Updating an immutable object in TypeScript

Recently I could not figure out how to types-safely update immutable object in TypeScript. The problem is that in JavaScript the object spread feature is used for this task, like so:

But if you have accidentally missspelled the property you want to update, object spread will add a new propery instead of updating old one:

So I asked StackOverflow for help and got an excellent answer to use a helper function:

Now if I want to update my point but make a mistake – I get a compiler error:

All is great now, but someone on StackOverflow asked to explain each line of this update function. It is not simple indeed and uses latest TypeScript features. The author did not respond, so I will try to explain it here.

The most complex line is first one:

function update<T, K extends keyof T>(obj: T, updateSpec: Pick<T, K>): T {

This line incorporates two pretty complex typescript features: generics and indexed type query. I highly recommend clicking links provided in the previous sentence and reading articles provided by TypeScript official documentation, which is great. But here is my shallow explanation.

A generic type is the type which is not known when the function is defined but only becomes know when the function is used somewhere in the code (all is at development time, not runtime). For example in the given update function the type T is not known, when function is defined, but at this point o1 = update(o1, {y:1}); the type T becomes of type Point. So, for now, we know that in this particular call, function update will take a Point and will also return a Point.

Indexed type query gives you an ability to query at compile-time the names of the properties of some type. For example, type PointProperties = keyof Point; // "x" | "y". That is from the variable of type Point we can query the property named x or y or both. So the expression K extends keyof T means in our case that generic type K must be something compatible with "x" | "y":

Ok, now we know exactly the type constraints of update function, but what is Pick<T, K>? It is the type, added to TypeScript standard library in version 2.1 and is mapped type:

You can think of it as a type which consists of a subset of properties of type T, described by K. So when we have a point defined this way: interface Point { x: number, y: number }, the type Pick<Point,"x"> is basically {x:number} and Pick<Point,"x" | "y"> is { x: number, y: number }

Hence to conclude, the first line of the function just tells its name and that it takes as the first parameter the value of unconstrained type T, returned value is of the same type. And the second argument must be some type, which contains any subset of properties, defined in T. So, if you want to update the Point, the only eligible values for the second parameter of update are: { y: 1 }, { x: 1 }, {}, { y:1, x:1 } (note: number 1 is arbitrary here, any number will do; if compiler option --strictNullChecks is not on, then values undefined and null are also eligible).

All other lines are not nearly as interesting :-). Second line: const result = {} as T just creates creates an empty object and tells TypeScript to treat it as the value of type T. Third line Object.keys(obj).forEach(key => result[key] = obj[key]) is pure JavaScript which copies all properties from input object obj to the result object. Fourth line Object.keys(updateSpec).forEach((key: K) => result[key] = updateSpec[key]) does the same for updateSpec, this actually replaces old values of obj with new ones from updateSpec. And finally the function returns: return result;.

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