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Type Inference

Introduction

In this section, we will cover type inference in TypeScript. Namely, we’ll discuss where and how types are inferred.

Basics

In TypeScript, there are several places where type inference is used to provide type information when there is no explicit type annotation. For example, in this code

let x = 3;

The type of the x variable is inferred to be number. This kind of inference takes place when initializing variables and members, setting parameter default values, and determining function return types.

In most cases, type inference is straightforward. In the following sections, we’ll explore some of the nuances in how types are inferred.

Best common type

When a type inference is made from several expressions, the types of those expressions are used to calculate a “best common type”. For example,

let x = [0, 1, null];

To infer the type of x in the example above, we must consider the type of each array element. Here we are given two choices for the type of the array: number and null. The best common type algorithm considers each candidate type, and picks the type that is compatible with all the other candidates.

Because the best common type has to be chosen from the provided candidate types, there are some cases where types share a common structure, but no one type is the super type of all candidate types. For example:

let zoo = [new Rhino(), new Elephant(), new Snake()];

Ideally, we may want zoo to be inferred as an Animal[], but because there is no object that is strictly of type Animal in the array, we make no inference about the array element type. To correct this, instead explicitly provide the type when no one type is a super type of all other candidates:

let zoo: Animal[] = [new Rhino(), new Elephant(), new Snake()];

When no best common type is found, the resulting inference is the empty object type, {}. Because this type has no members, attempting to use any properties of it will cause an error. This result allows you to still use the object in a type-agnostic manner, while providing type safety in cases where the type of the object can’t be implicitly determined.

Contextual Type

Type inference also works in “the other direction” in some cases in TypeScript. This is known as “contextual typing”. Contextual typing occurs when the type of an expression is implied by its location. For example:

window.onmousedown = function(mouseEvent) {
  console.log(mouseEvent.buton);  //<- Error
};

For the code above to give the type error, the TypeScript type checker used the type of the Window.onmousedown function to infer the type of the function expression on the right hand side of the assignment. When it did so, it was able to infer the type of the mouseEvent parameter. If this function expression were not in a contextually typed position, the mouseEvent parameter would have type any, and no error would have been issued.

If the contextually typed expression contains explicit type information, the contextual type is ignored. Had we written the above example:

window.onmousedown = function(mouseEvent: any) {
  console.log(mouseEvent.buton);  //<- Now, no error is given
};

The function expression with an explicit type annotation on the parameter will override the contextual type. Once it does so, no error is given as no contextual type applies.

Contextual typing applies in many cases. Common cases include arguments to function calls, right hand sides of assignments, type assertions, members of object and array literals, and return statements. The contextual type also acts as a candidate type in best common type. For example:

function createZoo(): Animal[] {
  return [new Rhino(), new Elephant(), new Snake()];
}

In this example, best common type has a set of four candidates: Animal, Rhino, Elephant, and Snake. Of these, Animal can be chosen by the best common type algorithm.

© Microsoft and other contributors
Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0.
https://www.typescriptlang.org/docs/handbook/type-inference.html