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TypeScript: Assertion signatures and Object.defineProperty

Stefan Baumgartner

Written by @ddprrt

More on TypeScript, JavaScript

In JavaScript, you can define object properties on the fly with Object.defineProperty. This is useful if you want your properties to be read-only or similar. Think of a storage object that has a maximum value that shouldn’t be overwritten:

const storage = {
currentValue: 0
}

Object.defineProperty(storage, 'maxValue', {
value: 9001,
writable: false
})

console.log(storage.maxValue) // 9001

storage.maxValue = 2

console.log(storage.maxValue) // still 9001

defineProperty and property descriptors are very complex. They allow you to do everything with properties that usually is reserved for built-in objects. So they’re common in larger codebases. TypeScript – at the time of this writing – has a little problem with defineProperty:

const storage = {
currentValue: 0
}

Object.defineProperty(storage, 'maxValue', {
value: 9001,
writable: false
})

// 💥 Property 'maxValue' does not exist on type...
console.log(storage.maxValue)

If we don’t explicitly typecast, we don’t get maxValue attached to the type of storage. However, for simple use cases, we can help!

assertion signatures #

With TypeScript 3.7, the team introduced assertion signatures. Think of an assertIsNumber function where you can make sure some value is of type number. Otherwise, it throws an error. This is similar to the assert function in Node.js:

function assertIsNumber(val: any) {
if (typeof val !== "number") {
throw new AssertionError("Not a number!");
}
}

function multiply(x, y) {
assertIsNumber(x);
assertIsNumber(y);
// at this point I'm sure x and y are numbers
// if one assert condition is not true, this position
// is never reached
return x * y;
}

To comply with behavior like this, we can add an assertion signature that tells TypeScript that we know more about the type after this function:

- function assertIsNumber(val: any) {
+ function assertIsNumber(val: any) : asserts val is number
if (typeof val !== "number") {
throw new AssertionError("Not a number!");
}
}

This works a lot like type predicates, but without the control flow of a condition-based structure like if or switch.

function multiply(x, y) {
assertIsNumber(x);
assertIsNumber(y);
// Now also TypeScript knows that both x and y are numbers
return x * y;
}

If you look at it closely, you can see those assertion signatures can change the type of a parameter or variable on the fly. This is just what Object.defineProperty does as well.

custom defineProperty #

Disclaimer: The following helper does not aim to be 100% accurate or complete. It might have errors, it might not tackle every edge case of the defineProperty specification. It might, however, handle a lot of use cases well enough. So use it at your own risk!

Just as with hasOwnProperty, we create a helper function that mimics the original function signature:

function defineProperty<
Obj extends object,
Key extends PropertyKey,
PDesc extends PropertyDescriptor>
(obj: Obj, prop: Key, val: PDesc) {
Object.defineProperty(obj, prop, val);
}

We work with 3 generics:

  1. The object we want to modify, of type Obj, which is a subtype of object
  2. Type Key, which is a subtype of PropertyKey (built-in), so string | number | symbol.
  3. PDesc, a subtype of PropertyDescriptor (built-in). This allows us to define the property with all its features (writability, enumerability, reconfigurability).

We use generics because TypeScript can narrow them down to a very specific unit type. PropertyKey for example is all numbers, strings, and symbols. But if I use Key extends PropertyKey, I can pinpoint prop to be of e.g. type "maxValue". This is helpful if we want to change the original type by adding more properties.

The Object.defineProperty function either changes the object or throws an error should something go wrong. Exactly what an assertion function does. Our custom helper defineProperty thus does the same.

Let’s add an assertion signature. Once defineProperty successfully executes, our object has another property. We are creating some helper types for that. The signature first:

function defineProperty<
Obj extends object,
Key extends PropertyKey,
PDesc extends PropertyDescriptor>
- (obj: Obj, prop: Key, val: PDesc) {
+ (obj: Obj, prop: Key, val: PDesc):
+ asserts obj is Obj & DefineProperty<Key, PDesc> {
Object.defineProperty(obj, prop, val);
}

obj then is of type Obj (narrowed down through a generic), and our newly defined property.

This is the DefineProperty helper type:

type DefineProperty<
Prop extends PropertyKey,
Desc extends PropertyDescriptor> =
Desc extends { writable: any, set(val: any): any } ? never :
Desc extends { writable: any, get(): any } ? never :
Desc extends { writable: false } ? Readonly<InferValue<Prop, Desc>> :
Desc extends { writable: true } ? InferValue<Prop, Desc> :
Readonly<InferValue<Prop, Desc>>

First, we deal with the writeable property of a PropertyDescriptor. It’s a set of conditions to define some edge cases and conditions of how the original property descriptors work:

  1. If we set writable and any property accessor (get, set), we fail. never tells us that an error was thrown.
  2. If we set writable to false, the property is read-only. We defer to the InferValue helper type.
  3. If we set writable to true, the property is not read-only. We defer as well
  4. The last, default case is the same as writeable: false, so Readonly<InferValue<Prop, Desc>>. (Readonly<T> is built-in)

This is the InferValue helper type, dealing with the set value property.

type InferValue<Prop extends PropertyKey, Desc> =
Desc extends { get(): any, value: any } ? never :
Desc extends { value: infer T } ? Record<Prop, T> :
Desc extends { get(): infer T } ? Record<Prop, T> : never;

Again a set of conditions:

  1. Do we have a getter and a value set, Object.defineProperty throws an error, so never.
  2. If we have set a value, let’s infer the type of this value and create an object with our defined property key, and the value type
  3. Or we infer the type from the return type of a getter.
  4. Anything else: We forgot. TypeScript won’t let us work with the object as it’s becoming never

In action! #

Lots of helper types, but roughly 20 lines of code to get it right:

type InferValue<Prop extends PropertyKey, Desc> =
Desc extends { get(): any, value: any } ? never :
Desc extends { value: infer T } ? Record<Prop, T> :
Desc extends { get(): infer T } ? Record<Prop, T> : never;

type DefineProperty<
Prop extends PropertyKey,
Desc extends PropertyDescriptor> =
Desc extends { writable: any, set(val: any): any } ? never :
Desc extends { writable: any, get(): any } ? never :
Desc extends { writable: false } ? Readonly<InferValue<Prop, Desc>> :
Desc extends { writable: true } ? InferValue<Prop, Desc> :
Readonly<InferValue<Prop, Desc>>

function defineProperty<
Obj extends object,
Key extends PropertyKey,
PDesc extends PropertyDescriptor>
(obj: Obj, prop: Key, val: PDesc):
asserts obj is Obj & DefineProperty<Key, PDesc> {
Object.defineProperty(obj, prop, val)
}

Let’s see what TypeScript does:


const storage = {
currentValue: 0
}

defineProperty(storage, 'maxValue', {
writable: false, value: 9001
})

storage.maxValue // it's a number
storage.maxValue = 2 // Error! It's read-only

const storageName = 'My Storage'
defineProperty(storage, 'name', {
get() {
return storageName
}
})

storage.name // it's a string!

// it's not possible to assing a value and a getter
defineProperty(storage, 'broken', {
get() {
return storageName
},
value: 4000
})

// storage is never because we have a malicious
// property descriptor
storage

As said, this most likely won’t deal with all edge cases, but it’s a good start. And if you know what you’re dealing with, you can get very far.

As always, there’s a playground for you to fiddle around.

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