Learn TypeScript w/ Mike North

Hello TypeScript

June 08, 2021

Table of Contents

In this chapter we will…

  • Get hands-on with our first TypeScript program and the compiler CLI command
  • Learn how the compiler-emitted JS code changes depending on JS language level and module type
  • Examine a simple program’s compiled output, including the type declaration file

Anatomy of the project

Let’s consider your a very simple TypeScript project that consists of only three files:

sh
package.json # Package manifest
tsconfig.json # TypeScript compiler settings
src/index.ts # "the program"

package.json (view source)

jsonc
{
"name": "hello-ts",
"license": "NOLICENSE",
"devDependencies": {
"typescript": "^4.3.2"
},
"scripts": {
"dev": "tsc --watch --preserveWatchOutput"
}
}

Note that…

  • We just have one dependency in our package.json: typescript.
  • We have a dev script (this is what runs when you invoke yarn dev-hello-ts from the project root)

    • It runs the TypeScript compiler in “watch” mode (watches for source changes, and rebuilds automatically).

The following is just about the simplest possible config file for the TS compiler:

tsconfig.json (view source)

jsonc
{
"compilerOptions": {
"outDir": "dist", // where to put the TS files
"target": "ES3" // which level of JS support to target
},
"include": ["src"] // which files to compile
}

All of these things could be specified on the command line (e.g., tsc --outDir dist), but particularly as things get increasingly complicated, we’ll benefit a lot from having this config file:

Finally, we have a relatively simple and pointless TypeScript program. It does have a few interesting things in it that should make changes to the "target" property in our tsconfig.json more obvious:

  • Use of a built in Promise constructor (introduced in ES2015)
  • Use of async and await (introduced in ES2017)

Here is the original (TypeScript) source code that we aim to compile:

src/index.ts (view source)

/**
* Create a promise that resolves after some time
* @param n number of milliseconds before promise resolves
*/
function timeout(n: number) {
return new Promise((res) => setTimeout(res, n))
}
/**
* Add three numbers
* @param a first number
* @param b second
*/
export async function addNumbers(a: number, b: number) {
await timeout(500)
return a + b
}
//== Run the program ==//
;(async () => {
console.log(await addNumbers(3, 4))
})()
Try

Note that when you hover over certain code points on this website, you get the equivalent of a “VScode tooltip”. This is one of our most important tools for learning about how TypeScript understands our code!

In the above example, we use the export keyword to demonstrate using TypeScript modules. Using modules works locally, but the “Try” link won’t run in TypeScript playground since it doesn’t support multiple files. Here is an example of the same code without the module export so you can run the code in TypeScript playground!

cursor hovering

Running the compiler

Optionally, you may run the following terminal command from the packages/hello-ts folder of the git repo:

sh
yarn dev

You should see something in your terminal like:

12:01:57 PM - Starting compilation in watch mode...

Note that within the “hello-ts” project

  • a ./dist folder has appeared,
  • inside it is an index.js file.

Open this file — it will be a mess

Click here to see what the compiled output looks like
"use strict"
var __awaiter =
(this && this.__awaiter) ||
function (thisArg, _arguments, P, generator) {
function adopt(value) {
return value instanceof P
? value
: new P(function (resolve) {
resolve(value)
})
}
return new (P || (P = Promise))(function (
resolve,
reject
) {
function fulfilled(value) {
try {
step(generator.next(value))
} catch (e) {
reject(e)
}
}
function rejected(value) {
try {
step(generator["throw"](value))
} catch (e) {
reject(e)
}
}
function step(result) {
result.done
? resolve(result.value)
: adopt(result.value).then(fulfilled, rejected)
}
step(
(generator = generator.apply(
thisArg,
_arguments || []
)).next()
)
})
}
var __generator =
(this && this.__generator) ||
function (thisArg, body) {
var _ = {
label: 0,
sent: function () {
if (t[0] & 1) throw t[1]
return t[1]
},
trys: [],
ops: [],
},
f,
y,
t,
g
return (
(g = {
next: verb(0),
throw: verb(1),
return: verb(2),
}),
typeof Symbol === "function" &&
(g[Symbol.iterator] = function () {
return this
}),
g
)
function verb(n) {
return function (v) {
return step([n, v])
}
}
function step(op) {
if (f)
throw new TypeError(
"Generator is already executing."
)
while (_)
try {
if (
((f = 1),
y &&
(t =
op[0] & 2
? y["return"]
: op[0]
? y["throw"] ||
((t = y["return"]) && t.call(y), 0)
: y.next) &&
!(t = t.call(y, op[1])).done)
)
return t
if (((y = 0), t)) op = [op[0] & 2, t.value]
switch (op[0]) {
case 0:
case 1:
t = op
break
case 4:
_.label++
return { value: op[1], done: false }
case 5:
_.label++
y = op[1]
op = [0]
continue
case 7:
op = _.ops.pop()
_.trys.pop()
continue
default:
if (
!((t = _.trys),
(t = t.length > 0 && t[t.length - 1])) &&
(op[0] === 6 || op[0] === 2)
) {
_ = 0
continue
}
if (
op[0] === 3 &&
(!t || (op[1] > t[0] && op[1] < t[3]))
) {
_.label = op[1]
break
}
if (op[0] === 6 && _.label < t[1]) {
_.label = t[1]
t = op
break
}
if (t && _.label < t[2]) {
_.label = t[2]
_.ops.push(op)
break
}
if (t[2]) _.ops.pop()
_.trys.pop()
continue
}
op = body.call(thisArg, _)
} catch (e) {
op = [6, e]
y = 0
} finally {
f = t = 0
}
if (op[0] & 5) throw op[1]
return { value: op[0] ? op[1] : void 0, done: true }
}
}
exports.__esModule = true
exports.addNumbers = void 0
/**
* Create a promise that resolves after some time
* @param n number of milliseconds before promise resolves
*/
function timeout(n) {
return new Promise(function (res) {
return setTimeout(res, n)
})
}
/**
* Add three numbers
* @param a first number
* @param b second
*/
function addNumbers(a, b) {
return __awaiter(this, void 0, void 0, function () {
return __generator(this, function (_a) {
switch (_a.label) {
case 0:
return [4 /*yield*/, timeout(500)]
case 1:
_a.sent()
return [2 /*return*/, a + b]
}
})
})
}
exports.addNumbers = addNumbers
//== Run the program ==//
;(function () {
return __awaiter(void 0, void 0, void 0, function () {
var _a, _b
return __generator(this, function (_c) {
switch (_c.label) {
case 0:
_b = (_a = console).log
return [4 /*yield*/, addNumbers(3, 4)]
case 1:
_b.apply(_a, [_c.sent()])
return [2 /*return*/]
}
})
})
})()
Try

Changing target language level

If we go to hello-ts/tsconfig.json and change the “compilerOptions.target” property:

diff
{
"compilerOptions": {
"outDir": "dist",
- "target": "ES3"
+ "target": "ES2015"
},
"include": ["src"]
}

Look at that dist/index.js file again — it’s much cleaner now! Do you notice what has changed? Can you find a Promise constructor? Maybe the yield keyword?

Click here to see what the compiled output looks like
var __awaiter = (this && this.__awaiter) || function (thisArg, _arguments, P, generator) {
function adopt(value) { return value instanceof P ? value : new P(function (resolve) { resolve(value); }); }
return new (P || (P = Promise))(function (resolve, reject) {
function fulfilled(value) { try { step(generator.next(value)); } catch (e) { reject(e); } }
function rejected(value) { try { step(generator["throw"](value)); } catch (e) { reject(e); } }
function step(result) { result.done ? resolve(result.value) : adopt(result.value).then(fulfilled, rejected); }
step((generator = generator.apply(thisArg, _arguments || [])).next());
});
};
/**
* Create a promise that resolves after some time
* @param n number of milliseconds before promise resolves
*/
function timeout(n) {
return new Promise((res) => setTimeout(res, n));
}
/**
* Add three numbers
* @param a first number
* @param b second
*/
export function addNumbers(a, b) {
return __awaiter(this, void 0, void 0, function* () {
yield timeout(500);
return a + b;
});
}
//== Run the program ==//
;
(() => __awaiter(void 0, void 0, void 0, function* () {
console.log(yield addNumbers(3, 4));
}))();
Try

Now let’s bump the language level up even more, to 2017:

diff
{
"compilerOptions": {
"outDir": "dist",
- "target": "ES2015"
+ "target": "ES2017"
},
"include": ["src"]
}

It’s even cleaner!

Some changes to observe:

  • We start to see async and await
  • We no longer see the _awaiter helper

In fact, this looks a lot like the type information has just been stripped away from our original .ts source code.

Click here to see what the compiled output looks like
/**
* Create a promise that resolves after some time
* @param n number of milliseconds before promise resolves
*/
function timeout(n) {
return new Promise((res) => setTimeout(res, n));
}
/**
* Add three numbers
* @param a first number
* @param b second
*/
export async function addNumbers(a, b) {
await timeout(500);
return a + b;
}
//== Run the program ==//
;
(async () => {
console.log(await addNumbers(3, 4));
})();
Try

You may also notice that a .d.ts file is generated as part of the compile process. This is known as a declaration file.

/**
* Add three numbers
* @param a first number
* @param b second
*/
export declare function addNumbers(a: number, b: number): Promise<number>;
Try

A good way to think of TS files:

  • .ts files contain both type information and code that runs
  • .js files contain only code that runs
  • .d.ts files contain only type information

Types of modules

Did you notice that the export keyword was still present in the build output for our program? We are generating ES2015 modules from our TypeScript source.

If you tried to run this file with node like this:

sh
node packages/hello-ts/dist/index.js

There’s an error!

sh
export async function addNumbers(a, b) {
^^^^^^
SyntaxError: Unexpected token 'export'

It seems that, at least with most recent versions of Node.js and the way our project is currently set up, we can’t just run this program directly as-is.

Node expects CommonJS modules 1, so we’ll have to tell TypeScript to output this kind of code.

Let’s add a new property to our tsconfig file:

diff
"compilerOptions": {
"outDir": "dist",
+ "module": "CommonJS",

Look at your packages/hello-ts/dist/index.js one more time now. You should see that the way the addNumbers function is exported has changed:

exports.addNumbers = addNumbers
Try

This is an indication that we’re emitting CommonJS modules! We could try running this program with node one more time:

sh
node packages/hello-ts/dist/index.js

If the program works correctly at this point, we should see it pause for a short time and then print 7 to the console, before ending successfully.

CONGRATS! You’ve just compiled your first TypeScript program!


  1. There are certainly ways of making modern versions of Node happy to run ES2015 modules, and they’ll likely soon be the default type of JS module, but .js files passed directly into node with no flags or other arguments are still treated as CommonJS



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