Getting Started with TypeScript – Classes, Static Types and Interfaces

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I had the opportunity to speak on different JavaScript topics at DevConnections in Las Vegas this fall and heard a lot of interesting comments about JavaScript as I talked with people. The most frequent comment I heard from people was, “I guess it’s time to start learning JavaScript”. Yep – if you don’t already know JavaScript then it’s time to learn it. As HTML5 becomes more and more popular the amount of JavaScript code written will definitely increase. After all, many of the HTML5 features available in browsers have little to do with “tags” and more to do with JavaScript (web workers, web sockets, canvas, local storage, etc.). As the amount of JavaScript code being used in applications increases, it’s more important than ever to structure the code in a way that’s maintainable and easy to debug. While JavaScript patterns can certainly be used (check out my previous posts on the subject or my course on Pluralsight.com), several alternatives have come onto the scene such as CoffeeScript, Dart and TypeScript. In this post I’ll describe some of the features TypeScript offers and the benefits that they can potentially offer enterprise-scale JavaScript applications.

It’s important to note that while TypeScript has several great features, it’s definitely not for everyone or every project especially given how new it is. The goal of this post isn’t to convince you to use TypeScript instead of standard JavaScript….I’m a big fan of JavaScript. Instead, I’ll present several TypeScript features and let you make the decision as to whether TypeScript is a good fit for your applications.


TypeScript Overview

Here’s the official definition of TypeScript from the http://typescriptlang.org site:

“TypeScript is a language for application-scale JavaScript development. TypeScript is a typed superset of JavaScript that compiles to plain JavaScript. Any browser. Any host. Any OS. Open Source.”

TypeScript was created by Anders Hejlsberg (the creator of the C# language) and his team at Microsoft. To sum it up, TypeScript is a new language that can be compiled to JavaScript much like alternatives such as CoffeeScript or Dart. It isn’t a stand-alone language that’s completely separate from JavaScript’s roots though. It’s a superset of JavaScript which means that standard JavaScript code can be placed in a TypeScript file (a file with a .ts extension) and used directly. That’s a very important point/feature of the language since it means you can use existing code and frameworks with TypeScript without having to do major code conversions to make it all work. Once a TypeScript file is saved it can be compiled to JavaScript using TypeScript’s tsc.exe compiler tool or by using a variety of editors/tools.

TypeScript offers several key features. First, it provides built-in type support meaning that you define variables and function parameters as being “string”, “number”, “bool”, and more to avoid incorrect types being assigned to variables or passed to functions. Second, TypeScript provides a way to write modular code by directly supporting class and module definitions and it even provides support for custom interfaces that can be used to drive consistency. Finally, TypeScript integrates with several different tools such as Visual Studio, Sublime Text, Emacs, and Vi to provide syntax highlighting, code help, build support, and more depending on the editor. Find out more about editor support at http://www.typescriptlang.org/#Download.

TypeScript can also be used with existing JavaScript frameworks such as Node.js, jQuery, and others and even catch type issues and provide enhanced code help. Special “declaration” files that have a d.ts extension are available for Node.js, jQuery, and other libraries out-of-the-box. Visit http://typescript.codeplex.com/SourceControl/changeset/view/fe3bc0bfce1f#samples%2fjquery%2fjquery.d.ts for an example of a jQuery TypeScript declaration file that can be used with tools such as Visual Studio 2012 to provide additional code help and ensure that a string isn’t passed to a parameter that expects a number. Although declaration files certainly aren’t required, TypeScript’s support for declaration files makes it easier to catch issues upfront while working with existing libraries such as jQuery. In the future I expect TypeScript declaration files will be released for different HTML5 APIs such as canvas, local storage, and others as well as some of the more popular JavaScript libraries and frameworks.


Getting Started with TypeScript

To get started learning TypeScript visit the TypeScript Playground available at http://www.typescriptlang.org. Using the playground editor you can experiment with TypeScript code, get code help as you type, and see the JavaScript that TypeScript generates once it’s compiled. Here’s an example of the TypeScript playground in action:

Figure1

 

One of the first things that may stand out to you about the code shown above is that classes can be defined in TypeScript. This makes it easy to group related variables and functions into a container which helps tremendously with re-use and maintainability especially in enterprise-scale JavaScript applications. While you can certainly simulate classes using JavaScript patterns (note that ECMAScript 6 will support classes directly), TypeScript makes it quite easy especially if you come from an object-oriented programming background. An example of the Greeter class shown in the TypeScript Playground is shown next:


class Greeter {
    greeting: string;

    constructor (message: string) {
        this.greeting = message;
    }

    greet() {
        return "Hello, " + this.greeting;
    }
}

Looking through the code you’ll notice that static types can be defined on variables and parameters such as greeting: string, that constructors can be defined, and that functions can be defined such as greet(). The ability to define static types is a key feature of TypeScript (and where its name comes from) that can help identify bugs upfront before even running the code. Many types are supported including primitive types like string, number, bool, undefined, and null as well as object literals and more complex types such as HTMLInputElement (for an <input> tag). Custom types can be defined as well.

The JavaScript output by compiling the TypeScript Greeter class (using an editor like Visual Studio, Sublime Text, or the tsc.exe compiler) is shown next:


var Greeter = (function () {
    function Greeter(message) {
        this.greeting = message;
    }
    Greeter.prototype.greet = function () {
        return "Hello, " + this.greeting;
    };
    return Greeter;
})();


Notice that the code is using JavaScript prototyping and closures to simulate a Greeter class in JavaScript. The body of the code is wrapped with a self-invoking function to take the variables and functions out of the global JavaScript scope. This is important feature that helps avoid naming collisions between variables and functions.

In cases where you’d like to wrap a class in a naming container (similar to a namespace in C# or a package in Java) you can use TypeScript’s module keyword. The following code shows an example of wrapping an AcmeCorp module around the Greeter class. In order to create a new instance of Greeter the module name must now be used. This can help avoid naming collisions that may occur with the Greeter class.

 

module AcmeCorp {
    export class Greeter {
        greeting: string;

        constructor (message: string) {
            this.greeting = message;
        }

        greet() {
            return "Hello, " + this.greeting;
        }
    }
}

var greeter = new AcmeCorp.Greeter("world");

In addition to being able to define custom classes and modules in TypeScript, you can also take advantage of inheritance by using TypeScript’s extends keyword. The following code shows an example of using inheritance to define two report objects:

 

class Report {
    name: string;

    constructor (name: string) {
        this.name = name;
    }

    print() {
        alert("Report: " + this.name);
    }
}

class FinanceReport extends Report {
    constructor (name: string) {
        super(name);
    }

    print() {
        alert("Finance Report: " + this.name);
    }

    getLineItems() {
        alert("5 line items");
    }
}

var report = new FinanceReport("Month's Sales");
report.print();
report.getLineItems();

 

In this example a base Report class is defined that has a variable (name), a constructor that accepts a name parameter of type string, and a function named print(). The FinanceReport class inherits from Report by using TypeScript’s extends keyword. As a result, it automatically has access to the print() function in the base class. In this example the FinanceReport overrides the base class’s print() method and adds its own. The FinanceReport class also forwards the name value it receives in the constructor to the base class using the super() call.

TypeScript also supports the creation of custom interfaces when you need to provide consistency across a set of objects. The following code shows an example of an interface named Thing (from the TypeScript samples) and a class named Plane that implements the interface to drive consistency across the app. Notice that the Plane class includes intersect and normal as a result of implementing the interface.

 

interface Thing {
    intersect: (ray: Ray) => Intersection;
    normal: (pos: Vector) => Vector;
    surface: Surface;
}

class Plane implements Thing {
    normal: (pos: Vector) =>Vector;

    intersect: (ray: Ray) =>Intersection;

    constructor (norm: Vector, offset: number, public surface: Surface) {
        this.normal = function (pos: Vector) { return norm; }
        this.intersect = function (ray: Ray): Intersection {
            var denom = Vector.dot(norm, ray.dir);
            if (denom > 0) {
                return null;
            } else {
                var dist = (Vector.dot(norm, ray.start) + offset) / (-denom);
                return { thing: this, ray: ray, dist: dist };
            }
        }
    }
}

 

At first glance it doesn’t appear that the surface member is implemented in Plane but it’s actually included automatically due to the public surface: Surface parameter in the constructor. Adding public varName: Type to a constructor automatically adds a typed variable into the class without having to explicitly write the code as with normal and intersect.


TypeScript has additional language features but defining static types and creating classes, modules, and interfaces are some of the key features it offers. So is TypeScript right for you and your applications? That’s a not a question that I or anyone else can answer for you. You’ll need to give it a spin to see what you think. In future posts I’ll discuss additional details about TypeScript and how it can be used with enterprise-scale JavaScript applications. In the meantime, I’m in the process of working with John Papa on a new Typescript course for Pluralsight that we hope to have out in December of 2012.

Published Wednesday, October 31, 2012 9:38 PM by dwahlin

Comments

# re: Getting Started with TypeScript – Classes, Static Types and Interfaces

Thursday, November 1, 2012 7:39 AM by Jaap at Xperit

If you have some independent snippets of javascript spread around your web application, TypeScript does not add much value.

But if you have javascript which is more like a "client application" is gives you much value.

I have migrated my javascript in my ASP.NET MVC 4 Single Page Application to TypeScript in the last several days.

As I already used existing patterns like modules, classes, closures to structure my javascript (must like the code TypeScript is generation), it was really easy to convert the code. The use of modules and classes in TypeScript, saves you a lot op 'code plumbing' to keep your javascript clean and structured. And the addition of type annotations to your variables give you a lot of compile time checking to save you from errors.

So I am very positive!

One little thing would be the ability to debug in VS in the TypeScript files. Currently you debug the generated javascript files, which not a very big deal, because it is very easy to map that back to your ts file, if you found your bug. But I guess we will see debugging support in VS in the future. The TypeScript compiler already supports the generation of sourcemap files, so they have that already in mind.

# re: Getting Started with TypeScript – Classes, Static Types and Interfaces

Thursday, November 1, 2012 10:08 AM by Dizzyguy

Luv'in TypeScript, and looking forward to the Pluralsight course!  Curious to see if you and John will focus on integrating frameworks, e.g. Backbone, and templating engines, e.g. handlebars; or if you will focus purely on TypeScript (+ jQuery perhaps), and show us how to build enterprise-scale apps with just those technologies.  Keep it simple vs. more reliance on frameworks w/ TypeScript?

# re: Getting Started with TypeScript – Classes, Static Types and Interfaces

Thursday, November 1, 2012 12:14 PM by dwahlin

Dizzyguy,

We'll be focusing more on TypeScript as a language as opposed to other frameworks....at least initially. We'll probably integrate some frameworks into it but the focus will be on getting started with the actual TypeScript language.

Thanks,

Dan

# TypeScript: a type-safe JavaScript

Friday, November 22, 2013 9:18 AM by Curia Damiano blog

TypeScript: a type-safe JavaScript

# Getting Started with TypeScript ??? Classes, Static Types and Interfaces &#8211; Dan Wahlin&#8217;s WebLog

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