Types and Tailcalls

Trying and failing to make a type safe react-redux connect wrapper

published on November 16, 2016

One of the challenges when trying to use redux with TypeScript in a type safe way is to use the react-redux connect function in a type safe manner. At the time of writing, the type definition at DefinitelyTyped does not ensure type safety. This blog post tries to develop a more limited1 wrapper around this function which ensures type safety, but sadly fails to come up with a full solution.

The connect function from react redux has a simple purpose: To turn a presentation focused component requiring properties A and to automatically generate a logic focused container2 requiring properties B. It does this via two functions, mapStateToProps and mapDispatchToProps which take the current state from the store or its dispatch function, respectively and properties B. The connect function then returns a generated container requiring properties B to instantiate and uses the passed functions to convert this into property A and instantiate the initially passed component.

Solving the first problem: type parameter inference

If we simplify things a bit more by munging mapStateToProps and mapDispatchToProps into a single function convertProps3 and only handeling React StatelessFunctionalComponents for now4 we need something like the following:

// one.ts
import * as _ from 'lodash';
import * as React from 'react';
import { render } from 'react-dom';

const { div } = React.DOM;

// Goal: getting to a type safe connect function.

// The connect function takes an existing react comonent class with
// properties A, a function transforming properties B to properties A
// and returns a new react component expecting properties B.

// essentially, we need something like the following:
function connect<NEW_PROPS, OLD_PROPS>(convertProps: (p: NEW_PROPS) => OLD_PROPS,
                                       componentClass: React.SFC<OLD_PROPS>{
                                      ): React.SFC<NEW_PROPS> {
    return props => React.createElement(componentClass, convertProps(props));
}

interface OldProps {
    oldName: string;
}

const OldComp: React.SFC<OldProps> = props => {
    return div(undefined, "Hello, " + props.oldName + "!");
};

interface NewProps {
    newName: string;
}

function convertProps(newProps: NewProps): OldProps {
    return { oldName: newProps.newName };
}

const NewComp = connect(convertProps, OldComp);

NewComp({ newName: "connect" }); /* works */

This is a simple approach, unfortunately it is not very type safe. To see this we’ll change the convertProps function to not return the OldProps but something not containing these properties:

// two.ts
function convertProps(newProps: NewProps): {} {
    return {};
}

// no type error
const NewComp = connect(convertProps, OldComp);

// runtime error, 'oldName' is not passed to
NewComp({ newName: "connect" });

The problem here is that the inferred type for the OLD_PROPS type parameter is {}, the return type of the changed convertProps function and that OldComp of type React.SFC<OldProps> is accepted (type compatible) with as a parameter of type React.SFC<{}>. This is a known, by design unsoundness of the TypeScript type system as noted under type compatibility in the TypeScript wiki. The issue here is that React.SFC<OldProps> extends React.SFC<{}> holds, however, SFC should be contravariant in its type parameter.

Can we work around this issue? It turns that we can fix the OLD_PROPS type parameter of the connect function if we pass the arguments one by one in reverse order:

// three.ts
function connect<NEW_PROPS, OLD_PROPS>(
     componentClass: React.SFC<OLD_PROPS>
    ): (convertProps: (p: NEW_PROPS) => OLD_PROPS) => React.SFC<NEW_PROPS>
{
    return convertProps => props => React.createElement(componentClass, convertProps(props));
}

This might look a little complicated at first, but all we’re doing is to pass the component class first, and then we’re passing the convertProps function. In functional programming terms, we’re currying the connect function. This is enough to make TypeScript infer the type arguments from the component. Thus the type of connect(OldComp) is (convertProps: (p: NEW_PROPS) => OldProps) => React.SFC<NEW_PROPS>, thus

// still in three.ts
function convertProps(newProps: NewProps): {} {
    return {};
}

// now a type error, as it should be
const NewComp = connect(OldComp)(convertProps);

now gives a type error as it should. Since the type parameter NEW_PROPS will be inferred to be the type of the parameter passed to convertProps, this will not be a problem for type safety.

Failing to solve the second problem: constraining a type intersection

Now the real react connect function is a bit more complicated, it takes two functions to create the new props and handles different react components, not just SFCs. At the time of writing, the DefinitelyTyped definition available through npm via @types/react-redux gives the following type definitions:

interface ComponentDecorator<TOriginalProps, TOwnProps> {
    (component: ComponentClass<TOriginalProps> | StatelessComponent<TOriginalProps>):
        ComponentClass<TOwnProps>;
}

type FuncOrSelf<T> = T | (() => T);

interface MapStateToProps<TStateProps, TOwnProps> {
    (state: any, ownProps?: TOwnProps): TStateProps;
}

interface MapDispatchToPropsFunction<TDispatchProps, TOwnProps> {
    (dispatch: Dispatch<any>, ownProps?: TOwnProps): TDispatchProps;
}

export declare function connect<TStateProps, TDispatchProps, TOwnProps>(
    mapStateToProps: FuncOrSelf<MapStateToProps<TStateProps, TOwnProps>>,
    mapDispatchToProps?: FuncOrSelf<MapDispatchToPropsFunction<TDispatchProps, TOwnProps>
                                    | MapDispatchToPropsObject>
): ComponentDecorator<TStateProps & TDispatchProps, TOwnProps>;

There is a lot of stuff here that I assume is there to handle all the flexible ways in which the connect function could be used (there is even a more complicated second signature, which I am completely ignoring here). Being a static typing enthusiast, I obviously think this is misguided, I just want one definition that checks as much as possible at compile time. I also have a few gripes with this definition, as it doesn’t do any type checking on the store or the dispatch function, but this is not really the place to get into that.

The main practical difference between the simplified version illustrated in the first part of this post is that this version takes two functions, one from the current state (mapStateToProps) and one using the dispatch function (mapDispatchToProps) (the first is supposed to provide input properties, the second callbacks) and mixes their results to create the old properties for the input component.

The problem which I haven’t been able to solve is that these two functions both provide some subset of the properties required by the input component which we want to wrap. In order to ensure type safety, we would like to guarantee that together, these properties cover all properties required for the original component (B). In terms of the type system, the intersection of both properties should extend the properties required by the original component, thus

PropsFromMapStateToProps & PropsFromMapDispatchToProps extends PropsForB

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to do this in the TypeScript type system. Given this limitation, I currently don’t see a way of creating a wrapper of this connect function which ensures type safety.


  1. In the sense that our function will not cover all the use cases that the react-redux connect function covers.

  2. The distinction between presentation focused ‘components’ and logic focused ‘containers’ is a widespread one and is for example explained in this blog post.

  3. The idea is that this function will only receive the properties of the new container and that the store is contained in these. React redux offers a way to pass the store as a context object, but I want to forgo this possibility, as it cannot be made type safe either.

  4. We can easily use other React components here as well, this is only a simplification for presentation purposes.


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