‘Iacta alea est’

Setting and Clearing Intervals in the browser

When setting up two-way communication over websockets with Phoenix Channels recently I wanted to poll the server until a given event (on the server) had occurred, and then stop. I’ll understand if you start scratching your head and asking why on earth I’d want to poll when a websocket allows me to send notification of said event from the server directly. In this case the polling (via the websocket/channel) is a safety net for instances where the server-side event has happened before, or during, the page request meaning that the server-side event would have been broadcast to no-one. In other cases an exception might prevent the broadcast from being called.

The options for doing this from the Web API off the top of my head were setTimeout and setInterval. The latter seemed the best option for this case, however there were two constraints which eventually expanded my knowledge.

The first constraint was that I wanted to ensure the polling would stop once the event had been received. I was always working in the ignorance that a setInterval would continue until the browser browsed to another page or the tab/window was closed. It turns out that you can store a reference to the interval by assigning the result of the call to a variable:

var intervalId = setInterval(messageServerFn, 5000)

And I learned that that interval reference comes in handy when you want to stop it. There is a related function in the Web API named clearInterval. This function takes an interval reference as a parameter:


And voilà, the function passed to setInterval will no longer be called. Neat.

The trouble with setInterval is that it first runs only after the interval length. In our case above, with a value of five thousand milliseconds, the function will be called for the first time only after five seconds. I wanted the function to be called immediately. This was my second constraint.

It turns out there a few ways of doing this. The most straightforward was not immediately obvious to me given it was so simple, but just calling the function independently of the call to setInterval does the trick.

var intervalId = setInterval(messageServerFn, 5000)

No point in making it more complicated than it is.

Monday, 20th June 2022.