for rejection of the Promise
  • For onSuccess, the “identity” function is used i.e. given data T return that same data.

A common usage of catch is to handle rejection right at the end of the promise-chain (regardless of which step the problem occurred) - used in this way it better conveys the intent. This post describing the differences between .catch and supplying a onRejected callback.

More resources on JavaScript Promises:


I almost didn’t bother mentioning these (again, better resources elsewhere).

TL;DR: (in JavaScript) async / await are essentially syntactic-sugar that allow you to write asynchronous code that looks (more) like regular synchronous JavaScript.

For example, this function written using Promises

const fetchById = (entityId: EntityId) : Promise<EntityDto | null> => {
  return apiClient
      .then((response) => response.data)
      .catch(error => null); // 'error' parameter is rejection-reason for Promise

could be rewritten using async + await as:

const fetchById = async (entityId: EntityId) : Promise<EntityDto | null> => {
  try {
    const response = await apiClient.get<EntityDto>(`v1/entity/${entityId}`);
    return response.data;
  } catch (error) {
    return null;

Error / rejection typing

It’s worth remembering that exception-handling remains a mess in JavaScript, regardless of which approach (async / Promise) you take:

  • The rejection reason (passed to the onRejected callback) is of type any
  • The ‘exception’ in a catch block is of type any

Basically, you can throw pretty much anything as an exception, so you need to be prepared to catch pretty much anything (strings included). That means instanceof checks are needed (yes, in 2021) 🤮.

The problem

For exceptions in regular synchronous code, the ErrorBoundary (beginning of this post) works really well.

For example, during rendering your code might try to call a method on null object - the JavaScript runtime will throw a TypeError and that will be caught by the React ErrorBoundary (which would show a friendly error page to the user).

However for asynchronous code (involving Promises) if the promise-chain doesn’t handle rejection then the user may have no idea something went wrong. This is particularly true with fire-and-forget asynchronous operations.

In other words, if your application

  • Invokes a method returning a Promise but doesn’t call then supplying a onRejected callback (or use catch)
  • Calls an async method without using await
  • Calls an async method, uses await but doesn’t catch exceptions

it is open to unhandled promise rejections.

The problem with unhandled promise rejections is that the user may not know that something went wrong. Depending on what went wrong and your application semantics, that could be significant.

I’d argue it’s best practice to ensure all Promise rejections are handled and to treat unhandled promise rejections as a coding error.


With some modifications, we can handle (otherwise unhandled) promise rejections (globally) and plumb them through to our ErrorBoundary.

When our ErrorBoundary mounts/unmounts, it registers/unregisters (respectively) an event handler for promise rejection - the unhandledrejection event.

The event handler takes the rejection reason and uses it to update the state for the ErrorBoundary.

With this approach, the ErrorBoundary works consistently regardless of whether the exception occurred in synchronous code or in asynchronous code - we can show the same friendly error page to the user.

interface State {
    error: any; // Could be an exception thrown in synchronous code or could be a rejection reason from a Promise, we don't care

class ErrorBoundary extends Component<State> {
    private promiseRejectionHandler = (event: PromiseRejectionEvent) => {
            error: event.reason

    public state: State = {
        error: null

    public static getDerivedStateFromError(error: Error): State {
        // Update state so the next render will show the fallback UI.
        return { error: error };

    public componentDidCatch(error: Error, errorInfo: ErrorInfo) {
        console.error("Uncaught error:", error, errorInfo);

    componentDidMount() {
        // Add an event listener to the window to catch unhandled promise rejections & stash the error in the state
        window.addEventListener('unhandledrejection', this.promiseRejectionHandler)

    componentWillUnmount() {
        window.removeEventListener('unhandledrejection', this.promiseRejectionHandler);

    public render() {
        if (this.state.error) {
            const error = this.state.error;

            let errorName;
            let errorMessage;

            if (error instanceof PageNotFoundError) {
                errorName = "...";
                errorMessage = "..."
            } else if (error instanceof NoRolesAssignedError) {
                errorName = "...";
                errorMessage = "..."
            } else {
                errorName = "Unexpected Application Error";

            return <FriendlyError errorName={errorName} errorMessage={errorMessage} />
        } else {
            return this.props.children;

Hopefully you find this technique useful. Would be interested to know your thoughts / how you’ve tackled this problem in your applications.

  1. onSuccess is sometimes referred to as onfulfilled.

Written on February 27, 2021