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Generics Back

Reusable is a really major part of software engineering while building components. Well-defined components are not always mostly based on its consistent APIs, but its capability of handling flexible data.

That's why generics works so widely in languages like C#, Java, or C++. It helps components to work over a variety of types rather than a single one.

Take the following case as a simple example in TypeScript. When there is a function, named identify, which should return what it receives, which should be number or string. Then without generics, we will defined like this:

function identify(arg: number | string): number | string {
    return arg;

When you need to change the limitation of received arguments one day, but you do not want to change the defined function itself? Generics may be your choice at first.

function identify<T>(arg: T): T {
    return arg;

After that, any data with variety types can be handled easily:


// one day you may need to handle an array of number type
identify<number[]>([1, 2, 3]);

Besides, we can also only pass arguments, a.k.a type argument inference , where the type will be automatically grasped by the TypeScript compiler to construct T:


// one day you may need to handle an array of number type
identify([1, 2, 3]);

So when should we use the second way? In most common case, except the compiler fails to infer the type in a much more complex example. Type argument inference helps keeping code shorter and more readable.

Probably you may ask is it different from using any type specification? The following two snippets can show how strict generics are:

function identify<T>(arg: T): T {
    console.log(arg.length); /** TS2339: Property 'length' does not exist on type 'T'. */
    return arg;

But what if specify arguments with any type:

function identify(arg: any): any {
    console.log(arg.length); /** OK? it is OK */
    return arg;

Apparently, specify with any type can not help us catch some typed errors during the layer of language. However, it is reversely what we need TypeScript to do for us.

1. Generic Types

Since we talk about functions in the last chapter, we can also use a different name for the generic type parameter:

const identify: <U>(arg: U) => U = function <T>(arg: T): T { return arg; };

Generic types can be also defined as a call signature of an object literal type:

const identify: {<T>(arg: T): T} = function <T>(arg: T): T { return arg; };

This leads us to know how about defining a generic interface in TypeScript:

interface Identify {
    <T>(arg: T): T;

const identify: Identify = function <T>(arg: T): T { return arg; };

 * TS2322: Type '<T>(arg: number) 
 * => number' is not assignable to type 'Identify'.  
 *  Types of parameters 'arg' and 'arg' are incompatible.  
 *    Type 'T' is not assignable to type 'number'.
const otherIdentify: Identify = function (arg: number): number { return arg; };

Certainly, we can also move the generic parameter to be a parameter of the whole interface like this, :

interface Identify<T> {
    (arg: T): T;

const identify: Identify<number> = function <number>(arg: number): number { return arg; };

2. Generic Classes

In addition to generic interfaces, or generic functions, we can also create generic classes.

Note: but NOT generic enums and namespaces.

class GenericNumber<T> {
    value: T;
    add: (x: T) => T;

Assume that I need to create two number classes with number and string types, and we can use such a GenericNumber class like this:

const floatNumber = new GenericNumber<number>();
floatNumber.value = 0;
floatNumber.add = function (x: number) { return (this.value += x); };

const stringNumber = new GenericNumber<string>();
stringNumber.value = '0';
stringNumber.add = function (x: string) { return `${parseFloat(this.value) + parseFloat(x)}`; };

As we covered in the section of classes, a class may have static properties, which can not be generic.

3. Generic Constraints

As we know that if we want to access some unknown properties of generic types, TypeScript should warn us to do so:

function identify<T>(arg: T): T {
    console.log(arg.length); /** TS2339: Property 'length' does not exist on type 'T'. */
    return arg;

What if we guarantee that the argument arg should have the length property, and we can constrain the function to work with all arguments with the length property:

function identify<T extends { length: number; }>(arg: T): T {
    return arg;

How about use number as types?

identify<number>(3); /** TS2344: Type 'number' does not satisfy the constraint '{ length: number; }'. */

In advanced, we can also declare a type parameter that is constrained by another type parameter. Take the following example, keyof keywords has specified that the second parameter should be a key of T:

function identify<T>(obj: T, key: keyof T): T {
    return obj;

identify({a : 1}, 'a');
identify({a : 1}, 'b'); /** TS2345: Argument of type '"b"' is not assignable to parameter of type '"a"'. */
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