Kotlin coroutines: A deep dive into asynchronous programming

Are you looking for a modern and efficient way to handle asynchronous programming in your Kotlin application? Look no further than Kotlin coroutines!

This article will take you on a deep dive into Kotlin coroutines and how they can be used to manage complex asynchronous code in an intuitive and readable way. First, we'll explore the basics of coroutines, including how they differ from traditional threading models. Next, we'll dive into some practical examples of coroutine usage, such as how to use coroutines for network I/O or to execute multiple asynchronous tasks in parallel.

What are coroutines?

At a high level, a coroutine is a structure that allows you to execute code asynchronously. Coroutines differ from traditional threading models in that they are lightweight and do not require additional system resources to run. Rather than creating a new thread for each asynchronous task, coroutines share a single thread, which allows them to run more efficiently and with lower latency.

Kotlin has built-in support for coroutines via the kotlinx.coroutines library, which provides a simple and easy-to-use API for working with coroutines.

Getting started with coroutines

To start working with coroutines, you'll need to add the kotlinx.coroutines dependency to your project. This can be done easily with Gradle or Maven by adding the following dependency to your build file:

dependencies {
  implementation 'org.jetbrains.kotlinx:kotlinx-coroutines-core:1.5.2'

Once you've added the dependency, you're ready to start using coroutines in your Kotlin code.

Basic coroutine usage

The simplest way to use a coroutine is to wrap a block of code in a launch block. This will create a new coroutine that runs the specified code asynchronously. Here's an example:

import kotlinx.coroutines.*

fun main() {
    GlobalScope.launch {
        println("Hello, world!")

In this example, we use GlobalScope.launch to create a new coroutine, which runs the code inside the block. We also use delay to simulate some asynchronous work, in this case waiting for one second. Finally, we use println to print "Hello, world!" to the console.

Notice that we also use Thread.sleep to make sure the main thread doesn't exit before the coroutine has completed. This is because coroutines run asynchronously and do not block the calling thread.

Coroutine scopes

When creating a coroutine, you should always specify the scope in which it should run. This prevents coroutines from outliving their parent scope and provides a way to cleanly cancel coroutines when they're no longer needed.

The GlobalScope used in the previous example is a special scope that has a singleton instance and is not tied to any specific lifecycle. While it's convenient to use for short-lived coroutines, it's typically not recommended for long-running or complex applications.

Instead, you should use a coroutine scope that's tied to a specific lifecycle, such as that of an Activity or Fragment in an Android app. The CoroutineScope interface provides a clean way to define a specific scope for a coroutine. Here's an example:

class MyActivity : AppCompatActivity(), CoroutineScope by CoroutineScope(Dispatchers.Default) {
    override fun onCreate(savedInstanceState: Bundle?) {
        launch {
            // ...
    override fun onDestroy() {
        cancel() // cancels all coroutines in this scope

In this example, we define a CoroutineScope using by CoroutineScope(Dispatchers.Default). This means that all coroutines created within the scope will run on the default dispatcher, which uses a shared pool of threads to execute coroutines.

We then launch a new coroutine within the scope using launch. Finally, we override the onDestroy method to ensure that all coroutines created within this scope are cancelled when the activity is destroyed.

Coroutine contexts and dispatchers

When creating a coroutine, you can also specify a context and dispatcher. The context is a set of data that's propagated throughout the coroutine, while the dispatcher is responsible for determining which thread or threads the coroutine runs on.

The Dispatchers object provides several predefined dispatchers that you can use in your coroutines. The most commonly used dispatchers are:

Here's an example of how to use a different dispatcher within a coroutine:

launch(Dispatchers.IO) {
    // ...

In this example, we use the Dispatchers.IO dispatcher to run the coroutine on a separate thread that's optimized for I/O-bound tasks.

Asynchronous operations with coroutines

So far, we've seen how to use coroutines to run simple tasks asynchronously. But what about more complex operations like network I/O or executing multiple tasks in parallel?

Network I/O with coroutines

One common use case for coroutines is to handle network I/O. The kotlinx.coroutines library includes several utilities for making network requests asynchronously with coroutines.

One such utility is the withContext function, which allows you to safely call suspending functions from within a coroutine. Here's an example:

suspend fun fetchUrl(url: String): String = withContext(Dispatchers.IO) {

launch {
    val result = fetchUrl("https://example.com")

In this example, we define a fetchUrl function that calls the network using the URL class and reads the response as text. We then use withContext(Dispatchers.IO) to execute the network request on a separate thread that's optimized for I/O-bound tasks. Finally, we use launch to run the coroutine and print the result to the console.

Parallelism with coroutines

Another powerful feature of coroutines is the ability to execute multiple tasks in parallel. Kotlin provides several utilities for doing this, including async and await.

async allows you to launch a new coroutine that returns a Deferred value, which is a promise for a future result. You can then use await to retrieve the result of the deferred value. Here's an example:

fun fetchUrlAsync(url: String): Deferred<String> = async(Dispatchers.IO) {

launch {
    val deferred1 = fetchUrlAsync("https://example.com")
    val deferred2 = fetchUrlAsync("https://google.com")
    val result1 = deferred1.await()
    val result2 = deferred2.await()

In this example, we define a fetchUrlAsync function that returns a Deferred<String> object representing the result of a network request. We then use async(Dispatchers.IO) to launch two coroutines that execute the network requests in parallel.

We then use await to retrieve the results of the two deferred values and print them to the console. Notice that we don't need to use withContext here, as async already automatically switches the dispatcher to the specified context.

Exception handling in coroutines

One important aspect of asynchronous programming is error handling. When working with coroutines, it's important to handle exceptions appropriately to prevent crashes and ensure that the app remains stable.

Kotlin provides several utilities for handling exceptions within coroutines. The most commonly used is the CoroutineExceptionHandler. This interface allows you to define a custom handler for exceptions thrown within a coroutine. Here's an example:

val handler = CoroutineExceptionHandler { _, throwable ->
    Log.e("CoroutineException", "Exception in coroutine: ${throwable.message}")

launch(handler) {
    // ...

In this example, we define a CoroutineExceptionHandler that logs any exceptions thrown within the coroutine. We then use launch(handler) to launch the coroutine with the specified error handler.


In this article, we've explored the basics of Kotlin coroutines and how they can be used to manage asynchronous programming in your Kotlin application. We've covered topics such as the basics of coroutines, coroutine scopes, dispatchers, and error handling.

We've also seen how to use coroutines to handle common use cases such as network I/O and parallelism. With Kotlin coroutines, asynchronous programming has never been more intuitive and efficient. So why not start using coroutines in your Kotlin app today?

Happy coding!

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