Discriminated unions in Typescript

Jul 08, 2023


Discriminated unions, also known as tagged unions or algebraic data types, are a feature in TypeScript that enable developers to model and work with varying types of data in a concise and type-safe manner. They provide a way to define a type that can represent multiple alternatives, where each alternative has a unique discriminant property to differentiate it from the others. This discriminant property acts as a type guard, allowing the TypeScript compiler to narrow down the type and provide more accurate type inference.

By using discriminated unions, developers can create expressive and self-describing types that accurately capture the possible states or variants of a value. This is particularly useful when dealing with scenarios such as handling different response types from API calls, representing different error conditions, or modeling complex data structures with varying shapes.

I would like to show how we can implement such types. I had a chance to implement it while working on a API architecture in one of my side-projects. So we have an API response that might have two results: success and error (rejected state). Both response have some common fields, but they also differ. If a request succeed we will receive a data in some kind of shape. If a request fails we will receive an error message. First, let’s type the generic API response:

type SuccessResponse<T> = { status: 'success', data: T, time: Date };
type ErrorResponse = { status: 'error', message: string, time: Date };
type RequestResponse<T> = SuccessResponse<T> | ErrorResponse;

I used generic here to describe the data if we have a success request. Now let’s create a mock response for each of the states. At the top of the file I created a type for the specific data we’re requesting.

type ResponseType = {
  users: string[];
  total: number;

const successResponse: RequestResponse<ResponseType> = {
  status: 'success',
  data: {
    users: ['Mark', 'Sophie', 'Pavel'],
    total: 3,
  time: new Date(),

const errorResponse: RequestResponse<ResponseType> = {
  status: 'error',
  message: 'Comprehensive error message',
  time: new Date(),

Depending on the status property, the appropriate branch of the conditional statement is executed, providing a clear and concise way to handle different response types. Using discriminated unions in this scenario allows us to effectively handle different API response types with type safety and readability.