Krzysztof Żuraw blog

TypeScript function overloads

May 27, 2019

NOTE: This is cross-post from my newsletter. I publish each email after it’s sent. Subscribe to get more content like this earlier right in your inbox! 📧.

Hello 👋🏻 Today I want to write a little bit about functions overloads in TypeScript. I will explain what is function overload and how to do it. In the next section, I will cover why you may want to overload your functions and what is a proper way of doing it.

During this article, I assume that you have at least basic knowledge of TypeScript.

What

Function overloads is a way of telling TypeScript that this function may take different arguments. Let’s jump into an example:

interface Data {
  postalCodes: string[];
  country: string;
}

const data: Data = {
  postalCodes: ['123', '422'],
  country: 'PL',
};

This is a bit contrived example but it illustrates the point. I have an object data which fulfills interface Data. This object has two keys postalCodes & country which are string[] and string type respectively.

Below I have getDataByKey which is a helper to get either postalCodes or country.

function getDataByKey(data: Data, key: 'postalCodes' | 'country') {
  return data[key];
}

const postalCodesRetrieved: string[] = getDataByKey(data, 'postalCodes');

Everything looks nice so far but at the last line I want my postalCodesRetrieved to be array of string. Yet compiler will return and error:

Type 'string | string[]' is not assignable to type 'string[]'.
  Type 'string' is not assignable to type 'string[]'.

You can find a playground with this problem under this link.

Why & How

How to fix it? You can use function overloading:

function getDataByKey(data: Data, key: 'postalCodes'): string[];
function getDataByKey(data: Data, key: 'country'): string;
function getDataByKey(data: Data, key: 'postalCodes' | 'country') {
  return data[key];
}

I write two overloads for getDataByKey: one is taking country as a key and returns string. Another one takes postalCodes and returns string[]. Thanks to that I can use getDataByKey with both keys:

const postalCodesRetrieved: string[] = getDataByKey(data, 'postalCodes');
const countryCodesRetrieved: string = getDataByKey(data, 'country');

You can even see that this function is overloaded by hovering: img

Link to TypeScript playground with code from above.

Function overloads in an arrow function

interface GetData {
  (data: Data, key: 'postalCodes'): string[];
  (data: Data, key: 'country'): string;
}

const getData: GetData = (data, key) => {
  return data[key];
};

const postalCodesRetrieved: string[] = getData(data, 'postalCodes');
const counryRetrieved: string = getData(data, 'country');

This is working by GetData interface where overload is happening. Thanks to that I don’t need to type data & key arguments anymore. Playground link

Function overloads in class methods

class DataGetter {
  getData(data: Data, key: 'country'): string;
  getData(data: Data, key: 'postalCodes'): string[];
  getData(data: Data, key: 'postalCodes' | 'country') {
    return data[key];
  }
}

const dataGetter = new DataGetter();

const postalCodesRetrieved: string[] = dataGetter.getData(data, 'postalCodes');
const counryRetrieved: string = dataGetter.getData(data, 'country');

It looks almost the same as for normal function but here getData method is overloaded. Playground link

Summary & TL;DR

In this post, I presented a way of telling TypeScript that the same function can be called with different parameters or returns different results. This is a function overloading. You can overload class methods too. In the simplest example, you need to write a declaration of override function at the top of a function definition.

Do you use it? If so where? Write to me at krzysztof.zuraw(at)fastmail.com.

You can find all playgrounds links here:


Krzysztof Żuraw

Written by Krzysztof Żuraw who lives and works in Wrocław. About page.