A More Reliable FileReader

FileReader is not a web API you bump into on most websites, but at BeFunky we use it all the time for transforming image files (aka "Blobs") from our users.

  • FileReader.readAsArrayBuffer() is the fastest way to know if a Blob can be read at all.

  • FileReader.readAsDataURL() converts a Blob to a base64 string that can be used as an <img> src.

  • FileReader.readAsText() is great for reading text-based files (e.g. JSON) that a user drags into your website.

The problem is that FileReader has an old event-driven API that relies on load and error events, so it's a bit icky to work with. Fortunately, it's trivial to wrap in a Promise.

const result = new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
const fileReader = new FileReader();
fileReader.onload = () => {
fileReader.onerror = (error) => {

Given that reading a file can fail unexpectedly, we've encountered situations where neither onload or onerror are called. To avoid leaving users in infinite loading states, we've introduced a timeout period (varies by task) to ensure that our app remains responsive no matter what.

setTimeout(() => {
reject(new Error('FileReader timed out after 15s');
}), 15000);

When FileReader calls onload/onerror after our timeout period is up, we log the result and duration in Sentry we can adjust it over time.

I went ahead and wrote a tiny 1kb library for this on Github.

import reliableFileReader from 'reliable-filereader';

reliableFileReader('readAsDataURL', blob)
.then((base64String) => {
// Do something with base64 string
.catch((error) => {
if (/timed out/.test(error)) {
// FileReader has not responded within 15 seconds
} else {
// FileReader fired an error event.
const errorEvent = error;

In addition to wrapping FileReader in a Promise and allowing you to set the timeout period...

  1. It notifies you of the result/error if your timeout period was too short.

  2. You can customize the timer function. One use case would be pausing the timer if the user changes tabs, which may also slow down FileReader. Full disclosure: I haven't tried this code in production yet, but I'm looking forward to sometime this spring!

If you use reliable-filereader or have other suggestions, let me know!

Comments are welcome!