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Quick tips for making your SDK more maintainable in TypeScript: routes edition

TypeScript, a statically typed superset of JavaScript, has become a go-to language for many developers, particularly when building SDKs that interact with web APIs. TypeScript's powerful type system aids in writing cleaner, more reliable code, ultimately making your SDK more maintainable.

In this blog post, we'll provide a focused exploration of how TypeScript's type system can be harnessed to better manage API routes within your SDK. This post is going to stay focused and concise. We’ll be looking solely at routing tips and intentionally eschewing some of the other aspects of SDK authoring, such as architecture, data structures, handling relations, and other aspects of SDK development. Our SDK will be simple: it is going to simply list a user or users. These tips will help your route definitions be less error prone and easier to read for other engineers.

At the end, we’ll cover the limitations of the tips in this post, what’s missing, and one way in which you can avoid dealing with having to author these types altogether.

Let’s get started.

Alias your types

Type aliasing is important! It can sometimes be overlooked in TypeScript, but aliases are an extremely powerful documentation and code maintenance tool. Type aliases provide additional context as to why something is a string or a number. As an added bonus, if you alias your types and make a different decision (such as shifting from a numeric ID to a GUID) down the road, you can change the underlying type in one place. The compiler will then call out most of the areas in which your code needs to change.

Here are a couple of examples that we’ll build upon later on:

type NoArgs = undefined;
type UserId = number;
type UserName = string;

Note that UserId is a number here. That may not always be the case. If it changes, finding UserId is an easier task than trying to track down which references to number are relevant for your logic change.

Aliasing undefined with NoArgs might seem silly at first, but keep in mind that it’s conveying some extra meaning. It indicates that we specifically do not want arguments when we use it. It’s a way of documenting your code without a comment. Ditto for UserName. It’s unlikely to change types in the future, but using a type alias means that we know what it means, and that’s helpful.

Note: there’s a subtlety here that’s worth calling out. NoArgs is a type here, while undefined is a value. NoArgs is not the value undefined, but is a type whose only acceptable value is undefined. It’s a subtle difference, but it means you can’t do something like const args = NoArgs. Instead, you would have to do something along these lines: const args: NoArgs = undefined.

Statically define your data structures wherever possible

This is similar to the above, and is generally accepted practice. This essentially boils down to avoiding the any keyword and avoid turning everything into a plain object ({[key: string]: any}). In this simple SDK, this means only the following:

type User = {
id: UserId;
name: UserName;
//other fields could go here

When we need a User or an array of Users, our SDK engineers will now have all the context they need at design-time. Types such as UserName can be more complex as well (you can use Template Types, for example), allowing you to further constrain your types and make it more difficult to introduce bugs. The intricacies of typing data structures is a much larger subject, so we’ll stick to simple types here.

Make your routes and arguments more resistant to typos

You’ve likely done it before: you meant to call the users endpoint and accidentally typed uesrs. You don’t find out until runtime that the route is wrong, and now you’re tracking it down. Or maybe you can’t remember if you’re supposed to be getting name or userName from the response body and you’re either consulting the spec, curling, or opening Postman to get some real data. Keeping your routes defined in one place means you only need to consult the API spec once (or perhaps not at all if you follow the tip at the end of the post) in order to know what your types are. Your SDK maintainers should only need to go to one place to understand the routes and their arguments:

type Routes = {
'users': NoArgs;
'users/:userId:': UserId;

Note that the pattern :argument: was used here, but you can use whatever is best for the libraries/helper methods that you already have. In addition, this API currently only has GET endpoints with no query parameters, so we’re keeping the types on the simple side. Feel free to declare some intermediate types that clearly separate out route, query, and body parameters. Then your function(s) that actually call API endpoints will know what to do with said parameters when it comes time to actually call an endpoint. This is a good segue into the next point:

Use generics to make code reuse easy

It’s hard to overstate how powerful generics can be when it comes to maintaining type safety while still allowing code reuse. It’s easy to slap an any on a return value and just cast your data in your calling function, but that’s quite risky, as it prevents TypeScript from verifying that the function call is safe. It also makes code harder to understand, as there’s missing context. Let’s take a look at a couple of types that can help out for our example.

type RouteArgs<T extends keyof Routes> = {
route: T;
params: Routes[T];

const callEndpoint = <Route extends keyof Routes, ExpectedReturn>(args: RouteArgs<Route>): ExpectedReturn => {
//your client code goes here (axios, fetch, etc.) Include any error handling.

//Don't do this, use a type guard to verify that the data is correct!
return [{id: 1, name: "user1"}, {id: 2, name: "user2"}] as unknown as ExpectedReturn

Note the T extends keyof Routes in our generic parameter for the type RouteArgs. This builds upon the Routes type that we used earlier, making it impossible to use any string that is not already defined as a route when you’re writing a function that includes a parameter of this type. This also enables you to use Routes[T], meaning that you don’t have to know the specific type at design-time. You get type safety for all of your calling functions.

Note that we also do not assign a type alias to the type of callEndpoint. This type is intended to only be used once in this code base. If you are defining multiple different callEndpoint functions (for example, if you want to separate out logic for each HTTP verb), aliasing your types to make sure that no new errors are being introduced would be highly recommended.

Note that type guards are mentioned in the comment. This code lives at the edge of type safety. You will never be 100% sure that the data that comes back from your API endpoint is the structure you expect. That’s where type guards come in. Make sure that you’re running type guards against these return types. Type guards are outside of the scope of this post, but guarding for concrete types in a generic function can be complex and/or tedious. Depending on your needs, you may choose to use an unsafe type cast similar to the example and put the responsibility of calling the type guard on the calling function. We won’t cover strategies for ensuring these types are correct in this post, but this is an area you should study carefully.

Tying it all together

What do we get for our work? Let’s take a look at the code that an SDK maintainer might write to use the types that we’ve defined:

const getUsers = () => {
const users: User[] = callEndpoint({route: 'users', params: undefined})

return users

Hopefully it’s clear that we’ve gotten some value out of this. This call is entirely type safe (shown below), and is quite concise and easy to read.

Note that we also don’t have to specify the generic types here. TypeScript is inferring the types for us. If we make a mistake, the code won’t compile! Here are a couple of examples of bad calls and their corresponding errors:

const getUsers = () => {
const users: User[] = callEndpoint({route: 'user', params: undefined})
//Type '"user"' is not assignable to type 'keyof Routes'. Did you mean '"users"'?
return users

Look at that helpful error message! Not only does it tell us we’re wrong, it suggests what might be right.

What if we try to pass an argument to this route? If you remember, we defined it to explicitly accept no arguments.

const getUsers = () => {
const users: User[] = callEndpoint({route: 'users', params: 'someUserName'})
//Type 'string' is not assignable to type 'undefined'.(2322)
//{file and line number go here}: The expected type comes from property 'params' which is declared here on type 'RouteArgs<"users">'
return users

This is also helpful, though there is some limitation. TypeScript will not pass through the alias that we defined (NoArgs), unfortunately. However, it does tell us exactly where the source of the error is, allowing an engineer to trace exactly why a string won’t work. The engineer will then see that NoArgs type and have a clear understanding of what went wrong.

What’s missing/limitations?

The examples here could still be improved upon. Note that ExpectedReturn is part of callEndpoint. This means that an SDK maintainer would need to have some knowledge of which type to pick (if not the specific structure). Why not include this information our Routes type? That may make a good exercise for the reader.

As previously mentioned, type aliases do not get passed through to compiler errors. There are some workarounds, however.

Depending on how you’re handling various verbs, your type guards/generic functions can get quite complex. This won’t have an impact on those maintaining your SDK, but there can be an up-front cost to defining these types. It’s up to you to decide whether to pay that cost.

What was that about avoiding all this?

Hopefully with the tips in this article, you feel more confident about making maintainable SDKs. However, wouldn’t it be nice if you just didn’t have to develop an SDK at all? After all, you have an API spec; and that should be enough to generate the code, right? Fortunately, the answer is yes, and liblab offers a solution to do just that. If you don’t want to think about challenges like error handling and maintainability for your SDK, liblab’s SDK generation tools may be able to help you.