I have a number of preferences for TypeScript (TS) projects, built up from seeing the language adopted by teams and drawing comparisons with other ecosystems and strongly typed programing languages. These are mainly to do with configuring the compiler on new projects and additionally general rules for how you go about interacting with external data stores. I think TypeScript is a great tool and offers a meaningful improvement over plain JavaScript, but you only really get the most value out of it when you use it appropriately, and invest time in learning it thoroughly.

Learning TypeScript

TypeScript is evolving very quickly. As a result, developers who have used it a year or six months in the past may not have taken advantage of a lot of the features that it now has to offer. Much of the great developer experience that TS has to offer comes from the built in types, features of the type system and safety checks that the compiler can perform, all of which are constantly improving. A key part of TS adoption working well for you or for your team is that developers are clued-up on the available language features and constantly refresh their knowledge as new versions of the compiler are released.

A practical example of the need to learn the available language features are type guards. If you’re reading this article, I’m sure you know what they are and how they’re used. When writing plain JavaScript, you’ll likely have written functions or if statements that check for the shape of the object, but getting into the habit of expressing these as type guards is important to avoid fighting the type system and littering the code with as statements. The use of as and not relying on type inference can make the language feel onerous to use and thus harms the dev experience as well as the safety.

My recommendation would be to ensure that new team members read through the official TS documentation and try setting up a small demo project before they embark on using it to contribute to your projects. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of adding a few types here and there to normal JavaScript code and therefore not take advantage of the available language features, many of which are important to realise the safety TS can provide. As with any new language learning, having feedback from more experienced developers in pull requests is very helpful in ensuring language features get used appropriately and that their knowledge stays up-to-date as the compiler changes. Having at least one person in the team who’s signed up to the TypeScript Weekly newsletter and is seeing the features as they’re released is super helpful to improve the team’s effectiveness with the language.


One of the key areas in getting value out of TS is to look closely at what you’re trying to achieve in using it, specifically why you think it gives you value over plain JavaScript. While a lot of people think the primary value is extra safety, we have to think about what that safety means and how the compiler can help us achieve that. Understanding what options are available in the tsconfig.json file is key to learning what checking the compiler can perform for you and can help you achieve your goals of adopting the language.

The tsc utility will allow you to generate a new and heavily annotated tsconfig.json file (run tsc --init). If any of the settings don’t make sense, check out the tsconfig.json documentation. I’d recommend that if you’re the engineering lead on a project, you take time to read through the available options and setup a standardised config for your team’s projects. Once engineers have read through the basic introduction to TypeScript, you can direct them to the tsconfig documentation for more information about what the compiler is capable of doing and to see examples of why certain errors will appear when they’re writing code. This is a huge help when they’re learning the language and will often be running into these errors if they’re writing code that’s acceptable in plain JavaScript but viewed as unsafe with strict TS options enabled.

As a general rule of thumb, I enable all the strictness related options and then tailor the target (output language level) and lib (built-in features) to the version of Node.JS that I’m using for the project. Investing effort in configuration upfront will pay dividends later when you’re trying to reap the safety benefits of the language. Stricter or safer programming styles are harder to retrofit if code is written without those options being enabled.

Split tsconfig files

One technique that I learned from some colleagues recently relates to how you have TS configured for the test and the source files. One of the problems that you might have if you set up the tsconfig to build all the files that it can find is that you end up building the source and test files (e.g. src and test) into your distributed application. If you only want to publish the built src folder or even have different configuration while you’re writing the tests themselves, having two tsconfig files enables this. Perhaps you’d like to turn off the unused local variables error while you’re writing the tests but still want this check performed against the finished production code.

The main tsconfig.json file will be picked up by the editor and supporting tools that you use and thus should cover your test and source files.

  "compilerOptions": {
    "incremental": true,
    "target": "ES2018",
    "module": "commonjs",
    "lib": ["ES2018"],
    "declaration": true,
    "outDir": "./dist",
    "strict": true,
    "noUnusedLocals": true,
    "noUnusedParameters": true,
    "noImplicitReturns": true,
    "noFallthroughCasesInSwitch": true,
    "esModuleInterop": true,
    "inlineSourceMap": true,
    "skipLibCheck": true,
    "forceConsistentCasingInFileNames": true
  "include": [

The additional tsconfig.build.json file is used only for producing the built code, e.g. when publishing a package or shipping a new version of the service. A Yarn / NPM script with tsconfig -p tsconfig.build.json will select this file when required.

  "extends": "./tsconfig.json",
  "include": [

Choosing libraries

Support for TS in the NodeJS ecosystem / MPM ecosystem is really strong and improving constantly. I think we’re very lucky that TS is gaining wide adoption and typings are often included either in the library itself, or are in the @types namespace on NPM. However, if you’re starting a project from scratch, it might be worth thinking about the libraries that you would normally use for certain functions and then looking at the quality of the typings that are provided with them. If you have a library that there are common alternatives to (e.g. lodash has lots of competing libraries), it’s worth checking that the typings that come with that library or that are available (if they are available) are of a high quality. What do I mean by a high quality? They should:

  • cover all functions, classes and variables etc that the library exports;

    Check for the frequent use of any or Object to see areas where the typings are missing the requisite detail.

  • be generic when the resulting type is dependent on an external system, data store or user provided value;

    For example the AxiosResponse<T> interface in the axios package lets you easily swap out the response type for the shape that will be returned by your API call.

  • be up-to-date with the library itself.

If they’re not of a high quality, you often end up fighting them by manually overriding the typings as you’re developing. This adds time to your development, friction for your teammates and takes away some safety as it introduces the possibility for error when asserting what type the variables or functions are.

Often you find that the typings are actually very good, and they cover pretty much everything you need. If they don’t, it’s always worth seeing if you can contribute back to them by making small fixes or improvements were possible because helps the ecosystem as a whole.

Dealing with external data stores

Libraries that deal with APIs, HTTP calls, data stores and other external systems are another kettle of fish and present their own challenges. What good is a TS library that retrieves rows from a PostgreSQL table if the type it produces is object[]? Although we may have great type safety up to this point, using the results of queries can be challenging as we’re often left to assert that they’re of a given shape (e.g. an interface). If the data store changes, an API version is released or we just make a mistake in the reproduction of those types, we lose any safety that TS can offer. There are a few options to work around this problem:

Code generation

By far my favourite method of dealing with external systems is code generation, in which the return types of method calls are automatically calculated from a GraphQL schema, database schema, Elasticsearch mapping or similar. Some examples of this include the @graphql-codegen/typescript and ts-protoc-gen libraries. If you’re looking to implement code generation and have access to a schema, you can easily create TS typings with handlebars templates that loop through the properties of the input objects and output relevant interfaces or types.


Manually validating the response from external system calls is much more time consuming than using readily available code generation but may be a good option when mature tools haven’t been made for your target system. The io-ts library ties the validation to the produced type and lets you assert that the response you’re given matches the shape that you expect.

Schema based types

A halfway house between code generation or validation and asserting that the response is in a given shape is to define types that are based on the schema of the data store. An example of this is by defining an interface with the shape of an Elasticsearch mapping and then writing types that, given a query or aggregation, will produce the output type of the system. This can be a fun exercise if you’re really into type theory or stretching the capabilities of the compiler, but can leave you with complex typings that make your colleagues who are newer to TS weep.

I’ve listed the above options in my order of preference. You have to weigh up the time investment against the safety they can provide to find which one is the right solution for you or your team.