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Daniel Imfeld
Daniel Imfeld

Posted on • Originally published at imfeld.dev on

Synchronizing Rust Types with Typescript

For Ergo I’m writing the server in Rust with a front-end in Svelte and Typescript. Since Rust is a strongly-typed language, I already have accurate type definitions for each of the server’s endpoints, and since Typescript is a mostly-strongly-typed language, I naturally would like to use those types in the front-end as well.

Of course, Rust and Typescript have very different syntax, so translating types between them isn’t necessarily easy. What to do? It would work to manually update types on both ends, but this gets old fast and runs the risk of them getting out of sync. An automatic solution is much better, and we can accomplish this using the JSON Schema format.

JSON Schema is a format for defining the structure of a JSON object. A schema can define the fields of an object, which are optional, the types of those fields, and more. There is a lot of tooling around JSON Schema, and so we can use it as an intermediate format between the Rust types and the Typescript types.

In Rust, we first start with the schemars crate, which provides a JsonSchema trait and a macro to derive it. Let’s say we have a few types which reference each other, and we want to create their analogs in the front-end Typescript code.

use schemars::JsonSchema;
use chrono::{DateTime, Utc};

#[derive(Serialize, Deserialize, JsonSchema)]
#[serde(rename_all = "lowercase")]
enum Status {
    Processing,
    Success,
    Failure,
}

#[derive(JsonSchema)]
struct ActionLog {
    action: String,
    status: Status,
    timestamp: DateTime<Utc>,
}

#[derive(JsonSchema)]
struct InputLog {
    input: String,
    status: Status,
    timestamp: DateTime<Utc>,
    actions: Vec<ActionLog>,
}

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schemars automatically detects serde renaming, so just as the Status enum’s values will be lowercased when converting to and from JSON, the generated JSON schema will also use lowercase values. This is almost always what you want, but schemars does allow you to customize renaming in the schema if you have an unusual case.

The crate also provides JsonSchema trait implementations for some common utility packages like chrono and smallvec, so in this example the DateTimetype works properly.

Once we have our types defined, we can generate the schemas using the schema_for! macro.

use schemars::schema_for;

let schema = schema_for!(ActionLog);
let output = serde_json::to_string_pretty(schema).unwrap();
std::fs::write("action_log.json", output)?;

let schema = schema_for!(InputLog);
let output = serde_json::to_string_pretty(schema).unwrap();
std::fs::write("input_log.json", output)?;

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This code can be in a subcommand of the main Rust application, or implemented as a separate binary. I also recommend writing the files to a separate subdirectory, and the example repository does this.

This is the schema generated for the ActionLog type. Each schema file contains both the root type and any types that it references.

{
  "$schema": "http://json-schema.org/draft-07/schema#",
  "title": "ActionLog",
  "type": "object",
  "required": [
    "action",
    "status",
    "timestamp"
  ],
  "properties": {
    "action": {
      "type": "string"
    },
    "status": {
      "$ref": "#/definitions/Status"
    },
    "timestamp": {
      "type": "string",
      "format": "date-time"
    }
  },
  "definitions": {
    "Status": {
      "type": "string",
      "enum": [
        "processing",
        "success",
        "failure"
      ]
    }
  }
}

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Now that we have the JSON schema files, it’s time to generate Typescript definitions from them. The aptly-named json-schema-to-typescript package does the heavy lifting here.

While this package contains some helper functions to make it really easy to convert a JSON Schema file to Typescript, we can run into problems as we add more types. In the example above, both InputLog and ActionLog reference Status, and InputLog also references ActionLog.

These references mean that we’ll end up writing Typescript definitions for Status and ActionLog twice, which Typescript does not like. But with a bit of extra processing, we can avoid this problem, as demonstrated here.

First, read in all the schemas and generate type definitions for each one.

import * as fs from 'fs/promises';
import * as path from 'path';
import * as url from 'url';
import { compile } from 'json-schema-to-typescript';

// or just __dirname if running non-ES-Module Node
const dirname = path.dirname(url.fileURLToPath(import.meta.url));

async function main() {
  let schemasPath = path.join(dirname, '..', 'schemas');
  let schemaFiles = (await fs.readdir(schemasPath)).filter((x) => x.endsWith('.json'));

  let compiledTypes = new Set();

  for (let filename of schemaFiles) {
    let filePath = path.join(schemasPath, filename);
    let schema = JSON.parse(await fs.readFile(filePath));
    let compiled = await compile(schema, schema.title, { bannerComment: '' });

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Next, split on the word “export” to get each individual type on its own. This is kind of a hack but it’s the easiest way to go about it without modifying the generator package itself or doing actual parsing. We add each type definition to a Set to ensure that each type will only be written once.

    let eachType = compiled.split('export');
    for (let type of eachType) {
      if (!type) {
        continue;
      }
      compiledTypes.add('export ' + type.trim());
    }
  }

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Finally, we write the contents of the Set out to a file. I’ve added an extra check to skip the write if the output matches the existing file to prevent web bundles from thinking something changed if it didn’t actually change. This is an inefficient way to implement such a check but with the number of types I’m working with the performance impact is negligible.

  let output = Array.from(compiledTypes).join('\n\n');
  let outputPath = path.join(dirname, 'src', 'api_types.ts');

  try {
    let existing = await fs.readFile(outputPath);
    if (existing == output) {
      // Skip writing if it hasn't changed, so that we don't confuse any sort
      // of incremental builds. This check isn't ideal but the script runs
      // quickly enough and rarely enough that it doesn't matter.
      console.log('Schemas are up to date');
      return;
    }
  } catch (e) {
    // It's fine if there's no output from a previous run.
    if (e.code !== 'ENOENT') {
      throw e;
    }
  }

  await fs.writeFile(outputPath, output);
  console.log(`Wrote Typescript types to ${outputPath}`);
}

main().catch((e) => {
  console.error(e);
  process.exit(1);
});

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So far I’ve just been writing all the types into a single file named api_types.ts. This keeps things simple since it avoids any need to ensure that files properly reference each other’s types, but a larger application may need a smarter solution.

The output looks like any other Typescript type definitions, except for the additional [k: string]: unknown which ensures that the object doesn’t have any extra keys. I don’t think the json-schema-to-typescript package offers a way to omit this right now, but it could be filtered out when processing the text in the script above if you want.

export type Status = "processing" | "success" | "failure";

export interface ActionLog {
  action: string;
  status: Status;
  timestamp: string;
  [k: string]: unknown;
}

export interface InputLog {
  actions: ActionLog[];
  input: string;
  status: Status;
  timestamp: string;
  [k: string]: unknown;
}

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And one last step: automate it. We can put these commands into our package.json and then use the cargo watch command to rerun the entire process any time a Rust file changes. If you don’t have the cargo watch command, you can get it via cargo install cargo-watch.

// front-end package.json
{
  "name": "web",
  "...": "other values...",
  "scripts": {
    "dev": "run-p dev:server dev:web",
    "dev:web": "a command that would run Vite, Snowpack, Webpack, etc.",
    "dev:server": "cargo watch --ignore web -s 'cd web && npm run generate-api-types'",
    "generate-api-types": "cargo run --release && node generate_api_types.js"
  },
  "devDependencies": {
    "json-schema-to-typescript": "~10.1.4",
    "npm-run-all": "~4.1.5",
    "typescript": "~4.3.5"
  } 
}

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I have an example Git repository that does this type generation at https://github.com/dimfeld/rust-types-to-typescript-example.

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