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Conditional Types

Flow's conditional type allows you to conditionally choose between two different output types by inspecting an input type. It is useful to extract parts of a type, or to describe a complex overload.

Basic Usage

It has a syntax that is similar to conditional expressions: CheckType extends ExtendsType ? TrueType : FalseType.

If CheckType is a subtype of ExtendsType, the conditional type will be evaluated to TrueType. Otherwise, it will be evaluated to FalseType.

The following example illustrates both cases.

1class Animal {}2class Dog extends Animal {}3
4type TypeofAnimal = Dog extends Animal ? 'animal' : 'unknown'; // evaluates to 'animal'5type TypeofString = string extends Animal ? 'animal' : 'unknown'; // evaluates to 'unknown'

Generic Conditional Types

This might not look very useful, since you already know what type it will evaluate to. However, combining with generics, you can perform complex computations over types. For example, you can write down a type-level typeof operator:

1type TypeOf<T> =2  T extends null ? 'null' :3  T extends void ? 'undefined' :4  T extends string ? 'string' :5  T extends number ? 'number' :6  T extends boolean ? 'boolean' :7  T extends (...$ReadOnlyArray<empty>)=>mixed ? 'function' : 'object'8
9type T1 = TypeOf<null>; // evaluates to 'null'10type T2 = TypeOf<void>; // evaluates to 'undefined'11type T3 = TypeOf<string>; // evaluates to 'string'12type T4 = TypeOf<number>; // evaluates to 'number'13type T5 = TypeOf<boolean>; // evaluates to 'boolean'14type T6 = TypeOf<(string)=>boolean>; // evaluates to 'function'15type T7 = TypeOf<{foo: string}>; // evaluates to 'object'

Function return types dependent on input types

Conditional types also allow you to intuitively describe the conditions for choosing different function overloads:

1declare function wrap<T>(value: T): T extends string ? { type: 'string', value: string }2                                  : T extends number ? { type: 'number', value: number }3                                  : { type: 'unsupported' }4
5const v1 = wrap(3);   // has type { type: 'number', value: number }6const v2 = wrap('4'); // has type { type: 'string', value: string }7const v3 = wrap({});  // has type { type: 'unsupported' }

The above example can also be written with function overload:

1declare function wrap(value: string): { type: 'string', value: string }2declare function wrap(value: number): { type: 'number', value: number }3declare function wrap(value: mixed): { type: 'unsupported' }4
5const v1 = wrap(3);   // has type { type: 'number', value: number }6const v2 = wrap('4'); // has type { type: 'string', value: string }7const v3 = wrap({});  // has type { type: 'unsupported' }

Inferring Within Conditional Types

You can use the power of conditional types to extract parts of a type using infer types. For example, the builtin ReturnType is powered by conditional types:

1type ReturnType<T> = T extends (...args: $ReadOnlyArray<empty>) => infer Return ? Return : empty;2
3type N = ReturnType<(string) => number>; // evaluates to `number`4type S = ReturnType<(number) => string>; // evaluates to `string`

We used the infer type here to introduce a new generic type variable named Return, which can be used in the type branch of the conditional type. Infer types can only appear on the right hand side of the extends clause in conditional types. Flow will perform a subtyping check between the check type and the extends type to automatically figure out its type based on the input type T.

In the example of type N = ReturnType<(string) => number>, Flow checks if (string) => number is a subtype of (...args: $ReadOnlyArray<empty>) => infer Return, and during this process Return is constrained to number.

When doing extractions like the above example, you usually want the conditional type to always choose the true branch where the type is successfully extracted. For example, silently choosing the false branch is not great:

1type ExtractReturnTypeNoValidation<T> =2  T extends (...args: $ReadOnlyArray<empty>) => infer Return ? Return : any;3
41 as ExtractReturnTypeNoValidation<string>; // no error :(

Instead, you might want Flow to error when the input is not a function type. This can be accomplished by adding constraints to the type parameter:

1type ReturnType<T: (...args: $ReadOnlyArray<empty>) => mixed> =2  T extends (...args: $ReadOnlyArray<empty>) => infer Return ? Return : any;3
41 as ReturnType<(string) => number>;51 as ReturnType<string>;
5:17-5:22: Cannot instantiate `ReturnType` because string [1] is incompatible with function type [2] in type argument `T`. [incompatible-type-arg]

Distributive Conditional Types

When a generic conditional type is given a union type as a type argument, the conditional distributes over the union's members. For example, the TypeOf example above can distribute over a union:

1type TypeOf<T> =2  T extends null ? 'null' :3  T extends void ? 'undefined' :4  T extends string ? 'string' : 'other';5
6type StringOrNull = TypeOf<string | null>; // evaluates to 'string' | 'null'

This works by first breaking up the union type, and then passing each type to the conditional type to be evaluated separately. In the example above, this looks something like:

TypeOf<string | null>
--> (break up the union) --> TypeOf<string> | TypeOf<null>
--> (evaluate each conditional type separately) --> 'string' | 'null'

If you want to avoid this behavior, you can wrap the check type and extends type with unary tuple type:

1type NonDistributiveTypeOf<T> =2  [T] extends [null] ? 'null' :3  [T] extends [void] ? 'undefined' :4  [T] extends [string] ? 'string' : 'other';5
6type Other = NonDistributiveTypeOf<string | null>; // evaluates to 'other'

This trick works because Flow will only enable the distributive behavior of conditional type if the check type is a generic type. The example above does not choose any true branch of the conditional type, because [string | null] is not a subtype of [null], [void], or [string], since tuples are invariantly typed.


To use conditional types, you need to upgrade your infrastructure so that it supports the syntax:

  • flow and flow-parser: 0.208.0. Between v0.208 to v0.211.1, you need to explicitly enable it in your .flowconfig, under the [options] heading, add conditional_type=true.
  • prettier: 3
  • babel with babel-plugin-syntax-hermes-parser. See our Babel guide for setup instructions.
  • eslint with hermes-eslint. See our ESLint guide for setup instructions.