All Things Typescript Newsletter - Issue #14 - Understanding Type Widening
Good morning; I hope you had a fabulous weekend. In this issue, I wanted to cover Type Widening, a sub-topic of Type Inference in Typescript and one I feel we need to understand to get the most out of Typescript. For more information, check the content in the next section.
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Understanding Type Widening in Typescript
You don’t hear much about Type Widening as much as you do about Type narrowing in Typescript. Type widening is the opposite of Type narrowing, and it’s used by Typescript to determine the type to assign to a variable whose type is not explicitly annotated but is left for Typescript to infer.
Take the following variables:
const x = "1";
let y = "1"
What do you think their types are? You would expect both to be strings, but the first one (
x) is a string literal of
"1" while the second one is a
Type Widening in Action
Why? Since the first variable -
x - is defined using
const, Typescript inferred that it can’t be re-assigned, and there is no need to widen it beyond the literal type of
"1". While the second variable -
y - is defined using
let and can be re-assigned; hence its type is widened to allow all variables that are strings to be assigned.
If we were to take the variable
x definition, it is a little straightforward to understand why typescript chose to infer the type it did, as its value cannot be changed. But when it comes to the variable
y, the possible types range from:
a more strict type definition of a literal type of
"1"- This allows it only to be assigned the value
"1"Probably not what you had in mind.
a more sensible type definition of
string- This restricts the types of values that can be assigned to this variable to be only strings, which
"1"is a subtype of, and probably what you had in mind.
an even broader
any- this would allow the variable
yto be assigned anything from numbers to boolean.
When it comes to type inference, Typescript will try to strike a balance between being too strict and too broad by using the information it has at its hand. So, when you use const, Typescript can convert the type to a literal type as
const indicates the variable is immutable. And if you use
let, Typescript will use this information (
let defines a mutable variable) to widen the type to include a much broader but sensible type definition for the variable in question.
For objects and arrays, this behavior isn’t replicated. When you define an object or an array using const, Typescript doesn’t infer the type to its narrowest type, i.e., a Tuple for an array and an immutable object for an object. This is because while a variable defining an object cannot be re-assigned a new value, the object properties can be modified, and new properties can be added. The same goes for an array, where we can still push new values to it and modify existing ones.
There are several scenarios where typescript doesn’t do Type widening. This is because typescript can derive more information about the variable being defined. The first scenario is when you provide type annotation, typescript will use the type annotation as the type for the variable. If we take a look at variable
x from above, if we assigned it a type annotation of
stringTypescript will not change that, as shown below.
And the second scenario is when Typescript can derive more information about the variable from the usage context. This is commonly seen in functional parameters, where Typescript will use the parameter type of the function as the variable type of the variable you are passing in without widening it.
And the third situation is when we use const assertions. When we use const assertions on an object or an array, Typescript infers the type of the variable to its narrowest possible type. This means that an object becomes a read-only object, i.e., the fields cannot be mutated, and an array becomes a read-only tuple, as shown below:
For more information, you can learn more about const assertions here.
In this week’s topic, we learned about Type Widening in Typescript and how Typescript tries to assign the best possible type for the variable with the information it has available to it. If you want to learn about type inference, check out my previous issue here.
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