Typescript Generics

Posted on 25 March 2019 in Web

tldr; This was a learning reinforcement blog post, so it’s a little waffly.

Code smells point to a need for refactoring. Such an opportunity arose today when I decided to work our main network request class. This Http class is a wrapper around fetch, adding in API authentication tokens, parsing JSON and generally making requests slightly nicer to deal with.

The response type of APIResponse was as follows:

interface APIResponse {
  errors?: APIError[];
  data?: APIData | APIData[];
}

interface APIData {
  id: string;
  type: string;
  attributes: DynamicObject;
}

Looks neat enough. The API responds with a data property that’s either non-existent, an APIData object, or an array of them.

The issue comes when you start to use the thing…

const { data } = new Http('/endpoint').get();

At this point, data could be three very different things. If you’re expecting an array, you should be able to call .length on data. But as data can be undefined, or an object, Typescript gets (quite rightly) rather cross. So we end up doing silly things like:

const { data } = new Http('/endpoint').get();
if (!data || !Array.isArray(data)) {
  throw new Error();
}

/* data.length can now be safely accessed */

The thing is, we know which endpoints return an array, and which return an object - that isn’t going to change. So we need a way to tell our Http class which type will be coming back.

Enter generics ✨

A generic describes a type you can pass into a method, and use to guarantee the output, and is kind of similar to an overload but for types.

I often find it’s good to start coding from the direction of the caller, defining the problem from the outside, and working back from there. Here’s the ideal end result:

/* Always an array */
const { data } = new Http('/users').get<APIArray>();

/* Always an object */
const { data } = new Http('/users/username').get<APIObject>();

To define a generic, you decorate a method with a type parameter on the way in, and again on the way out. This ‘type parameter’ <T> sits outside the function parameters, as shown below:

class Http {
  // ...
  private get = <T>(options = {}): Promise<T> => {
    return fetch(this.route);
    // ...
  };
}

And that’s it! We’ve told Typescript to trust the type we send in as the type to send out.

Going a bit further

We can push a little further with generics outside of a method. Take the APIObject and APIArray mentioned earlier. How did they come about? They look something like this:

interface APIData {
  id: string;
  type: string;
  attributes: DynamicObject;
}

interface APIObject {
  data: APIData;
}

interface APIArray {
  data: APIData[];
}

This is great, but a bit limiting should we want to express more detail about the types being returned. Take a User model, for example. There are certain attributes that we can count on, and describing them would be handy. We need away to extend APIData for certain endpoints. Again, let’s define the solution first.

const { data } = new Http('/users/username')
  .get<APIObject<APIUser>>();
/* data.attributes.username is safe to access */

const { data } = new Http('/users')
  .get<APIArray<APIUser>>();

Next, let’s create the APIUser shape:

interface APIUser extends APIData {
  attributes: {
    username: string;
    bio: string;
  };
}

By extending APIData, we get sensible defaults, but can be more specific about the attributes that will return. Finally, we can make the two other interfaces more generic:

interface APIObject<T = APIData> {
  data: T;
}

interface APIArray<T = APIData> {
  data: Array<T>;
}

This kind of looks like weird function, because is kind of is! We’re telling Typescript to use variable T if we send it, but fallback to APIData if we don’t. This gives the net result of:

APIObject /* returns an APIData */
APIObject<APIUser> /* returns an APIUser */

APIArray /* returns an APIData[] */
APIArray<APIUser> /* returns an APIUser[] */

tldr;

/* Interfaces */
interface APIData {
  id: string;
  attributes: DynamicObject;
}

interface APIUser extends APIData {
  attributes: {
    username: string;
    bio: string;
  };
}

interface APIObject<T = APIData> {
  data: T;
}

interface APIArray<T = APIData> {
  data: Array<T>;
}

/* The class */
class Http {
  // ...
  private get = <T>(options = {}): Promise<T> => {
    return fetch(this.route);
    // ...
  };
}

/* The implementation */
const { data } = new Http('/posts/slug')
  .get<APIObject>();

const { data } = new Http('/users/username')
  .get<APIObject<APIUser>>();

const { data } = new Http('/users')
  .get<APIArray<APIUser>>();

Posted on 25 March 2019 in Web