TypeScript Contribution Diary: Improved errors for empty DOM interfaces

June 22, 2021

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File copied from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. [source]

Problem Statement

TypeScript’s tsconfig.json compiler options allow us to specify what global type definitions to compile with. They default to the built-in "dom" typings as well as whatever your "target" compiler option specifies:

    "compilerOptions": {
        // implicit:
        // "lib": ["dom", "es2018"],
        "target": "es2018"

You might, for example, ask to have "dom" and "es2018" global types included regardless of your target:

    "compilerOptions": {
        "lib": ["dom", "es2018"]

These get a little tricky. "dom" is included in the default settings when you don’t specify your own "lib", but not if you specify a custom one without it. If you don’t include "dom" in the list, type definitions for global DOM elements such as HTMLElement won’t be included.

    "compilerOptions": {
        // DOM types won't be included by default now!
        "lib": ["es2018"]

Most projects for code that run in the browser will generally want to include "dom". Not including "dom" makes sense for projects that execute in a context without the DOM, such as Deno or Node. You wouldn’t want someone thinking they have access to global values such as document if they might not exist.

Some library typings -including the ever-popular @types/react- include stub interfaces so that they can be included in non-DOM projects and still refer to those element types.

interface Element {}
interface DocumentFragment {}

interface HTMLElement extends Element {}
interface HTMLAnchorElement extends HTMLElement {}

Per TypeScript issue #33907 Give better error messages when properties are accessed on global empty DOM interfaces and its referenced Tweet it would sure be nice to have a better error message in TypeScript for the case of a developer trying to access a member of an object of one of those blank types!

function logElementContent(element: HTMLElement) {
    //                  ~~~~~~~~~~~
    // Property 'textContent' does not exist on type 'HTMLElement'.
    // Did you forget to include "dom" in your "lib" setting?

Prior Work

Turns out a Kyle Lin (@kylejlin) had already started a solution to #33907: PR #34407 Improve error messages for empty DOM interface property access.

It worked in the following manner:

  1. Whenever the Property '{0}' does not exist on type '{1}'. diagnostic message would be logged:
  2. If the containing type seemed to be an empty DOM interface per an isEmptyDomInterface function,
  3. Use the new diagnostic message that adds "Try changing the 'lib' compiler option to include 'dom'.".
function isEmptyDomInterface(type: Type): boolean {
    return (
        isEmptyObjectType(type) &&

Confused by that regular expression? You and me both! Skip to the bottom of this post for an explanation.

I tried out that branch locally and ran it on some violating code.

interface HTMLInputElement {}

let element: HTMLInputElement;

//      ~~~~~~~~~~~
// Property 'textContent' does not exist on type 'HTMLInputElement'. Try changing the `lib` compiler option to include 'dom'.

Looks like it already worked great! Thanks Kyle!

Prior Feedback

Kyle’s PR had been given feedback but never addressed it before aging away. The main changes requested were around that isEmptyDomInterface function:

  • Rewriting to not use a regular expression
  • Using type.symbol.escapedName instead of the more expensive typeToString

I really wanted this error message improvement. Time for me to dig in! 💪

A New PR

Compiler Options

Looking over the original PR, I noticed that the isEmptyDomInterface function didn’t check what the compiler options for lib were specified as. I figured it’d be a good idea to add in logic to restrict the new error message on the off chance that someone with "dom" in their lib was making their own custom interfaces that happened to match the name matching.

Question: how to check compiler options in checker.ts?

I ran a text search for compiler.*options in the file and found a bunch of references to a compilerOptions object. Good good.

function isEmptyDomInterface(type: Type): boolean {
    return (
        compilerOptions.lib &&
        !compilerOptions.lib.includes("dom") &&
        // ...

Union and Intersection Types

The original PR used a typeToString method to convert the original container type’s name to a usable string, but I was worried that that strategy was inefficient and/or didn’t work at all for union and intersection types. For example, this type should still trigger the complaint, even though its name string is complex:

interface HTMLAreaElement {}
interface HTMLAudioElement {}
interface HTMLBaseElement {}

let element: HTMLAreaElement | (HTMLAudioElement & HTMLBaseElement);


I ran some text searches for names like every.*type and didn’t see any existing utility function to check that every contained type in a union or intersection matches a function. So I wrote my own:

function everyContainedType(type: Type, f: (t: Type) => boolean): boolean {
    return type.flags & TypeFlags.UnionOrIntersection
        ? every((type as UnionOrIntersectionType).types, f)
        : f(type);

Now that I was testing against individual type names, I simplified the regular expression a bit:

function containerSeemstoBeEmptyDomElement(containingType: Type): boolean {
    return (
        compilerOptions.lib &&
        !compilerOptions.lib.includes("dom") &&
            (type) =>
                type.symbol &&
        ) &&
        checker.getPropertiesOfType(containingType).length === 0

Confused by that regular expression? Skip to the bottom of this post for an explanation!

Asking Questions

Comparing my notes to how the original PR implemented empty element detection, I wasn’t sure what the best way to determine whether an element is empty. The original PR used isEmptyObjectType but I’d previously seen a getPropertiesOfType function and used it in my own function.

I also didn’t understand the request to not use a regular expression. It seemed reasonable to me that we’d use some kind of string-based logic to detect names matching HTML*Element.

I sent a new PR and asked about the regular expressions and empty object detection.

Peer Reviews


The first review feedback I got was pretty easy to resolve. Do you see the difference?

- containerSeemstoBeEmptyDomElement(containingType)
+ containerSeemsToBeEmptyDomElement(containingType)


Getting Answers

The responses to my questions were pretty straightforward:

  • Using a regular expression is fine; the original PR’s one was just a bit more complicated than it needed to be
  • isEmptyObjectType is the right way in this situation to check for an empty object type

It was also mentioned that I didn’t need to call toString() on type.symbol.escapedName, since that’s already a string.

TypeScript uses a __String type internally to refer to strings whose leading underscore have been escaped by adding extra leading underscores. See the Basarat article on Nominal Typing for more details.

I used unescapeLeadingUnderscores for Ultimate Correctness to sanitize that string.

Applying all the feedback:

function containerSeemsToBeEmptyDomElement(containingType: Type): boolean {
    return (
        compilerOptions.lib &&
        !compilerOptions.lib.includes("dom") &&
            (type) =>
                type.symbol &&
        ) &&

Confused by that regular expression? Skip to the bottom of this post for an explanation!

Diagnostic Messages Quotes

The original proposed diagnostic message addition looked like this:

"... Try changing the `lib` compiler option to include 'dom'."

One piece of feedback requested using a consistent quoting style. It was noted that other diagnostic messages don’t have a consistent style; for now, we went with single quotes consistently.

"... Try changing the 'lib' compiler option to include 'dom'."

#43503 Error messages inconsistently use backticks and single quotes was filed to later resolve the general inconsistencies.

Wrapping Up

I pushed the requested adjustments in the PR and re-requested review. It was merged in within a day. Yay! 🎉

Thanks to @kylejlin for sending the first version of the PR and to @DanielRosenwasser and @sandersn for the PR reviews (as well as introducing me to the excellent phrase “Ultimate Correctness”)!

Regular Expressions, Explained

Regular expressions can be tough to read if you’re not familiar with the syntax! A regular expression, or “regexp” for short, is a description of what characters to check for, in order, from a string.

I like the MDN Regular Expressions article; the Codecademy Learn the Basics of Regular Expressions course is a solid intro if you want to be more hands-on and guided.

My Regular Expression


First off, ^ indicates the beginning of a string and $ indicates the end of a string. Using them at the beginning and end of the regular expression means this will only match an entire string: not a partial subset. For this regexp or a simpler one like ^Node$, BlahNodeBlah doesn’t match but Node does.

Next, this regular expression shows off groups and ranges. The | pipes indicate that the content must be any of:

  • EventTarget
  • Node
  • (HTML[a-zA-Z]*)?Element

That last one is what matches Element, HTMLElement, and all other names such as HTMLAudioElement that have characters between HTML and Element:

  • [a-zA-Z] indicates we can have any character in the alphabet between a-z or A-Z
  • * indicates we want the previous character (here, the alphabet ones) to be allowed to repeat >=0 times
  • The ? in that last option means anything before it is optional

Putting them all together, this regular expression is another way of testing for the name EventTarget, Node, Element, HTMLElement, or HTML + (some alphabet characters) + Element.

The Original Regular Expression

  • Per MDN’s Assertions article, \b matches a word boundary
  • Per MDN’s Character Classes article, \w matches any alphanumeric character from the basic Latin alphabet, including the underscore.
  • ?! is another assertion: it matches only if the following characters are not what comes next in the string.

Putting them all together, this was another way of testing that the type has, in order:

  1. HTML
  2. Any number of alphabetical characters
  3. Element
  4. Not : or " at the end
Josh GoldbergHi, I'm Josh! I'm a full time independent open source developer. I work on projects in the TypeScript ecosystem such as typescript-eslint and TypeStat. This is my blog about JavaScript, TypeScript, and open source web development.
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