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TypeScript – How To Avoid “Any”?

26/09/2022

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  • The harmful effects of any
  • Avoiding any
TypeScript - How To Avoid "Any"?

How to avoid any?

In the previous blog – Typescript and “any” type, I introduced TypeScript and what exactly is any type.

In this blog, I’d like to show more about the harmful effects when using any and introduce some built-in types, features and customs types that you can use to avoid any.

The harmful effects of any

While TypeScript is a type checker, any type tells TypeScript to skip/disable type-checking. On the other hand, due to the nature of JavaScript, in some cases providing accurate types isn’t a simple task. In such situations, programmers are tempted to use any.

In most situations using or implicit any – a type that allows to store anything and skip type checkers, programmers can’t guarantee what type the value is stored and how it will be used. Furthermore, when the code is executed at runtime, errors may occur even though they were not warned before. For example:

let result; // Variable 'result' implicitly has an 'any' type.
result = 10.123; // Number is stored at 'result'

console.log(result.toFixed()); // `toFixed()` is a method of `number`

result.willExist(); // `willExist()` isn't a method of `number`, but no errors appear.

Because of that, the use of any is something that should be minimized as much as possible, to ensure the source code does not encounter any errors.

Avoiding any

Based on the basics of TypeScript and Everyday Types, in this blog, I’ll be sharing what I learned and used to write code without any.

Type aliases & Interfaces

A type alias is exactly a name for any type, you can actually use a type alias to give a name to any type at all, not just an object type. For example:

// Type alias
type Point = {
  x: number,
  y: number
};

type ID = number | string;

An interface declaration is another way to name an object type:

// Interface
interface IPoint {
  x: number,
  y: number
};

Differences between Type Aliases and Interfaces:

// Override
type Point = { // TypeError: Duplicate identifier 'Point'.
  a: string
};
interface IPoint {
  a: string
};

Union & Literal types

A union type is a type formed from two or more other types, representing values that may be any one of those types.

// Union types
let anyNumber: string | number;

// Usage
anyNumber = '123';
anyNumber = 123;
anyNumber = true; // TypeError: Type 'boolean' is not assignable to type 'string | number'.

In addition to the general types of string and number, you can refer to specific value of strings and numbers.
By combining literals into unions, you can express a much more useful concept. For example:

// Literal types
let direction: 'top' | 'left' | 'right' | 'bottom';

direction = 'top';
direction = 'top-right'; // TypeError: Type '"top-right"' is not assignable to type '"top" | "left" | "right" | "bottom"'

Type assertions

Sometimes you will have information about the type of a value that TypeScript can’t know about.

For example, if you’re using document.getElementById, TypeScript only knows that this will return some kind of HTMLElement, but you might know that your page will always have an HTMLCanvasElement with a given ID.

In this situation, you can use a type assertion to specify a more specific type:

// Type assertions
const myCanvas = document.getElementById('main-canvas') as HTMLCanvasElement;

Generics

// Example
const getRandomNumber = (items: number[]): number => {
  let randomIndex = Math.floor(Math.random() * items.length);
  return items[randomIndex];
};
const getRandomString = (items: string[]): string => {
  let randomIndex = Math.floor(Math.random() * items.length);
  return items[randomIndex];
};

// Generics function
const getRandomGeneric = <T>(items: T[]): T => {
  let randomIndex = Math.floor(Math.random() * items.length);
  return items[randomIndex];
};

// Usage
const teams: string[] = ['frontend', 'ios', 'android'];
const numbers: number[] = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10];

const randomResult1 = getRandomGeneric<string>(teams);
const randomResult2 = getRandomGeneric<number>(numbers);

In the example above, the getRandomGeneric is the generic identity function that worked over a range of types.

The type of generic functions is just like those of non-generic functions, with the type parameters listed first, similarly to function declarations:

const identity = <Type>(param: Type): Type => {
  return param;
};

When calling identity a function, you now will also need to specify the type of param that the function will use.

The detail above just Generic identity functions, you can read more generics Generic link

Unknown

unknown is what should be used when you don’t know a proper type of object. Unlike any, it doesn’t let you do any operations on a value until you know its type (skip/disable type-checker).

When you unknow something, you need to check before executing. For example:

const invokeAnything = (callback: unknown): void => {
  if (typeof callback === 'function') {
    callback();
  }
  if (typeof callback === 'number') {
    console.log(callback);
  }
  if (typeof callback === 'string') {
    console.log(callback.toUpperCase());
  }
};

// Usage
invokeAnything('typescript'); // Result: TYPESCRIPT

Record for basic object

Probably, nearly every JavaScript developer at some time has used an object as a map-like collection. However, with strict types, it may not be that obvious how to type this. So, you may use interface, but this way you can’t add anything to the object. Then, you need to think about using Record.

The definition:

type Record<K extends keyof any, T> = {
  [P in K]: T;
};

And the usage:

// Usage
const dict: Record<string, number> = {};
dict.a = 1;
dict.b = 'a'; // TypeError: "a" is not assignable to type number

let obj: Record<string, number>;
obj = {
  a: 1,
  b: 2
};

As you can see, it means that the developer can enter any key, but the value has to be of a specific type.

Conclusion

The TypeScript compiler is so powerful. There are so many things we can do with it.

any type can be avoided with more advanced technics such as interface, type intersection, and the use of generics, etc.

Hope you like it! Enjoy TypeScript and make the code without any!

Author: Anh Nguyen

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    Table of contents What is TypeScript?Basic typingWhat is TypeScript any type?Why does TypeScript provide any? TypeScript is a strongly typed programming language that builds on JavaScript, giving you a better ability to detect errors and describe your code. But sometimes you don't know the exact type of value that you're using because it comes from user input or a third-party API. In this case, you want to skip the type checking and allow the value to pass through the compile check. The TypeScript any type is the perfect solution for you because if you use it, the TypeScript compiler will not complain about the type issue. This blog will help you understand the any type in TypeScript but before doing that, let's begin with some basic concepts first! What is TypeScript? TypeScript checks a program for errors before execution, and does so based on the kinds of values, it’s a static type checker. Superset of JavaScript TypeScript is a language that is a superset of JavaScript: JS syntax is therefore legal TS. However, TypeScript is a typed superset, meaning that it adds rules about how different kinds of values can be used. Runtime Behavior TypeScript is also a programming language that preserves the runtime behavior of JavaScript. This means that if you move code from JavaScript to TypeScript, it is guaranteed to run the same way, even if TypeScript thinks that the code has type errors. Erased Types Roughly speaking, once TypeScript’s compiler is done with checking your code, it erases the types to produce the resulting compiled code. This means that once your code is compiled, the resulting plain JS code has no type information. An easy way of understanding TypeScript A languageA superset of JavaScriptPreserver the runtime behavior of JavaScriptType checker layer JavaScript + Types = TypeScript Basic typing Type annotations TypeScript uses type annotations to explicitly specify types for identifiers such as variables, functions, objects, etc. // Syntax : type Once an identifier is annotated with a type, it can be used as that type only. If the identifier is used as a different type, the TypeScript compiler will issue an error. let counter: number; counter = 1; counter = 'Hello'; // Error: Type '"Hello"' is not assignable to type 'number'. The following shows other examples of type annotations: let name: string = 'John'; let age: number = 25; let active: boolean = true; // Array let names: string[] = ['John', 'Jane', 'Peter', 'David', 'Mary']; // Object let person: { name: string; age: number }; person = { name: 'John', age: 25 }; // Valid // Function let sayHello : (name: string) => string; sayHello = (name: string) => { return `Hello ${name}`; }; Type inference Type inference describes where and how TypeScript infers types when you don’t explicitly annotate them. For example: // Annotations let counter: number; // Inference: TypeScript will infer the type the `counter` to be `number` let counter = 1; Likewise, when you assign a function parameter a value, TypeScript infers the type of the parameter to the type of the default value. For example: // TypeScript infers type of the `max` parameter to be `number` const setCounter = (max = 100) => { // ... } Similarly, TypeScript infers the return type to the type of the return value: const increment = (counter: number) => { return counter++; } // It is the same as: const increment = (counter: number) : number => { return counter++; } The following shows other examples of type inference: const items = [0, 1, null, 'Hi']; // (number | string)[] const mixArr = [new Date(), new RegExp('\d+')]; // (RegExp | Date)[] const increase = (counter: number, max = 100) => { return counter++; }; // (counter: number, max?: number) => number Contextual typing TypeScript uses the locations of variables to infer their types. This mechanism is known as contextual typing. For example: document.addEventListener('click', (event) => { console.log(event.button); // Valid }); In this example, TypeScript knows that the event the parameter is an instance of MouseEvent because of the click event. However, when you change the click event to the scroll the event, TypeScript will issue an error: document.addEventListener('scroll', (event) => { console.log(event.button); // Compile error }); // Property 'button' does not exist on type 'Event'. TypeScript knows that the event in this case, is an instance of UIEvent, not a MouseEvent. And UIEvent does not have the button property, therefore, TypeScript throws an error. Other examples about contextual typing // Array members const names = ['John', 'Jane', 'Peter', 'David', 'Mary']; // string[] names.map(name => name.toUpperCase()); // (name: string) => string // Type assertions const myCanvas = document.getElementById('main-canvas') as HTMLCanvasElement; Type inference vs Type annotations Type inferenceType annotationsTypeScript guesses the typeYou explicitly tell TypeScript the type What exactly is TypeScript any? When you don’t explicitly annotate and TypeScript can't infer exactly the type, that means you declare a variable without specifying a type, TypeScript assumes that you use the any type. This practice is called implicit typing. For example: let result; // Variable 'result' implicitly has an 'any' type. So, what exactly is any? TypeScript any is a special type that you can use whenever you don't want a particular value to cause type-checking errors. That means, the TypeScript compiler doesn't complain or issue any error. When a value is of type any, you can access any properties of it, call it like a function, assign it to (or from) a value of any type, or pretty much anything else that’s syntactically legal: let obj: any = { x: 0 }; // None of the following lines of code will throw compiler errors. // Using `any` disables all further type checking, and it is assumed // you know the environment better than TypeScript. obj.foo(); obj(); obj.bar = 100; obj = 'hello'; const n: number = obj; Looking back at an easier to understand any: A special typeSkip/Disable type-checkingTypeScript doesn't complain any or issue any errorDefault implicit typing is any. Note that to disable implicit typing to the any type, you change the noImplicitAny option in the tsconfig.json file to true. Read more noImplicitAny Why does TypeScript provide any type? As described above, while TypeScript is a type checker, any type tell TypeScript to skip/disable type-checking. Whether TypeScript has made a mistake here and why it provides any type? In fact, sometimes the developer can't determine the type of value or can't determine the return value from the 3rd party. Most of cases they use any the type or use implicit typing as any. So they seem to think that TypeScript provides any to do those things. So, is that the root reason that TypeScript provides any? Actually, I think there is a more compelling reason for TypeScript providing any that the any type provides you with a way to work with the existing JavaScript codebase. It allows you to gradually opt-in and opt out of type checking during compilation. Therefore, you can use the any type for migrating a JavaScript project over to TypeScript. Conclusion TypeScript is a Type checker layer. The TypeScript any type allows you to store a value of any type. It instructs the compiler to skip type-checking. Use the any type to store a value when you migrate a JavaScript project over to a TypeScript project. In the next blog, I will show you more about the harmful effects of any and how to avoid them. Hope you like it! See you in the next blog! Reference TypeScript handbookTypeScript tutorial Author: Anh Nguyen

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