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Interfaces vs Types in TypeScript

Solutons:


2019 Update


The current answers and the official documentation are outdated. And for those new to TypeScript, the terminology used isn’t clear without examples. Below is a list of up-to-date differences.

1. Objects / Functions

Both can be used to describe the shape of an object or a function signature. But the syntax differs.

Interface

interface Point {
  x: number;
  y: number;
}

interface SetPoint {
  (x: number, y: number): void;
}

Type alias

type Point = {
  x: number;
  y: number;
};

type SetPoint = (x: number, y: number) => void;

2. Other Types

Unlike an interface, the type alias can also be used for other types such as primitives, unions, and tuples.

// primitive
type Name = string;

// object
type PartialPointX = { x: number; };
type PartialPointY = { y: number; };

// union
type PartialPoint = PartialPointX | PartialPointY;

// tuple
type Data = [number, string];

3. Extend

Both can be extended, but again, the syntax differs. Additionally, note that an interface and type alias are not mutually exclusive. An interface can extend a type alias, and vice versa.

Interface extends interface

interface PartialPointX { x: number; }
interface Point extends PartialPointX { y: number; }

Type alias extends type alias

type PartialPointX = { x: number; };
type Point = PartialPointX & { y: number; };

Interface extends type alias

type PartialPointX = { x: number; };
interface Point extends PartialPointX { y: number; }

Type alias extends interface

interface PartialPointX { x: number; }
type Point = PartialPointX & { y: number; };

4. Implements

A class can implement an interface or type alias, both in the same exact way. Note however that a class and interface are considered static blueprints. Therefore, they can not implement / extend a type alias that names a union type.

interface Point {
  x: number;
  y: number;
}

class SomePoint implements Point {
  x = 1;
  y = 2;
}

type Point2 = {
  x: number;
  y: number;
};

class SomePoint2 implements Point2 {
  x = 1;
  y = 2;
}

type PartialPoint = { x: number; } | { y: number; };

// FIXME: can not implement a union type
class SomePartialPoint implements PartialPoint {
  x = 1;
  y = 2;
}

5. Declaration merging

Unlike a type alias, an interface can be defined multiple times, and will be treated as a single interface (with members of all declarations being merged).

// These two declarations become:
// interface Point { x: number; y: number; }
interface Point { x: number; }
interface Point { y: number; }

const point: Point = { x: 1, y: 2 };

Update March 2021: The newer TypeScript Handbook (also mentioned in nju-clc
answer below) has a section Interfaces vs. Type Aliases which explains the differences.


Original Answer (2016)

As per the (now archived) TypeScript Language Specification:

Unlike an interface declaration, which always introduces a named object type, a type alias declaration can introduce a name for any kind of type, including primitive, union, and intersection types.

The specification goes on to mention:

Interface types have many similarities to type aliases for object type
literals, but since interface types offer more capabilities they are
generally preferred to type aliases. For example, the interface type

interface Point {
    x: number;
    y: number;
}

could be written as the type alias

type Point = {
    x: number;
    y: number;
};

However, doing so means the following capabilities are lost:

  • An interface can be named in an extends or implements clause, but a type alias for an object type literal cannot No longer true since TS 2.7.
  • An interface can have multiple merged declarations, but a type alias for an object type literal cannot.

As of TypeScript 3.2 (Nov 2018), the following is true:

Aspect Type Interface
Can describe functions
Can describe constructors
Can describe tuples
Interfaces can extend it ⚠️
Classes can extend it 🚫
Classes can implement it (implements) ⚠️
Can intersect another one of its kind ⚠️
Can create a union with another one of its kind 🚫
Can be used to create mapped types 🚫
Can be mapped over with mapped types
Expands in error messages and logs 🚫
Can be augmented 🚫
Can be recursive ⚠️

⚠️ In some cases

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