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Optional Chaining and Nullish Coalescing in TypeScript

November 14, 20194 min read

I picked up interest in TypeScript a while ago and started playing around with it on a personal project. A few months later, my engineering team at work started adopting TypeScript as the language of choice on the web over JavaScript. In my experience, I would say it is a language that takes some getting used to. This is especially true if you’re moving from a loosely typed language like JavaScript to TypeScript, which is a typed superset of the former.

In this post, we’ll be taking a practical look at some of the new features introduced in TypeScript; specifically Optional chaining and Nullish Coalescing. These were introduced in TypeScript 3.7. It is important to highlight here that Optional Chaining is a feature that is well on its way to having native support in JavaScript, currently a Stage 3 draft as at the time of writing this post - see more.

Optional Chaining

Optional chaining allows you to write code that will immediately stop running expressions if it hits a null or undefined.


The Optional Chaining operator can be represented in three positions:

obj?.prop       // Property access
obj?.[expr]     // Optional element access
func?.(...args) // Optional function or method call

Property Access

A typical use case of this would be when looking for a value in a property that has a tree-like structure. In such a situation, we only want to proceed deeper into the tree if intermediate nodes exist. Let’s illustrate this with an example:

type UserResponse = {
  firstName: string
  lastName: string
  age: number
  occupation?: string
  jobHistory?: {
    firstJob?: string
  favoriteFoods?: string[]

const user: UserResponse;

Say we want to display the user’s occupation, we could implement this like so:

// without optional chaining
const userOccupation = user && user.occupation;

// with optional chaining
const userOccupation = user?.occupation;

With optional chaining in the code above, we’re checking if a user exists then we attempt to return the user’s occupation. It is important to note here that ?. checks if the value on the immediate left of it is null or undefined. What this means is, if we tried to access the user’s first job using user?.jobHistory.firstJob, the code would return an error if there is no job history.

Optional Element Access

This is another variant of Optional Chaining used to access non-identifier properties such as arbitrary strings, numbers, and symbols. This can be illustrated like so:

const userOccupation = user?.["occupation"];

// or

const favFood = user?.favoriteFoods?.[0];

Optional Function or Method Call

Optional Chaining can also be used in function calls. They come in handy when you need to call a function conditionally at runtime, i.e only call the function if it exists. This can be implemented like so:

const callFakeApi = async (url: string, log?: (user: object) => void ) => {

  const response = await fetch(url);
  const data = await response.json();

callFakeApi('', console.log);

In the code snippet above, we only log the data if a function, e.g console.log is passed to callFakeApi.

Try it here

Nullish Coalescing

Nullish Coalescing is another new feature in TypeScript 3.7 which is closely related to Optional Chaining. It uses a unique operator: ??, which serves as the default or “fall back” value when an expression evaluates to null or undefined.

Nullish Coalescing Operator Cheatsheet

// null value
null || 20 // returns 20
null ?? 20 // returns 20

// undefined value
undefined || 20 // returns 20
undefined ?? 20 // returns 20

// boolean
true ?? 10 // returns trueb
false ?? 10 // returns false

// NaN
NaN ?? 20 // returns NaN

// empty string
'' ?? 5 // returns ''

Gist link

The code snippets above illustrate that the Nullish Coalescing Operator comes into play specifically for nullish values, not boolean or other data types.

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