TypeScript 3.8

Type-Only Imports and Export

This feature is something most users may never have to think about; however, if you’ve hit issues under --isolatedModules, TypeScript’s transpileModule API, or Babel, this feature might be relevant.

TypeScript 3.8 adds a new syntax for type-only imports and exports.

ts
import type { SomeThing } from "./some-module.js"; export type { SomeThing };

import type only imports declarations to be used for type annotations and declarations. It always gets fully erased, so there’s no remnant of it at runtime. Similarly, export type only provides an export that can be used for type contexts, and is also erased from TypeScript’s output.

It’s important to note that classes have a value at runtime and a type at design-time, and the use is context-sensitive. When using import type to import a class, you can’t do things like extend from it.

ts
import type { Component } from "react"; interface ButtonProps { // ... } class Button extends Component<ButtonProps> { // ~~~~~~~~~ // error! 'Component' only refers to a type, but is being used as a value here. // ... }

If you’ve used Flow before, the syntax is fairly similar. One difference is that we’ve added a few restrictions to avoid code that might appear ambiguous.

ts
// Is only 'Foo' a type? Or every declaration in the import? // We just give an error because it's not clear. import type Foo, { Bar, Baz } from "some-module"; // ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ // error! A type-only import can specify a default import or named bindings, but not both.

In conjunction with import type, TypeScript 3.8 also adds a new compiler flag to control what happens with imports that won’t be utilized at runtime: importsNotUsedAsValues. This flag takes 3 different values:

  • remove: this is today’s behavior of dropping these imports. It’s going to continue to be the default, and is a non-breaking change.
  • preserve: this preserves all imports whose values are never used. This can cause imports/side-effects to be preserved.
  • error: this preserves all imports (the same as the preserve option), but will error when a value import is only used as a type. This might be useful if you want to ensure no values are being accidentally imported, but still make side-effect imports explicit.

For more information about the feature, you can take a look at the pull request, and relevant changes around broadening where imports from an import type declaration can be used.

ECMAScript Private Fields

TypeScript 3.8 brings support for ECMAScript’s private fields, part of the stage-3 class fields proposal.

ts
class Person { #name: string; constructor(name: string) { this.#name = name; } greet() { console.log(`Hello, my name is ${this.#name}!`); } } let jeremy = new Person("Jeremy Bearimy"); jeremy.#name; // ~~~~~ // Property '#name' is not accessible outside class 'Person' // because it has a private identifier.

Unlike regular properties (even ones declared with the private modifier), private fields have a few rules to keep in mind. Some of them are:

  • Private fields start with a # character. Sometimes we call these private names.
  • Every private field name is uniquely scoped to its containing class.
  • TypeScript accessibility modifiers like public or private can’t be used on private fields.
  • Private fields can’t be accessed or even detected outside of the containing class - even by JS users! Sometimes we call this hard privacy.

Apart from “hard” privacy, another benefit of private fields is that uniqueness we just mentioned. For example, regular property declarations are prone to being overwritten in subclasses.

ts
class C { foo = 10; cHelper() { return this.foo; } } class D extends C { foo = 20; dHelper() { return this.foo; } } let instance = new D(); // 'this.foo' refers to the same property on each instance. console.log(instance.cHelper()); // prints '20' console.log(instance.dHelper()); // prints '20'

With private fields, you’ll never have to worry about this, since each field name is unique to the containing class.

ts
class C { #foo = 10; cHelper() { return this.#foo; } } class D extends C { #foo = 20; dHelper() { return this.#foo; } } let instance = new D(); // 'this.#foo' refers to a different field within each class. console.log(instance.cHelper()); // prints '10' console.log(instance.dHelper()); // prints '20'

Another thing worth noting is that accessing a private field on any other type will result in a TypeError!

ts
class Square { #sideLength: number; constructor(sideLength: number) { this.#sideLength = sideLength; } equals(other: any) { return this.#sideLength === other.#sideLength; } } const a = new Square(100); const b = { sideLength: 100 }; // Boom! // TypeError: attempted to get private field on non-instance // This fails because 'b' is not an instance of 'Square'. console.log(a.equals(b));

Finally, for any plain .js file users, private fields always have to be declared before they’re assigned to.

js
class C { // No declaration for '#foo' // :( constructor(foo: number) { // SyntaxError! // '#foo' needs to be declared before writing to it. this.#foo = foo; } }

JavaScript has always allowed users to access undeclared properties, whereas TypeScript has always required declarations for class properties. With private fields, declarations are always needed regardless of whether we’re working in .js or .ts files.

js
class C { /** @type {number} */ #foo; constructor(foo: number) { // This works. this.#foo = foo; } }

For more information about the implementation, you can check out the original pull request

Which should I use?

We’ve already received many questions on which type of privates you should use as a TypeScript user: most commonly, “should I use the private keyword, or ECMAScript’s hash/pound (#) private fields?” It depends!

When it comes to properties, TypeScript’s private modifiers are fully erased - that means that at runtime, it acts entirely like a normal property and there’s no way to tell that it was declared with a private modifier. When using the private keyword, privacy is only enforced at compile-time/design-time, and for JavaScript consumers it’s entirely intent-based.

ts
class C { private foo = 10; } // This is an error at compile time, // but when TypeScript outputs .js files, // it'll run fine and print '10'. console.log(new C().foo); // prints '10' // ~~~ // error! Property 'foo' is private and only accessible within class 'C'. // TypeScript allows this at compile-time // as a "work-around" to avoid the error. console.log(new C()["foo"]); // prints '10'

The upside is that this sort of “soft privacy” can help your consumers temporarily work around not having access to some API, and also works in any runtime.

On the other hand, ECMAScript’s # privates are completely inaccessible outside of the class.

ts
class C { #foo = 10; } console.log(new C().#foo); // SyntaxError // ~~~~ // TypeScript reports an error *and* // this won't work at runtime! console.log(new C()["#foo"]); // prints undefined // ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ // TypeScript reports an error under 'noImplicitAny', // and this prints 'undefined'.

This hard privacy is really useful for strictly ensuring that nobody can take use of any of your internals. If you’re a library author, removing or renaming a private field should never cause a breaking change.

As we mentioned, another benefit is that subclassing can be easier with ECMAScript’s # privates because they really are private. When using ECMAScript # private fields, no subclass ever has to worry about collisions in field naming. When it comes to TypeScript’s private property declarations, users still have to be careful not to trample over properties declared in superclasses.

One more thing to think about is where you intend for your code to run. TypeScript currently can’t support this feature unless targeting ECMAScript 2015 (ES6) targets or higher. This is because our downleveled implementation uses WeakMaps to enforce privacy, and WeakMaps can’t be polyfilled in a way that doesn’t cause memory leaks. In contrast, TypeScript’s private-declared properties work with all targets - even ECMAScript 3!

A final consideration might be speed: private properties are no different from any other property, so accessing them is as fast as any other property access no matter which runtime you target. In contrast, because # private fields are downleveled using WeakMaps, they may be slower to use. While some runtimes might optimize their actual implementations of # private fields, and even have speedy WeakMap implementations, that might not be the case in all runtimes.

export * as ns Syntax

It’s often common to have a single entry-point that exposes all the members of another module as a single member.

ts
import * as utilities from "./utilities.js"; export { utilities };

This is so common that ECMAScript 2020 recently added a new syntax to support this pattern!

ts
export * as utilities from "./utilities.js";

This is a nice quality-of-life improvement to JavaScript, and TypeScript 3.8 implements this syntax. When your module target is earlier than es2020, TypeScript will output something along the lines of the first code snippet.

Top-Level await

TypeScript 3.8 provides support for a handy upcoming ECMAScript feature called “top-level await“.

JavaScript users often introduce an async function in order to use await, and then immediately called the function after defining it.

js
async function main() { const response = await fetch("..."); const greeting = await response.text(); console.log(greeting); } main().catch((e) => console.error(e));

This is because previously in JavaScript (along with most other languages with a similar feature), await was only allowed within the body of an async function. However, with top-level await, we can use await at the top level of a module.

ts
const response = await fetch("..."); const greeting = await response.text(); console.log(greeting); // Make sure we're a module export {};

Note there’s a subtlety: top-level await only works at the top level of a module, and files are only considered modules when TypeScript finds an import or an export. In some basic cases, you might need to write out export {} as some boilerplate to make sure of this.

Top level await may not work in all environments where you might expect at this point. Currently, you can only use top level await when the target compiler option is es2017 or above, and module is esnext or system. Support within several environments and bundlers may be limited or may require enabling experimental support.

For more information on our implementation, you can check out the original pull request.

es2020 for target and module

TypeScript 3.8 supports es2020 as an option for module and target. This will preserve newer ECMAScript 2020 features like optional chaining, nullish coalescing, export * as ns, and dynamic import(...) syntax. It also means bigint literals now have a stable target below esnext.

JSDoc Property Modifiers

TypeScript 3.8 supports JavaScript files by turning on the allowJs flag, and also supports type-checking those JavaScript files via the checkJs option or by adding a // @ts-check comment to the top of your .js files.

Because JavaScript files don’t have dedicated syntax for type-checking, TypeScript leverages JSDoc. TypeScript 3.8 understands a few new JSDoc tags for properties.

First are the accessibility modifiers: @public, @private, and @protected. These tags work exactly like public, private, and protected respectively work in TypeScript.

js
// @ts-check class Foo { constructor() { /** @private */ this.stuff = 100; } printStuff() { console.log(this.stuff); } } new Foo().stuff; // ~~~~~ // error! Property 'stuff' is private and only accessible within class 'Foo'.
  • @public is always implied and can be left off, but means that a property can be reached from anywhere.
  • @private means that a property can only be used within the containing class.
  • @protected means that a property can only be used within the containing class, and all derived subclasses, but not on dissimilar instances of the containing class.

Next, we’ve also added the @readonly modifier to ensure that a property is only ever written to during initialization.

js
// @ts-check class Foo { constructor() { /** @readonly */ this.stuff = 100; } writeToStuff() { this.stuff = 200; // ~~~~~ // Cannot assign to 'stuff' because it is a read-only property. } } new Foo().stuff++; // ~~~~~ // Cannot assign to 'stuff' because it is a read-only property.

Better Directory Watching on Linux and watchOptions

TypeScript 3.8 ships a new strategy for watching directories, which is crucial for efficiently picking up changes to node_modules.

For some context, on operating systems like Linux, TypeScript installs directory watchers (as opposed to file watchers) on node_modules and many of its subdirectories to detect changes in dependencies. This is because the number of available file watchers is often eclipsed by the of files in node_modules, whereas there are way fewer directories to track.

Older versions of TypeScript would immediately install directory watchers on folders, and at startup that would be fine; however, during an npm install, a lot of activity will take place within node_modules and that can overwhelm TypeScript, often slowing editor sessions to a crawl. To prevent this, TypeScript 3.8 waits slightly before installing directory watchers to give these highly volatile directories some time to stabilize.

Because every project might work better under different strategies, and this new approach might not work well for your workflows, TypeScript 3.8 introduces a new watchOptions field in tsconfig.json and jsconfig.json which allows users to tell the compiler/language service which watching strategies should be used to keep track of files and directories.

json
{ // Some typical compiler options compilerOptions: { target: "es2020", moduleResolution: "node", // ... }, // NEW: Options for file/directory watching watchOptions: { // Use native file system events for files and directories watchFile: "useFsEvents", watchDirectory: "useFsEvents", // Poll files for updates more frequently // when they're updated a lot. fallbackPolling: "dynamicPriority", }, }

watchOptions contains 4 new options that can be configured:

  • watchFile: the strategy for how individual files are watched. This can be set to

    • fixedPollingInterval: Check every file for changes several times a second at a fixed interval.
    • priorityPollingInterval: Check every file for changes several times a second, but use heuristics to check certain types of files less frequently than others.
    • dynamicPriorityPolling: Use a dynamic queue where less-frequently modified files will be checked less often.
    • useFsEvents (the default): Attempt to use the operating system/file system’s native events for file changes.
    • useFsEventsOnParentDirectory: Attempt to use the operating system/file system’s native events to listen for changes on a file’s containing directories. This can use fewer file watchers, but might be less accurate.
  • watchDirectory: the strategy for how entire directory trees are watched under systems that lack recursive file-watching functionality. This can be set to:

    • fixedPollingInterval: Check every directory for changes several times a second at a fixed interval.
    • dynamicPriorityPolling: Use a dynamic queue where less-frequently modified directories will be checked less often.
    • useFsEvents (the default): Attempt to use the operating system/file system’s native events for directory changes.
  • fallbackPolling: when using file system events, this option specifies the polling strategy that gets used when the system runs out of native file watchers and/or doesn’t support native file watchers. This can be set to

    • fixedPollingInterval: (See above.)
    • priorityPollingInterval: (See above.)
    • dynamicPriorityPolling: (See above.)
    • synchronousWatchDirectory: Disable deferred watching on directories. Deferred watching is useful when lots of file changes might occur at once (e.g. a change in node_modules from running npm install), but you might want to disable it with this flag for some less-common setups.

For more information on these changes, head over to GitHub to see the pull request to read more.

“Fast and Loose” Incremental Checking

TypeScript 3.8 introduces a new compiler option called assumeChangesOnlyAffectDirectDependencies. When this option is enabled, TypeScript will avoid rechecking/rebuilding all truly possibly-affected files, and only recheck/rebuild files that have changed as well as files that directly import them.

For example, consider a file fileD.ts that imports fileC.ts that imports fileB.ts that imports fileA.ts as follows:

fileA.ts <- fileB.ts <- fileC.ts <- fileD.ts

In --watch mode, a change in fileA.ts would typically mean that TypeScript would need to at least re-check fileB.ts, fileC.ts, and fileD.ts. Under assumeChangesOnlyAffectDirectDependencies, a change in fileA.ts means that only fileA.ts and fileB.ts need to be re-checked.

In a codebase like Visual Studio Code, this reduced rebuild times for changes in certain files from about 14 seconds to about 1 second. While we don’t necessarily recommend this option for all codebases, you might be interested if you have an extremely large codebase and are willing to defer full project errors until later (e.g. a dedicated build via a tsconfig.fullbuild.json or in CI).

For more details, you can see the original pull request.

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Last updated: Jun 26, 2020