Introduction

JSX is an embeddable XML-like syntax. It is meant to be transformed into valid JavaScript, though the semantics of that transformation are implementation-specific. JSX came to popularity with the React framework, but has since seen other applications as well. TypeScript supports embedding, type checking, and compiling JSX directly into JavaScript.

Basic usage

In order to use JSX you must do two things.

  1. Name your files with a .tsx extension
  2. Enable the jsx option

TypeScript ships with three JSX modes: preserve, react, and react-native. These modes only affect the emit stage - type checking is unaffected. The preserve mode will keep the JSX as part of the output to be further consumed by another transform step (e.g. Babel). Additionally the output will have a .jsx file extension. The react mode will emit React.createElement, does not need to go through a JSX transformation before use, and the output will have a .js file extension. The react-native mode is the equivalent of preserve in that it keeps all JSX, but the output will instead have a .js file extension.

Mode Input Output Output File Extension
preserve <div /> <div /> .jsx
react <div /> React.createElement("div") .js
react-native <div /> <div /> .js

You can specify this mode using either the --jsx command line flag or the corresponding option in your tsconfig.json file.

Note: The identifier React is hard-coded, so you must make React available with an uppercase R.

The as operator

Recall how to write a type assertion:

var foo = <foo>bar;

Here we are asserting the variable bar to have the type foo. Since TypeScript also uses angle brackets for type assertions, JSX’s syntax introduces certain parsing difficulties. As a result, TypeScript disallows angle bracket type assertions in .tsx files.

To make up for this loss of functionality in .tsx files, a new type assertion operator has been added: as. The above example can easily be rewritten with the as operator.

var foo = bar as foo;

The as operator is available in both .ts and .tsx files, and is identical in behavior to the other type assertion style.

Type Checking

In order to understand type checking with JSX, you must first understand the difference between intrinsic elements and value-based elements. Given a JSX expression <expr />, expr may either refer to something intrinsic to the environment (e.g. a div or span in a DOM environment) or to a custom component that you’ve created. This is important for two reasons:

  1. For React, intrinsic elements are emitted as strings (React.createElement("div")), whereas a component you’ve created is not (React.createElement(MyComponent)).
  2. The types of the attributes being passed in the JSX element should be looked up differently. Intrinsic element attributes should be known intrinsically whereas components will likely want to specify their own set of attributes.

TypeScript uses the same convention that React does for distinguishing between these. An intrinsic element always begins with a lowercase letter, and a value-based element always begins with an uppercase letter.

Intrinsic elements

Intrinsic elements are looked up on the special interface JSX.IntrinsicElements. By default, if this interface is not specified, then anything goes and intrinsic elements will not be type checked. However, if interface is present, then the name of the intrinsic element is looked up as a property on the JSX.IntrinsicElements interface. For example:

declare namespace JSX {
    interface IntrinsicElements {
        foo: any
    }
}

<foo />; // ok
<bar />; // error

In the above example, <foo /> will work fine but <bar /> will result in an error since it has not been specified on JSX.IntrinsicElements.

Note: You can also specify a catch-all string indexer on JSX.IntrinsicElements as follows:

declare namespace JSX {
   interface IntrinsicElements {
       [elemName: string]: any;
   }
}

Value-based elements

Value based elements are simply looked up by identifiers that are in scope.

import MyComponent from "./myComponent";

<MyComponent />; // ok
<SomeOtherComponent />; // error

It is possible to limit the type of a value-based element. However, for this we must introduce two new terms: the element class type and the element instance type.

Given <Expr />, the element class type is the type of Expr. So in the example above, if MyComponent was an ES6 class the class type would be that class. If MyComponent was a factory function, the class type would be that function.

Once the class type is established, the instance type is determined by the union of the return types of the class type’s call signatures and construct signatures. So again, in the case of an ES6 class, the instance type would be the type of an instance of that class, and in the case of a factory function, it would be the type of the value returned from the function.

class MyComponent {
  render() {}
}

// use a construct signature
var myComponent = new MyComponent();

// element class type => MyComponent
// element instance type => { render: () => void }

function MyFactoryFunction() {
  return {
    render: () => {
    }
  }
}

// use a call signature
var myComponent = MyFactoryFunction();

// element class type => FactoryFunction
// element instance type => { render: () => void }

The element instance type is interesting because it must be assignable to JSX.ElementClass or it will result in an error. By default JSX.ElementClass is {}, but it can be augmented to limit the use of JSX to only those types that conform to the proper interface.

declare namespace JSX {
  interface ElementClass {
    render: any;
  }
}

class MyComponent {
  render() {}
}
function MyFactoryFunction() {
  return { render: () => {} }
}

<MyComponent />; // ok
<MyFactoryFunction />; // ok

class NotAValidComponent {}
function NotAValidFactoryFunction() {
  return {};
}

<NotAValidComponent />; // error
<NotAValidFactoryFunction />; // error

Attribute type checking

The first step to type checking attributes is to determine the element attributes type. This is slightly different between intrinsic and value-based elements.

For intrinsic elements, it is the type of the property on JSX.IntrinsicElements

declare namespace JSX {
  interface IntrinsicElements {
    foo: { bar?: boolean }
  }
}

// element attributes type for 'foo' is '{bar?: boolean}'
<foo bar />;

For value-based elements, it is a bit more complex. It is determined by the type of a property on the element instance type that was previously determined. Which property to use is determined by JSX.ElementAttributesProperty. It should be declared with a single property. The name of that property is then used.

declare namespace JSX {
  interface ElementAttributesProperty {
    props; // specify the property name to use
  }
}

class MyComponent {
  // specify the property on the element instance type
  props: {
    foo?: string;
  }
}

// element attributes type for 'MyComponent' is '{foo?: string}'
<MyComponent foo="bar" />

The element attribute type is used to type check the attributes in the JSX. Optional and required properties are supported.

declare namespace JSX {
  interface IntrinsicElements {
    foo: { requiredProp: string; optionalProp?: number }
  }
}

<foo requiredProp="bar" />; // ok
<foo requiredProp="bar" optionalProp={0} />; // ok
<foo />; // error, requiredProp is missing
<foo requiredProp={0} />; // error, requiredProp should be a string
<foo requiredProp="bar" unknownProp />; // error, unknownProp does not exist
<foo requiredProp="bar" some-unknown-prop />; // ok, because 'some-unknown-prop' is not a valid identifier

Note: If an attribute name is not a valid JS identifier (like a data-* attribute), it is not considered to be an error if it is not found in the element attributes type.

The spread operator also works:

var props = { requiredProp: "bar" };
<foo {...props} />; // ok

var badProps = {};
<foo {...badProps} />; // error

The JSX result type

By default the result of a JSX expression is typed as any. You can customize the type by specifying the JSX.Element interface. However, it is not possible to retrieve type information about the element, attributes or children of the JSX from this interface. It is a black box.

Embedding Expressions

JSX allows you to embed expressions between tags by surrounding the expressions with curly braces ({ }).

var a = <div>
  {["foo", "bar"].map(i => <span>{i / 2}</span>)}
</div>

The above code will result in an error since you cannot divide a string by a number. The output, when using the preserve option, looks like:

var a = <div>
  {["foo", "bar"].map(function (i) { return <span>{i / 2}</span>; })}
</div>

React integration

To use JSX with React you should use the React typings. These typings define the JSX namespace appropriately for use with React.

/// <reference path="react.d.ts" />

interface Props {
  foo: string;
}

class MyComponent extends React.Component<Props, {}> {
  render() {
    return <span>{this.props.foo}</span>
  }
}

<MyComponent foo="bar" />; // ok
<MyComponent foo={0} />; // error