Self Modifying Type Predicates in Typescript

Typescript’s type system is uniquely powerful among mainstream programming languages, approximating the expressive power of Haskell or Idris, while also remaining flexible enough for production applications.

Type predicates are a useful tool in building a well-typed software framework. Essentially, they allow you to “simulate” dependent types, a powerful type feature present in Idris.

Further explanation on type predicates can be found here.

The premise of this article is a usage of type predicates I haven’t seen discussed online - most type predicates just modify one of their arguments, but you can actually form a predicate on this because it is an implicit argument.

Essentially, in the context of an interface or class, you may apply a type predicate which applies additional type constraints on this. To motivate the example, I’ll invoke the common Shape class hierarchy, and try to avoid the corresponding quagmires with the Liskov substitution principle.

First, we will introduce the type ShapeTypes, which will be a mapping from the type 'circle' | 'rectangle' to Circle | Rectangle. Basically, this type converts a string type into a concrete Shape type.

Usually, every individual type would be in separate files.

// ShapeTypes.ts
type ShapeTypes = {
  circle: Circle;
  rectangle: Rectangle;

Next, we will define what it means exactly to be a Shape in this model. The magic here is the is abstract, generic function.

// Shape.ts
abstract class Shape {
  public abstract get area(): number;
  public abstract get perimeter(): number;
  public abstract is<ShapeKey extends keyof ShapeTypes>(
    shapeType: ShapeKey
  ): this is ShapeTypes[ShapeKey];

Let’s break down Shape, line-by-line:

  1. The function declaration, specifying the class is abstract and therefore may possess abstract properties, and cannot be instantiated.
  • Instead of specifying Shape as an abstract class, this could be equivalently represented as an interface. However, the abstract class form is slightlymore extensible as we may more strictly specify what a Shape is, e.g. that it must possess a particular private property.
  1. We specify that there must exist an accessible area property, and we suggest but not require that the get syntax is used.

  2. We specify that there must exist an accessible perimeter property.

  3. This line declares that is is a generic member function which takes, as an type parameter, a type which extends keyof ShapeTypes, which automatically narrows to 'circle' | 'rectangle'. That means the type parameter will be either 'circle' or 'rectangle'.

  4. The is function additionally takes in a value parameter shapeType with a type equal to the above type parameter. This means that if the call-site code passes in a literal string, the ShapeType type parameter will be implicitly narrowed to the corresponding literal string type of shapeType.

  5. This line defines that the “native return type” of is is a boolean, and that additionally we are declaring the constraint that if is returns true, that this does extend type ShapeTypes[ShapeKey], which resolves to either Circle or Rectangle.

In the end, is becomes a type-narrowing function which we can very easily use in our client code. First though, we have a few more files to define.

// Circle.ts
class Circle extends Shape {
  public constructor(private _radius: number) {

  public get area() {
    return Math.PI * this._radius ** 2;

  public get perimeter() {
    return 2 * Math.PI * this._radius;

  public get radius() {
    return this._radius;

  public is<ShapeKey extends keyof ShapeTypes>(shapeType: ShapeKey) {
    return shapeType === "circle";

The definition of Circle is pretty straight-forward: various functions encoding geometric primitives. However, as part of the contract between Shape and any types which implement it, the is function must exist. So, we define it and specify that the parameter must be equal to 'circle'. Note that we provide additional read-only user-facing properties such as radius.

We then have Rectangle, along similar lines:

// Rectangle.ts
class Rectangle extends Shape {
  public constructor(private _width: number, private _height: number) {

  public get area() {
    return this._width * this._height;

  public get perimeter() {
    return 2 * (this._width + this._height);

  public get height() {
    return this._height;

  public get width() {
    return this._width;

  public is<ShapeKey extends keyof ShapeTypes>(shapeType: ShapeKey) {
    return shapeType === "rectangle";

We now have enough context to motivate the problem properly. Let’s say we have a function which somehow acts upon objects of type Shape. In general, this could be for rendering, additional geometric computation, serialization, etc. One relevant application would be a logging utility, logShapeData.

logShapeData takes in a Shape, but its behavior depends on internal properties. This is the quintessential application for type predicates.

// logShapeData.ts
function logShapeData(shape: Shape) {
  console.log(`P: ${shape.perimeter}, A: ${shape.area}`);

  if ("circle")) {
    console.log(`  R: ${shape.radius}`);
  } else if ("rectangle")) {
    console.log(`  W: ${shape.width}, H: ${shape.height}`);

In this form, the compiler knows that on line 6, shape is definitely of Circle type, because of the type predicate. We have implemented the ability to check, at run-time, whether or not a particular object is of a type we specify. Additionally, through the use of generics and type predicates, we have extended that check to compile-time as well.

Final Notes

For this simple example, a similar functionality can be achieved using the instanceof operator. However, this approach has limitations in that it requires leaf types to specifically be implemented as classes, while the type generic approach works just as well for a pure functional paradigm.

As well, using self-modifying type predicates is applicable beyond the problem of determining whether an object is of a certain type or not.

Technical Addendum

One behavior of type predicates in general is that they are only capable of widening types, not narrowing them. How they seem to work is, if x is originally of type X, and you specify x is Y, x becomes X & Y in the clause. In other words, type predicates apply a top-level intersection to the variable according to its predicate type.