Null is Bad

JavaScript (and by extension TypeScript) has two bottom types : null and undefined. They are intended to mean different things:

  • Something hasn't been initialized : undefined
  • Something is currently unavailable: null

Most other languages only have one (commonly called null). Since by default JavaScript will evaluate an uninitialized variable / parameter / property to undefined (you don't get a choice) we recommend you just use that for your own unavailable status and don't bother with null.

Real world discussions

TypeScript team doesn't use null : TypeScript coding guidelines and it hasn't caused any problems. Douglas Crockford thinks null is a bad idea and we should all just use undefined

Dealing with null style code bases

If your code base interacts with other APIs that might give you a null you check with == undefined (instead of ===). Using this is safe even for other potentially falsy values.

/// Image you are doing `foo == undefined` where foo can be one of:
console.log(undefined == undefined); // true
console.log(null == undefined); // true
console.log(0 == undefined); // false
console.log('' == undefined); // false
console.log(false == undefined); // false

Additional tips

Limit explicit use of undefined

Also because TypeScript gives you the opportunity to document your structures separately from values instead of stuff like:

function foo(){
  // if Something
  return {a:1,b:2};
  // else
  return {a:1,b:undefined};

you should use a type annotation:

function foo():{a:number,b?:number}{
  // if Something
  return {a:1,b:2};
  // else
  return {a:1};

Node style callbacks

Node style callback functions (e.g. (err,somethingElse)=>{ /* something */ }) are generally called with err set to null if there isn't an error. You generally just use a truthy check for this anyways:

fs.readFile('someFile', 'utf8', (err,data) => {
  if (err) {
    // do something
  // no error

When creating your own APIs it's okay to use null in this case for consistency. In all sincerity for your own APIs you should look at promises, in that case you actually don't need to bother with absent error values (you handle them with .then vs. .catch).

Don't use undefined as a means of denoting validity

For example an awful function like this:

function toInt(str:string) {
  return str ? parseInt(str) : undefined;

can be much better written like this:

function toInt(str: string): { valid: boolean, int?: number } {
  const int = parseInt(str);
  if (isNaN(int)) {
    return { valid: false };
  else {
    return { valid: true, int };

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