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Types vs. Interfaces in TypeScript

One key difference between types and interfaces in TypeScript.


Types and interfaces are two of the most fundamental TypeScript building blocks that allow you to model your data. After several years of developers trying to use interface features on their types and type features on their interfaces, the feature sets of both constructs have grown closer together. Popular posts on this topic agree that much of the difference between the two lies in their syntax, along with types having a few more options like unions and intersections.

I often find that interfaces are the go to option when modeling object structure. For example, a “User” object would be defined by an interface, along with the “Props” type for a React component. I consistently followed this practice until I recently came across an issue (a type error) with an object type I had defined with an interface. The issue was immediately resolved in a completely type safe manner by changing the definition from an interface to a type.

The Issue

Evident from the solution to my problem being a simple switch from interface to type, there are clearly more differences between the two than are highlighted in most posts online. The issue itself is presented in a TypeScript playground instance I’ve set up, and I’ll go through the code here too. To begin, there is a type called JSONValue defined, which must be defined as a type since it incorporates a union. It represents a value in an oversimplified JSON object type, where keys may only map to strings or other JSON objects. The actual JSON object type is defined in the interface JSONObject.

type JSONValue = string | JSONObject;
interface JSONObject {
[key: string]: JSONValue;

Here’s an example of an object that meets the JSONObject interface.

const obj = { src: 'test' };
const jsonObj: JSONObject = obj;

Now, let’s consider a case where we want to represent objects with the structure { src: string } as either a type or interface called Image. Trying both can’t hurt, so I’ve created them both with slightly different names.

interface ImageInterface {
src: string;
type ImageType = {
src: string;

With that out of the way, now it’s time to assign some objects defined by the interface and type to variables with the type JSONObject.

// This doesn't work!
const interfaceObj: JSONObject = { src: 'test' } as ImageInterface;
Type 'ImageInterface' is not assignable to type 'JSONObject'. Index signature for type 'string' is missing in type 'ImageInterface'.2322Type 'ImageInterface' is not assignable to type 'JSONObject'. Index signature for type 'string' is missing in type 'ImageInterface'.
// But this does!
const typeObj: JSONObject = { src: 'test' } as ImageType;

Something’s wrong! When we try to assign the first object, casted to ImageInterface, to interfaceObj, TypeScript gives us an error.

Assigning the object casted to ImageType to typeObj is fine though, so it must be something to do with the interface and whatever TypeScript is trying to say about the index signature on JSONObject.

The Cause?

So, what is TypeScript trying to say about the index signature on JSONObject and assigning another interface to it? At first glance, it doesn’t make much sense because one would assume the ImageInterface is structurally a subtype of JSONObject. That is, ImageInterface represents objects that are all also JSONObjects. To rephrase this, it makes sense to say that ImageInterface extends JSONObject. It’s also valid to write that in code:

// This is valid
interface ImageInterface extends JSONObject {
src: string;

If you do declare ImageInterface in this way, then our previous attempt to assign an ImageInterface object to a JSONObject variable works without issue! That’s not great, especially if JSONObject isn’t a public type, but it works.

Why is this the case? My initial idea was that, intuitively, declaring types with interface seems to be less “structural” and more ”nominal”. It even shows up differently when you hover over it in VSCode.

type t1 = ImageInterface;
interface ImageInterface
type t2 = ImageType;
type ImageType = { src: string; }

This less structural nature means that it needs the same index signature ([key: string]: string) that is present in JSONObject. In fact, defining the index signature in ImageInterface is another way to avoid the type error.

But, after bringing the problem up with my Viget internship advisor, he and another TypeScript enthusiast at Viget were able to pinpoint the issue. Literally, this Github issue comment describes the exact reasoning behind this behavior, and it appears that the main consideration was interface declaration merging. The idea seems to be that because declaration merging exists for interfaces, it is less safe to assume that they will structurally fit another type’s index signature at any given moment.

The Solution

In this case, the only code I could alter was the code for defining the Image object structure, which meant that I could either have it extend JSONObject, declare the index signature inside, or I could just declare it as a type instead of an interface. Since JSONObject was a private type in the context of my issue, I decided to go with the latter. In another case, it may make more sense to just extend JSONObject or whatever parent interface you’re dealing with. Redeclaring the index signature seems to me the most repetitive and error-prone option.

Generally, I would say using a type is the best way to go. If you use types to model objects by default, you will never run into this issue. In the case where the parent interface is private, you won’t have to make special modifications for certain models as you would with interfaces.

That said, the issue isn’t too common, at least not common enough to make it into many blog posts about types and interfaces. So, if you’re already using interfaces for your object models, I don’t see too much of a reason to switch. For reference, the issue I came across was in SvelteKit’s endpoint system, so if you do happen to be in this context consider using type! Or, consider taking a look at this issue which makes it clear that you can still use interface with a small workaround.