Hannikainen's blog

Fullstack shared typed API with TypeScript

Did you get yet another error due to the JavaScript frontend slipping an unnoticed undefined to a request or passing a string instead of a number, which causes requests to fail without a clear reason? Or even worse, succeed in a weird way? Maybe you changed the API on the server side but forgot to update the client? Consider sharing the API as a single type between the frontend and the backend. This blog post explains the process on how to build a shared API using fullstack TypeScript. As a bonus, you also get runtime type checks!

Sketching out an API

Let’s make a simple API:

As we’re building a JSON-based API, every request and return value has to be an object. We can handle this transparently by defining the format for responses:

export interface ApiResponse<Res> {
    message: Res;
}

All HTTP requests look roughly like functions (queryParameters, body) => returnvalue (for GETs, this means (queryParameters, {}) => returnvalue``). This means that we can model the API with the following type:

type Customer = {
    id: number,
    name: string
}
type ApiMap = {
    customers: {
        GET: () => Promise<Customer[]>,
        POST: (customerName: string) => Promise<Customer>
    },
    search: {
        GET: (query: {id?: number, name?: string}) => Promise<Customer[]>
    }
}

On the client side, the ApiMap type can be used to define a object:

function fetchAny(url: string, queryParams?: any,
                  method?: string, body?: any): Promise<any> {
    let address = new URL(url);
    Object.keys(queryParams || {})
        .forEach(key => address.searchParams.append(key, queryParams[key]));
    return fetch(address.toString(), {method, body})
        .then(response => response.json()
            .then((responseBody: any) => new Promise<Res>(resolve =>
                resolve(responseBody.message))));
}

const api: ApiMap = {
    customers: {
        GET: () => fetchAny('/customers'),
        POST: (customerName: string) => fetchAny('/customers', {}, 'POST', customerName)
    },
    search: {
        GET: (params: {id: number?, name: string?}) => fetchAny('/search', params, 'PUT')
    }
};

// ...

api.customers.GET().then(val => /* ... */ val)

The client-side implementation can now be used as if the API was just an object with methods. Server side needs a bit more work, since we have to tie the API to the implementations:

const customers: Customer[] = [];
let id: number = 1;

const api: ApiMap = {
    customers: {
        GET: () => new Promise(resolve => resolve(customers)),
        POST: (customerName: string) => {
            let newCustomer = {name: customerName, id: id++};
            customers.push(newCustomer);
            return new Promise(resolve => resolve(newCustomer));
        }
    },
    search: {
        GET: (params: {id?: number, name?: string}) => {
            let filteredCustomers = customers
                .filter(customer => !params.id || customer.id == params.id)
                .filter(customer => !params.name || customer.name == params.name);
            return new Promise(resolve => resolve(filteredCustomers))
        }
    }
};

// ...

const app = express();
app.get("/customers", (req, res) => {
    api.customers.GET().then(msg => {
        res.send({message: msg});
    });
});
app.post("/customers", (req, res) => {
    api.customers.POST(req.body.message).then(msg => {
        res.send({message: msg});
    });
});
app.get("/search", (req, res) => {
    api.search.GET(req.query).then(msg => {
        res.send({message: msg});
    });
});

If the client tries to call the API with the wrong parameter…

api.customers.POST(123);

… the compiler notices this:

error TS2345: Argument of type '123' is not assignable to parameter of type 'string'.

However, we have a problem. The implementations are not completely type checked to match the API! In fact, there is a small typo in the client-side implementation - can you spot it? In addition, there’s a lot of duplicated code we’d like to avoid. The approach seems to be a good one, but the actual implementation needs some work.

Instead of being a type, what if the API was a value? Then we could automatically generate code for client fetches and server binds by iterating over the API. Turns out, we can, and we also get to maintain type safety.

Make the object out of you… er, the API

Let’s think for a moment. What do we actually want? We want for customers.GET to be a function () => Promise<Customer[]> that is located in api.customers.GET. Let’s make helper function zero<T>(returns: T): (T) => Promise<T> which, when called with zero<Customer[]>([{id: 0, name: ''}]), returns something which has the type () => Promise<Customer>.

function zero<R>(returns: R) {
    return undefined as any as () => Promise<R>;
}

…and do the same for one(), which, when called with one<string, Customer>('', {id: 0, name: ''}), returns something which has the type (p: string) => Promise<Customer>.

function one<T, R>() {
    return undefined as any as (takes: T) => Promise<R>;
}

Using the new tuple spread syntax introduced in TypeScript 3.0, we can combine these functions into one, and also provide a version which takes two parameters:

// the first any? here is body type, the second is query parameters
function fun<T, TS extends [any?, any?]>(returns: T, ...takes: TS) {
    return undefined as any as (...t: TS) => Promise<T>;
}

Let’s also create helpers for string, number, object and array in a similar fashion:

const str = undefined as any as string;
const num = undefined as any as string;

function optional<T>(param: T): T | undefined {
    return undefined as any;
}

function obj<T extends object>(param: T): T {
    return undefined as any;
}

function arr<T>(param: T): T[] {
    return undefined as any;
}

We can now write the API in a more terse syntax:

const customer = obj({id: num, name: str})
type Customer = typeof customer;
const partialCustomer = obj({id: optional(num), name: optional(str)})
const apiObject = {
    customers: {
        GET: fun(arr(customer)),
        POST: fun(str, customer)
    },
    search: {
        GET: fun(partialCustomer, arr(customer))
    },
}
type ApiMap = typeof apiObject;

Automatically generating client and server code

For the client, we can wrap each of the requests with fetch(), so the client code can just call the method with clientApi.path.METHOD(body) and be done with it. For the server, we can bind the API to eg. Express.

import {ApiMap, apiObject, ApiResponse, ApiResponseValue} from './api';

const baseAddress = 'http://localhost:3000';

function apiCall<QueryParams, Body, Res>(path: string, queryParams: QueryParams,
                                         method: string, body: Body): Promise<Res> {
    const address = new URL(`${baseAddress}/${path}`);
    Object.keys(queryParams || {})
        .forEach(key => address.searchParams.append(key, queryParams[key]));

    return fetch(address.toString(), {body: body && JSON.stringify({message: body}),
                                      method,
                                      headers: { 'Content-Type': 'application/json'}})
        .then(val => val.json())
        .then((message: ApiResponse<Res>) =>
            new Promise<Res>(resolve => resolve(message.message)));
}

// tslint:disable:no-any

/* Wrap the argument object so that path.method.fn makes requests to the server */
function wrapApi(api: any): ApiMap {
    const wrapped: any = {};

    Object.keys(api).forEach((path: string) => {
        wrapped[path] = {};
        Object.keys(api[path]).forEach((method: string) => {
            if (method === 'GET') {
                wrapped[path] = (queryParams: any) =>
                    apiCall(prefix.join('/'), queryParams, method, undefined);
            } else {
                wrapped[path] = (body: any, queryParams: any = {}) =>
                    apiCall(prefix.join('/'), queryParams, method, body);
            }
        }
    });

    return wrapped;
}

// This can be used like clientApi.path.METHOD(params).then(...)
// It is also type safe!
export const clientApi = wrapApi(apiObject);

Then for the server:

function dropFirstParameter(fn: any): any {
    return (...args: any[]) => fn(...args.splice(1));
}

function hostApi(app: express.Express, api: ApiMap, checkers: any): void {
    const methods: any = {
        GET: app.get.bind(app),
        POST: app.post.bind(app),
        PUT: app.put.bind(app)
    };
    Object.keys(api).forEach((path: any) => {
        Object.keys(api[path]).forEach((method: string) => {
            const path = '/' + path;
            methods[method](path, (req: any, res: any) => {
                const body = req.body.message;
                const queryParameters = req.query;

                let handler: any;
                if (key === 'GET') {
                    // GETs don't have a body, so drop it from the list
                    handler = dropFirstParameter((api as any)[key]);
                } else {
                    handler = (api as any)[key];
                }

                handler(body, queryParameters)
                    .then((value: any) => {
                        res.status(200);
                        res.send(JSON.stringify({message: value}));
                    })
                    .catch(() => {
                        res.status(HTTPStatus.InternalServerError);
                        res.send('Internal server error');
                    });
            });
        }
    });
}

export function initRoutes(app: express.Express) {
    hostApi(
        app,
        {
            customers: {
                GET: getCustomers,
                POST: addCustomer
            },
            search: {
                GET: searchCustomers
            }
        },
        apiObject);
}

The type checking still works:

apiMap.customers.POST(0);
Argument of type '0' is not assignable to parameter of type 'string'.

It also works on the server side, although the error messages are somewhat harder to read:

 error TS2345: Argument of type '{ customers: { GET: () => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }[]>; POST: (p: number) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }>; }; search: { GET: (p: { id?: number; name?: string; }) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }[]>; }; }' is not assignable to parameter of type '{ customers: { GET: () => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }[]>; POST: (t_0: string) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }>; }; search: { GET: (t_0: any, t_1: { id: string; name: string; }) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }[]>; }; }'.
  Types of property 'customers' are incompatible.
    Type '{ GET: () => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }[]>; POST: (p: number) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }>; }' is not assignable to type '{ GET: () => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }[]>; POST: (t_0: string) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }>; }'.
      Types of property 'POST' are incompatible.
        Type '(p: number) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }>' is not assignable to type '(t_0: string) => Promise<{ id: string; name: string; }>'.
          Types of parameters 'p' and 't_0' are incompatible.
            Type 'string' is not assignable to type 'number'.

Runtime checking

JavaScript is a dynamically typed language, and TypeScript only gives compile-time warnings. Since our API is an object, could we add runtime checks without modifying the API?

Let’s start by changing the helper functions slightly:

const num = ((p: any) => typeof p === 'number') as any as number;
const str = ((p: any) => typeof p === 'string') as any as string;

function fun<T, TS extends [any?, any?]>(returns: T, ...takes: TS) {
    return (((...t: TS) => takes.every((validator, i) => (validator as any)(t[i])))
            as any as (...t: TS) => Promise<T>);
}

function optional<T>(param: T): T | undefined {
    return ((t?: T) => (t === undefined) || (param as any)(t)) as any as (T | undefined);
}

function arr<T>(param: T): T[] {
    return ((p: T[]) => (p.every(t => (param as any)(t)))) as any as T[];
}

function obj<T extends object>(p: T): T {
    return ((inner: T) =>
            Object.keys(p).every(
                (checkme: string) =>
                    (p as any)[checkme]((inner as any)[checkme]))
    ) as any as T;
}

Instead of returning undefined, these now return functions which check whether the argument is of the alleged type. For example, str is a function, which returns true if the argument is a string. At the same time, the function is of type string (instead of string => boolean) so it can be used in the API definition.

Now, when we rewrite the server function…

const handler = apiImplementation[path][method];
const checker = api[path][method] as any;
if(!checker(req.body)) {
    res.status(400);
    res.send('Bad request');
} else {
    // passed initial validation
    const response: Promise<any> = handler(req.body);
    // ...
}

… we get serverside runtime type checking for free!

Further work

This is a relatively simple example, and doesn’t implement any way to specify things like headers. The API could allow nested paths, for example /foo/bar/baz using{foo: {bar: {baz: ...}}}. Error responses could also be modeled to be type safe.

Check out a complete project! The example project using this as a framework supports nested routes.