Typescript Explained In Javascript: Mapped Types

3rd post in "TypeScript explained in JavaScript" series
Typescript Explained In Javascript: Mapped Types

Photo by Kelsey Knight

The previous two posts covered the keyof operator and extends keyword. This is the first post to begin building on top of these concepts to explore more complex typings.

JavaScript

Before talking about what mapped types actually are, let’s start with the concept of “mapping” in JavaScript. Hearing this, you might think of JavaScript’s Array map function.

const list = [1, 2, 3, 4];
const double = value => value * 2;
const doubled = list.map(double);
console.log(doubled); // [ 2, 4, 6, 8 ]

Here, we were able to take a list of numbers and double every value. The map function will call the double function for every item and pass in the value from the list. The value returned will be the new value in the final doubled array. This works well for arrays, but how is something like this achieved with objects? There are a few ways.

const list = {
  one: 1,
  two: 2,
  three: 3,
  four: 4
};

const evens = {};
for (const key in list) {
  if (list[key] % 2 === 0) {
    evens[key] = true;
  } else {
    evens[key] = false;
  }
}

This first approach uses a for...in statement to iterate through all the enumerable properties of the list object. It builds a new object evens with the same keys as list but each value is now a boolean indicating whether or not it is even. The resulting evens object will look like the following.

{ "one": false, "two": true, "three": false, "four": true }

Another approach is to use the Object.keys method discussed in the first post exploring keyof. This will return an array of the keys which can then be iterated through using the Array forEach function. It works very similar to the map function above, but it doesn’t return anything.

const evens = {};
Object.keys(list).forEach(key => {
  if (list[key] % 2 === 0) {
    evens[key] = true;
  } else {
    evens[key] = false;
  }
});

Now that we know how mapping and iterating over arrays and objects looks in JavaScript, what could this look like with some types?

TypeScript

To start, let’s create an interface to describe the shape of the list object.

interface List {
  one: number;
  two: number;
  three: number;
  four: number;
}

const list: List = {
  one: 1,
  two: 2,
  three: 3,
  four: 4
};

Now, taking the last JavaScript snippet directly from above results in two issues. Both are: Element implicitly has an 'any' type because expression of type 'string' can't be used to index type ....

The first is a result of using Object.keys. It returns string[] but the list only allows four specific strings: one, two, three, four. The easiest fix is to cast the result. Another option is to define a method that uses Object.keys but with stricter typings. For now, let’s cast it to be an array of only the keys contained within the list.

const keys = Object.keys(list) as Array<keyof List>;

keys.forEach(key => {
  if (list[key] % 2 === 0) {
    evens[key] = true;
  } else {
    evens[key] = false;
  }
});

The other issue is with evens. It’s initialized as {} which means it’s inferred typed is an empty object with no keys. How do we type this to say it has the same keys as the list, but boolean values instead of number?

This is where mapped types come in. The first step in JavaScript was to use Object.keys to get an array of keys. As covered in the first post keyof is roughly the equivalent operator in the type system. So we now have a union of the keys with keyof List. The next step in JavaScript was to iterate through these values. Unlike JavaScript, there’s only one way to do this with types and it’s most similar to the for...in syntax.

type Evens = { [Key in keyof List]: boolean };

The outer curly braces are saying this is an object. Within the square brackets is the equivalent to Object.keys(list).forEach(...). It’s saying that for each key (Key) in (in) the union of keys (keyof List) it’s value is a boolean (boolean).

There is one more issue though. To start, evens is empty. One way to work around this is to say all the keys are optional. This can be achieved by marking every field as optional with a question mark.

type Evens = { [Key in keyof List]?: boolean };

Expanded out, this is now equivalent to the following.

type Evens = {
  one?: boolean;
  two?: boolean;
  three?: boolean;
  four?: boolean;
};

Now the type can be used and all type issues are solved!

const evens: Evens = {};

This simple example could also as easily be done by hand without the use of mapped types. However, the benefits of mapped types become more apparent when working with large or complex typings. Additionally, it keeps the derived type in-sync so if five is added to List, Evens will also immediately include it. Finally, in combination with generics, they can be reused. For example, what if there were many of these lists?

interface ListTwo {
  five: number;
  six: number;
  seven: number;
}

The same logic could be duplicated, but since it needs to be reused many times a type that accepts an “argument” (generic) that is the list can be used.

type Boolify<Input> = { [Key in keyof Input]?: boolean };

type Evens = Boolify<List>;
type EvensTwo = Boolify<ListTwo>;

This can be broken down even further. What if it accepted any keys and their value?

type Record<Keys extends string | number | symbol, Value> = {
  [Key in Keys]: Value;
};

type Evens = Record<keyof List, boolean>;
type EvensTwo = Record<keyof ListTwo, boolean>;

Now Record can be used for any keys and given value.

type Example = Record<"a" | "b" | "c", number>;
// Results in:
// {
//   a: number;
//   b: number;
//   c: number;
// }

TypeScript actually already defines Record along with many other utility types such as Partial for making all the properties optional.

Mapped types are fairly flexible, so there are a number of ways the types could be written. For example, with Record and Partial it could look like the following.

interface List {
  one: number;
  two: number;
  three: number;
  four: number;
}

const list: List = {
  one: 1,
  two: 2,
  three: 3,
  four: 4
};

const keys = Object.keys(list) as Array<keyof List>;
type Evens = Partial<Record<keyof List, boolean>>;

const evens: Evens = {};
keys.forEach(key => {
  if (list[key] % 2 === 0) {
    evens[key] = true;
  } else {
    evens[key] = false;
  }
});

Definition

The TypeScript documentation also provides a more formal and succinct definition.

In a mapped type, the new type transforms each property in the old type in the same way.

The mapped type syntax has three parts:

  1. The type variable Key, which gets bound to each property in turn.
  2. The string union keyof List, which contains the names of properties to iterate over ("one", "two", "three", "four").
  3. The resulting type of the property (boolean).

Conclusion

In summary, mapped types behave in a conceptually similar way to mapping over an array or using a for..in statement in JavaScript. They are an invaluable tool in the typing tool belt. They help derive complex types from other complex types, avoid duplication, and guarantee types will stay in-sync.