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TypeScript React props: interfaces vs type aliases

A practical breakdown of when to use interfaces versus types when defining TypeScript object types such as React prop types

November 14, 2021 · 8 min read

The first lesson in my TypeScript for React Developers minishop is how to define the type of the props object passed to React component functions. And usually there will be someone who’s already dabbled in TypeScript who asks me why I choose to use an interface instead of a type alias for defining the props. The short answer is that interfaces and type alias are effectively interchangeable for defining objects in TypeScript.

My assumption is that interfaces and type aliases used to have more differences between them, but as TypeScript has evolved they’ve both received upgrades to the point where they are now seemingly identical. The original TypeScript docs suggested using an interface over a type alias when possible, so that’s what I’ve always done. But there are some nuances when one may make sense over the other. Instead of focusing on the technical differences, I want to spend this post focusing on the practical times we would use one over the other.


Situations for both

Let’s quickly take a look at the common situations where interfaces and type aliases work the exact same.

First, both can be used to define an object type.

interface ButtonProps {
  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

type ButtonProps = {
  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

Both can merge or extend other object types as well.

// include `ElementStylingProps` by interface extending

interface ElementStylingProps {
  className?: string
  style?: React.CssProperties
}
interface ButtonProps extends ElementStylingProps {  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

// include `ElementStylingProps` by type intersection

type ElementStylingProps = {
  className?: string
  style?: React.CssProperties
}
type ButtonProps = ElementStylingProps & {  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

In case you were wondering, an interface can also extend an object type defined by a type alias and vice versa.

// include `ElementStylingProps` by interface extending

type ElementStylingProps = {
  className?: string
  style?: React.CssProperties
}
interface ButtonProps extends ElementStylingProps {  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

// include `ElementStylingProps` by type intersection

interface ElementStylingProps {
  className?: string
  style?: React.CssProperties
}
type ButtonProps = ElementStylingProps & {  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

Both can even use generic types.

interface AsProp<C extends React.ElementType> {
  /**
   * An override of the default HTML tag
   * (can also be another React component)
   */
  as?: C
}

type AsProp<C extends React.ElementType> = {
  /**
   * An override of the default HTML tag
   * (can also be another React component)
   */
  as?: C
}

These are the common cases in which we define types for objects, especially React prop types. So 95%+ of the time* either one works fine. And like I mentioned, the TypeScript docs suggested using an interface by default, so that’s what I would use in all of these cases over a type alias.

Situations for type aliases

The situations necessitating type alias are generally for more complex prop relationships.

Let’s take the example explained in the Conditional React props with TypeScript post where we have a Text component that allows for the text to be truncated with a truncate prop. And when the text is truncated there is also a showExpanded prop to include a “show expanded” button that will allow the truncated text to be expanded to the full text. Therefore the showExpanded prop only makes sense when the truncate prop is true.

// `TruncateProps` is a discriminated union of 2
// object types
type TruncateProps =
  // `showExpanded` cannot be set when `truncate`
  // is `false` (or `undefined`)
  | { truncate?: false; showExpanded?: never }

  // `showExpanded` can be set when `truncate`
  // is `true`
  | { truncate: true; showExpanded?: boolean }

When truncate is false (or undefined), showExpanded is never (i.e. it cannot be set). But when truncate is true, showExpanded can optionally be set. This type definition is what’s called a discriminated union, where TruncateProps is either one object type or another. A discriminated union cannot be expressed using an interface. At least not yet. 😉 We have to use a type alias.

Similarly, if we want to take TruncateProps and merge it with our main props, we also need to use type intersection with a type alias.

// Can only use type intersection to
// extend a discriminated union
type TextProps = TruncateProps & {
  children: React.ReactNode
}

We have to use a type alias to extend a discriminated union. If we tried to use extends in an interface, we get an error.

interface TextProps extends TruncateProps {
  children: React.ReactNode
}

// 🛑🛑🛑 Error!!!
// An interface can only extend an object type or intersection
// of object types with statically known members.

When using the TypeScript utility types (like Omit<> or Record<>) or other custom generic types, I exclusively use type aliases.

interface ButtonProps {
  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

// type aliases create "type expressions" when
// combined with generic types
type OptionalButtonProps = Partial<ButtonProps>type ButtonLayoutProps = Pick<ButtonProps, 'size' | 'width'>

We can actually use interfaces as well by extending the type returned by the generic.

interface ButtonProps {
  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}

// interfaces *can* extend generic types but feel weird
// 🤮🤮🤮
interface OptionalButtonProps extends Partial<ButtonProps> {}interface ButtonLayoutProps extends Pick<ButtonProps, 'size' | 'width'> {}

But in my opinion, this feels rather clunky. We’re really just trying to name the result of the “type expressions as I call them. We’re not extending anything. So a type alias is better suited for these cases in my opinion.


Situations for interfaces

So we’ve seen situations were interfaces are preferred by default, but type aliases can also work. And then situations where interface don’t work. Are there also situations were only interfaces work? Well, kinda. The hint comes from this cryptic sentence in the TypeScript docs:

With interfaces, we could use an extends clause to extend from other types, and we were able to do something similar with intersections and name the result with a type alias. The principle difference between the two is how conflicts are handled, and that difference is typically one of the main reasons why you’d pick one over the other between an interface and a type alias of an intersection type.

And that’s all it says! It doesn’t actually explain how the conflicts are handled in either case. But luckily for us, we’re about to see them for ourselves.

Let’s say we want to define NumberButtonProps which are just like our ButtonProps except that the children is a number type instead of a string type. We can define NumberButtonProps using an interface that extends ButtonProps to override the children prop.

interface ButtonProps {
  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}
interface NumberButtonProps extends ButtonProps {  // should override `string` from `ButtonProps`  children: number}// NumberButtonProps['children'] -> `number`

The type of the children property in NumberButtonProps is number, which is exactly what we want. But what happens if we try to use an intersection with a type alias instead?

interface ButtonProps {
  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}
type NumberButtonProps = ButtonProps & {  // intersecting doesn't work how we'd expect 😔  children: number}// NumberButtonProps['children'] -> `never`
// (`string & number` -> `never`)

The type of the children property is now never. But why? Well it turns out that when using intersections with type aliases, properties aren’t overridden. They are… intersected. So instead of number overriding the original string, number is intersected with string (string & number). And because there is no shared type between string and number, the resulting type is never! 🤯

There may be a case where we do want a redefined property to intersect like this instead of override like with interface. And depending on what the types we’re intersecting, they may still result in a usable type (for instance ReactNode & number is a number because the definition of ReactNode includes number). But in general, intersecting with type aliases to override an existing property doesn’t work. And I now see why the TypeScript docs’ explanation was so cryptic. 😅

There is a workaround for this, however. Before intersecting the redefined property we can omit it.

interface ButtonProps {
  children: string
  size?: 'small' | 'large'
  variant?: 'primary' | 'secondary'
  width?: 'fixed' | 'fit' | 'fill'
}
// omit `children` from `ButtonProps` first so that
// intersecting "overrides"
type NumberButtonProps = Omit<ButtonProps, 'children'> & {  children: number}// NumberButtonProps['children'] -> `number`

By using Omit<>, the children prop is no longer in the object type intersected with the type that’s overriding children as a number. As a result, we get the appearance of an override like with interface.

In my Polymorphic React Components in TypeScript post, I use this Omit<> pattern because I knew that property name collisions were causing a problem, but I didn’t understand why. Now almost exactly a year later, I know why! 🎉


I’m excited because now I have a post I can send folks to when they ask me about interface versus type alias. And I feel that I understand the nuances between them better as well.

But I’m still sticking to my guidelines. I use interface by default, extending them as much as possible. However, I use type aliases for type expressions with generics. But what this whole post has shown is that it really doesn’t matter which one we choose, except for some extra corner cases.

What are your practices for using interface and type aliases in TypeScript? Have you found other cases where you must use one over the other? Reach out to me on Twitter at @benmvp because I’d love to know!

Keep learning my friends. 🤓

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Hi, I'm Ben Ilegbodu. 👋🏾

I'm a Christian, husband, and father of 3, with 15+ years of professional experience developing user interfaces for the Web. I'm a Principal Frontend Engineer at Stitch Fix, frontend development teacher, Google Developer Expert, and Microsoft MVP. I love helping developers level up their frontend skills.

Discuss on Twitter // Edit on GitHub