The term asynchronous refers to the concept of more than one thing happening at the same time, or multiple related things happening without waiting for the previous one to complete. In computing, the word "asynchronous" is used in two major contexts.
- Networking and communications
Asynchronous communication is a method of exchanging messages between two or more parties in which each party receives and processes messages whenever it's convenient or possible to do so, rather than doing so immediately upon receipt. Additionally, messages may be sent without waiting for acknowledgement, with the understanding that if a problem occurs, the recipient will request corrections or otherwise handle the situation.
For humans, e-mail is an asynchronous communication method; the sender sends an email and the recipient will read and reply to the message when it's convenient to do so, rather than doing so at once. And both sides can continue to send and receive messages whenever they wish, instead of having to schedule them around each other.
- Software design
Asynchronous software design expands upon the concept by building code that allows a program to ask that a task be performed alongside the original task (or tasks), without stopping to wait for the task to complete. When the secondary task is completed, the original task is notified using an agreed-upon mechanism so that it knows the work is done, and that the result, if any, is available.