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Load-Safe Relations

Joist models all relations as async-by-default, i.e. you must access them via await calls:

const author = await em.load(Author, "a:1");
// Returns the publisher if already fetched, otherwise makes a (batched) SQL call
const publisher = await author.publisher.load();
const publisherComments = await publisher.comments.load();
const books = await author.books.load();

We call this "load safe", because you can't accidentally access unloaded data, which results in a runtime error.

Which is great, but then to improve ergonomics and avoid tedious await Promise.all calls, Joist also supports marking relations as explicitly loaded, to enable synchronous .get, non-await-d access:

// Preload publisher, it's comments, and books
const author = await em.load(Author, "a:1", { publisher: "comments", books: {} });
const publisher = author.publisher.get;
const publisherComments = publisher.comments.get;
const books = author.books.get;


One of the main affordances of ORMs is that relationships (relations) between tables in the database (i.e. foreign keys) are modelled as references & collections on the classes/entities in the domain model.

For example, in most ORMs a books.author_id foreign key column means the Author entity will have an author.books collection (which loads all books for that author), and the Book entity will have a reference (which loads the book's author).

In all ORMs, these references & collections are inherently lazy: because you don't have your entire relational database in memory, objects start out with just a single/few rows loaded (i.e. a single authors row with id=1 loaded as an Author#1 instance) and then lazily loaded the data you need from there (i.e. you "walk the object graph" from that Author#1 to the related data you need).

Async By Default

Because of the inherently lazy nature of references & collections, Joist takes the strong, type-safe opinion that if they might be unloaded, then they must be marked as async/await.

For example, you have to access author.books via an await-d promise:

const author = await em.load(Author, "a:1");
const books = await author.books.load();

And you must do this each time, even if technically in the code path that you're in, you "know" that books has already been loaded, i.e.:

const author = await em.load(Author, "a:1");
// Call another method that happens to loads books
// You still can't do `books.get`, even though "we know" (but the compiler
// does not know) that the collection is technically already cached in-memory
const books = await author.books.load();

But Async is Kinda Annoying

While Joist's "async by default" approach is the safest, it is admittedly tedious when you get to double/triple levels of awaits, i.e. to go from an Author to their Books to each Book's BookReviews:

const author = await em.load(Author, "a:1");
await Promise.all((await author.books.load()).map(async (book) => {
// For each book load the reviews
return Promise.all((await (review) => {


Given this complication, some ORMs in the JavaScript/TypeScript space sometimes fudge the "collections must be async" approach, and allow you to model collections as synchronous, i.e. you're allowed to do:

const author = await em.load(Author, "a:1");
// I promise I loaded books
await author.books.load();
// Now access it w/o promises

Which is nice! But the wrinkle is that we're now trusting ourselves to only access books after an explicit load, and if we forget, i.e. when our code paths end up being complex enough that it's hard to tell, then we'll get a runtime error that books.get is not allowed to be called

Because of this lack of safety, Joist avoids this approach, and instead has something fancier.

The Magic Escape Hatch

Ideally what we want is to have relations lazy-by-default, except when we've explicitly told TypeScript that we've loaded them. This is what Joist does.

In Joist, populate hints (which tell the ORM to pre-fetch data before it's actually accessed) also change the type of the entity, and mark relations that were explicitly listed in the hint as loaded.

This looks like:

const book = await em.populate(
// Tell Joist we want `{ author: "publisher" } preloaded
{ author: "publisher" });
// The `populate` return type is now "special"/MarkLoaded `Book`
// that has `author` and `publisher` marked as "get"-able

Note that originalBook's reference does not have .get available (just the safe .load which returns a Promise); only the modified Book type returned from em.populate has the .get method added


You can avoid having two originalBook / book variables by passing populate hints directly to EntityManager.load, which will then return the appropriate .get-able references:

const book = await em.load(
{ author: "publisher" });

Joist's populate approach also works for multiple levels, i.e. our triple-nested Promise.all-hell example can be written with a single await

const author = await em.load(
{ books: "reviews" },
author.books.get.forEach((book) => { => {

Best of Both Worlds

This combination of "async by default" and "populate hint mapped types" brings the best of both worlds:

  • Data that we are unsure of its loaded-ness, must be await-d, while
  • Data that we (and, more importantly, the TypeScript compiler) are sure of its loaded-ness, can be accessed synchronously