Go to content
Blog / TypeScript /

What's the difference between undefined and void in TypeScript?

If I have to describe my relationship with TypeScript in one word, I’ll say it is complicated.

To put it shortly, I think most of the time it’s not worth the additional work, and headaches it causes - especially considering that in my usual setup I’ve unit test with high coverage, and meaningful JSDoc annotations.
If you disagree - don’t worry, it’s fine 🙂

Anyway, in recent years TypeScript has grown in popularity, and always more often I find it in my way.
One thing that initially surprised me is that in TypeScript we have two keywords - undefined and void - for concept apparently very similar.

My misunderstanding of undefined and void in TypeScript was based on the meaning undefined and void have in JavaScript.
In JavaScript void is an operator that always produces undefined as result. While, undefined, well, is a primitive value.

So, I initially thought that void was just an alias for undefined, and that the two could be used interchangeably. Well, I was wrong.

In TypeScript void is used to signal a function’s return value is not going to be used. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will be undefined.
Why is this important? Consider an example.

const readFileTitle = (src : string, callback : (title : string) => undefined) {

The implementation is not important.
Instead, it’s important to note that the callback return’s type is undefined.

Imagine now we’re using this function to retrieve the titles of a series of file:

const files = ["./file1.txt", "./file2.txt"];
const titles = [];
for (const file of files) {
    readTitle(file, (title) => titles.push(title));

In this case, TypeScript will throw a compilation error:

Type ‘number’ is not assignable to type ‘undefined’.

The error in this case makes sense.
In fact we said that the callback should return undefined, but instead is returning number - cause this is what [].push returns.

You - as I did too initially - may think that to fix this inconvenience is enough to replace the implicit return in the arrow function definition - but no, it doesn’t work.

readTitle(file, (title) => { titles.push(title); });

Cause when we say a function returns undefined, the only way to make TypeScript happy is to actually return undefined. On the other hand, when we use void we don’t make any assumption on the function’s return value - we just state that we’re not going to use that value.

const readFileTitle = (src : string, callback : (title : string) => void) {