Javascript Scheduling: setTimeout and setInterval

A block of JavaScript code is generally executed synchronously. But there are some JavaScript native functions (timers) which allow us to delay the execution of arbitrary instructions.

  • setTimeout()
  • setInterval()

These let you run a piece of JavaScript code at some point in the future. That?s called ?scheduling a call?. In this tutorial I?ll explain how these two methods work, and give some practical examples.

setTimeout()

The setTimeout() function is commonly used if you wish to run your function a specified number of milliseconds from when the setTimeout() method was called. The general syntax of the method is:

setTimeout ( expression, timeout );

where expression is the JavaScript code to run after timeout milliseconds have elapsed.

To track the timeout, setTimeout() also returns a numeric timeout ID. This is most commonly used with the clearTimeout() method.

Here?s a simple example:

<input type=”button” name=”sayHello” value=”Wait for my Hello!”onclick=”setTimeout(‘alert(‘Hello!’)’, 4000)”/>

When you click the button, the setTimeout() method is called. The expression that you want to run after certain time delay and the time delay itself(4,000 ms or 4 seconds) is passed.

A point to note here is that setTimeout() doesn’t stop the execution of the further script during the timeout period. It merely schedules the specified javascript code to be run at the specified time. After calling the setTimeout() function, the script continues normally, with the timer running in the background.

Above is the very basic example with the entire code for our JavaScript alert box in the setTimeout() call. You would instead call a function more often. Next example will give you a better idea about calling a function with setTimeout().

For instance, below code calls sayHello() after one second:

function sayHello() { alert(‘Hello’);}setTimeout(sayHello, 1000);

You can also pass arguments along with the function, like this:

function sayHello(message, person) { alert( message + ‘, ‘ + person );}setTimeout(sayHello, 1000, “Hi”, “Monica”); // Hi, Monica

If the first argument is a string, then JavaScript creates a function from it. So, this will also work:

setTimeout(“alert(‘Hello’)”, 1000);

But using strings is not recommended, use functions instead of them, like this:

setTimeout(() => alert(‘Hello’), 1000);

setInterval()

The setInterval() function, as the name suggests is commonly used to set a delay for functions that are executed again and again like animations. The setInterval() function is very closely related to setTimeout() – they even have same syntax:

setInterval ( expression, interval );

The only difference is ,

setTimeout() triggers the expression only once whilesetInterval() keeps triggering expressionregularly after the given interval of time. (unless you tell it to stop).

To stop further calls, we should call clearInterval(timerId).

// Hello is alerted repeatedly after every 3 secondslet timerId= setInterval(() => alert(‘Hello’), 3000);// Clear intervals after 6 sec with the timer id setTimeout(() => { clearInterval(timerId); alert(‘Bye’); }, 6000);

When should I use setInterval()? Well, you don?t need to keep remembering to call setTimeout() at the end of your timed function. Also, when using setInterval() there’s virtually no delay between one triggering of the expression and the next. With setTimeout(), there’s a relatively long delay while the expression is evaluated, the function called, and the new setTimeout() being set up. So if regular, precise timing is needed or something needs to be done repeatedly after certain time intervals, then setInterval() is your best choice.

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