Aman Mittal 👨‍💻 Developer 👉 Node.js, React, React Native | Tech Blogger with 1M+ views on Medium

How to set up TypeScript with Node.js and Express

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Node TypeScript Express

Editor’s note: This article was last updated on 23 March 2022 to update code that had become deprecated.

Ease of development is great when you’re building a server written in JavaScript and using Node.js and Express. But what happens when your application server scales, or you’re working on a team of developers all across the world? In these instances, TypeScript can help.

In this article, we’ll cover a beginner-friendly way to set up TypeScript in an Express app, understanding the basic constraints that come with it.

To take full advantage of this tutorial, be sure you have the following:

  • Node.js version ≥ v12.x installed in your local development environment
  • Access to a package manager like npm or Yarn
  • Basic knowledge of Node.js and Express

Table of contents

Create a package.json file

Start by creating a new directory wherever you keep your side projects in your local development environment. Inside that directory, use npm’s initializer command to create a package.json file:

mkdir node-express-typescript
cd node-express-typescript/
npm init --yes

When you initialize a package.json file, the --yes flag uses the default settings you have set up from npm config. The newly created package.json file might look something like the following code:

{
  "name": "express-typescript",
  "version": "1.0.0",
  "description": "",
  "main": "index.js",
  "scripts": {
    "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1"
  },
  "type": "module",
  "keywords": [],
  "author": "",
  "license": "ISC"
}

Create a minimal server with Express

After initializing the package.json file, let’s add an Express package. From the terminal window, run the command below:

npm install express dotenv

Next, to trigger a minimal server, create a new file called index.js at the root of the project with the following code:

const express = require('express');
const dotenv = require('dotenv');

dotenv.config();

const app = express();
const port = process.env.PORT;

app.get('/', (req, res) => {
  res.send('Express + TypeScript Server');
});

app.listen(port, () => {
  console.log(`[server]: Server is running at https://localhost:${port}`);
});

The dotenv package is used to read environment variables from the .env file. Create it in the root of your Node.js app, then create the environment variable for PORT=8000.

To start the server, go back to the terminal and trigger the command node index.js:

Start Server Node Index

The Express server is now up and running!

Installing TypeScript

We’ll start by installing TypeScript as a dev dependency. Along with it, we’ll install the the @types declaration packages for Express and Node.js, which provide type definitions in the form of declaration files.

Declaration files are predefined modules that describe the shape of JavaScript values, or the types present, for the TypeScript compiler. Type declarations are usually contained in files with a .d.ts extension. These declaration files are available for all libraries that were originally written in JavaScript, not TypeScript.

The DefinitelyTyped GitHub repository maintains the TypeScript type definitions for use directly in Node.js and other JavaScript projects, so you don’t have to define these types from scratch. To add these types or the declaration files related to a particular library or a module, you have to look for the packages that start with the @types namespace.

Open the terminal window and install the packages described above with the following command:

npm i -D typescript @types/express @types/node

The -D flag, also known as the --dev flag, is a specification for the package manager to install these libraries as devDependencies.

Once these libraries are installed, go to the package.json file where you’ll see a new devDependencies object:

{
"devDependencies": {
"@types/express": "^4.17.13",
"@types/node": "^17.0.10",
"typescript": "^4.5.5"
}
}

Generating tsconfig.json

Now, we have a TypeScript project compiled with some default configuration options. The tsconfig.json file provides these default options and also provides us with the ability to tweak or customize the compiler options.

Typically, the tsconfig.json file lives at the root of the project. To generate it, we’ll use the tsc command:

npx tsc --init

The command above will generate a new file called tsconfig.json with the following default compiler options:

target: es2016
module: commonjs
strict: true
esModuleInterop: true
skipLibCheck: true
forceConsistentCasingInFileNames: true

If you open the tsconfig.json file, you’ll see a lot of other compiler options that are commented out. In tsconfig.json, compilerOptions is a mandatory field that needs to be specified. The options used in the config above are:

  • target: Allows us to specify the target JavaScript version that the compiler will output
  • module: Allows us to use a module manager in the compiled JavaScript code. CommonJS is supported and is a standard in Node.js
  • strict: An option that enables strict type-checking options
  • esModuleInterop: Allows us to compile ES6 modules to CommonJS modules
  • skipLibCheck: If set to true, skips type-checking of default library declaration files
  • forceConsistentCasingInFileNames: When set to true, enables case sensitive file naming

One option that you will have to enable is called outDir, which specifies where the output will be located after the compilation step. You can search for this option in the tsconfig.json file and uncomment it.

By default, the value of this option is set to the root directory. Change it to dist:

{
  "compilerOptions": {
    "outDir": "./dist"

    // rest options remain same
  }
}

While there are probably other configuration options that you can add on to the TypeScript compiler, the options listed above are basic specifications that can help you get started.

Create an Express server with a .ts extension

Now, you can easily convert the minimal server code in index.js to an index.ts file.



First, rename the file to index.ts. The .ts extension is a file extension that determines what TypeScript files are compiled to JavaScript files later when we build the server.

Open the index.ts file and modify it, as shown below:

import express, { Express, Request, Response } from 'express';
import dotenv from 'dotenv';

dotenv.config();

const app: Express = express();
const port = process.env.PORT;

app.get('/', (req: Request, res: Response) => {
  res.send('Express + TypeScript Server');
});

app.listen(port, () => {
  console.log(`⚡️[server]: Server is running at https://localhost:${port}`);
});

Watching file changes and build directory

Another development-related utility library I like to use when working on Node.js projects is nodemon. nodemon is a tool that helps develop Node.js based applications by automatically restarting the Node.js application when file changes in the directory are detected.

We’ll also install another dev dependency called Concurrently, which will allow us to run multiple commands like nodemon to watch file changes and the tsc command to compile the code:

npm install -D concurrently nodemon

After installing these dev dependencies, update the scripts in the package.json file:

{
  "scripts": {
    "build": "npx tsc",
    "start": "node dist/index.js",
    "dev": "concurrently \"npx tsc --watch\" \"nodemon -q dist/index.js\""
  }
}

The build command will compile the code in JavaScript inside a dist directory. The dev command is used to run the Node.js server in development mode.

Now, go back to the terminal window and run npm run dev to trigger the development server:

Trigger Dev Server

There are no errors, indicating that the server is successfully running. You can go to the browser window to see the result.

Since nodemon detected changes, let’s try to edit the message sent from res.send() and simultaneously take a look at the terminal to see if nodemon detects any file changes or not:

Node Dev Server TS

To compile the code, you need to run the command npm run build. There is a new dist directory created after this command executes successfully. Inside this directory, the TypeScript code is compiled to valid JavaScript:

'use strict';
var __importDefault =
  (this && this.__importDefault) ||
  function (mod) {
    return mod && mod.__esModule ? mod : { default: mod };
  };
Object.defineProperty(exports, '__esModule', { value: true });
const express_1 = __importDefault(require('express'));
const dotenv_1 = __importDefault(require('dotenv'));
dotenv_1.default.config();
const app = (0, express_1.default)();
const port = process.env.PORT;
app.get('/', (req, res) => {
  res.send('Express + TypeScript Server is running.');
});
app.listen(port, () => {
  console.log(`⚡️[server]: Server is running at https://localhost:${port}`);
});

If you specify any other directory as the value of the property outDir in the tsconfig.json file, that directory would be reflected here instead of dist.

Conclusion

Using TypeScript has its benefits, but it does come with a bit of a learning curve. You have to carefully analyze whether using TypeScript in your Node.js and Express backend projects is beneficial or not, which may depend on the requirements of your project.

Make sure to check out the different Typed Definitions or go to the official TypeScript documentation to explore more. I hope you enjoyed this project! Be sure to leave a comment if you have any questions. Happy coding!

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Aman Mittal 👨‍💻 Developer 👉 Node.js, React, React Native | Tech Blogger with 1M+ views on Medium

24 Replies to “How to set up TypeScript with Node.js and Express”

  1. What is your terminal theme? The package and nodejs icon are really cool additions

  2. What’s the best command setup for deploying and running something like this in production? There are now compiled JS files in build/, but other files (e.g., package.json, static HTML, etc.) are all in their original locations. And, we haven’t created a script in package.json to run the built app.

  3. okayy,, then how can i use other plugin to work with my express typescript. am i should install plugin that support in typescript or not ?

  4. You would need something like WebPack to handle the build requirements.

  5. Choose any middleware you need, but make sure DefinitelyTyped has the corresponding Typescript @types/* mappings available. Most popular NodeJS middleware packages are supported in the DefinitelyTyped project.

    1. Hey, if you are running localhost, you do not require “https” until you want to intentionally use HTTPS.

    1. In the article above, the “outDir” is referring to the config option. The “./dist” is the value.

      Are you referring to something specific? Can you please point me to that?

      1. instead of ‘/dist’, should be ‘./dist’ — otherwise it goes to machine root

  6. when rename `index.js` to `index.ts`, `package.json` `mian` field must change to `index.ts` too.

  7. Excellent tutorial! One minor note is that the protocol should not be `https` since express is not secure by default, e.g, this line should be changed to just `http` — `console.log(`⚡️[server]: Server is running at http://localhost:${port}`)`

  8. had to remove “module”: “commonjs” from tsconfig.js as the error “ReferenceError: exports is not defined in ES module scope”

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