About await and async in Python

The Beneath Python client uses the await and async keywords in Python extensively. These keywords are the recommended way to use Python’s asyncio library, which is becoming the standard for writing concurrent Python code.

Since asyncio hasn’t been completely adopted in the Python community yet, this page answers some common questions for your convenience.

Help, I’m getting a SyntaxError

If you’re getting a SyntaxError, here’s the quick fix: Move the code that uses the await keyword into a function defined with the async keyword, then wrap your calls to that function with asyncio.run(…).

For example:

import asyncio
import beneath

async def main():
    # TODO: paste your code here


Why does Beneath use asyncio?

asyncio is a library that is built into Python to make I/O-intensive code significantly faster. That includes code that sends or receives data over the network, such as web requests, server handlers, database calls, and more.

asyncio wraps your code in an event loop that tries to run your code concurrently. It notices when Python is waiting for data to pass over the wire, and uses that waiting time to run other awaited code. That means your computer won’t sit around and wait for a slow network request to finish when there’s other work it could do in the meantime.

It’s pretty similar to how async and await works in JavaScript, if you’re familiar with that.

How do I use asyncio?

If you just remember these basic rules for asyncio, you’ll be set for the majority of use cases:

  1. Outside a function, use asyncio.run(…) to call functions defined with async

  2. Inside a function:
    1. Use await to call functions defined with async

    2. Add async before def to functions where you use await

    3. Repeat steps 2.1 and 2.2 until outside a function, then see step 1

Do I always need to use asyncio.run?

In regular Python, yes, but not in Jupyter or the Python shell.

  • In Jupyter, all code runs in an asyncio event loop, so you can use await directly

  • You can use await directly in the Python shell if you start it with python -m asyncio

In regular Python, you should try to minimize the number of times you call asyncio.run. It’s a good idea to create an async main function (like in the example above) that you call with asyncio.run, and then use nested await and async calls from there on.

Where can I learn more?