Generics page

Learn about what Generics are, why they are useful, and how to create a linked list using Generics in TypeScript.


In this part, we will:

  • Understand the purpose and basics of generic functions
  • Understand how to make generic classes
  • Understand how to make recursive generic classes
  • Create a TreeNode recursive generic class

Basic Generics

Generics are a way of writing abstract code that allows the determination of types to be handled when the code is used. Generics let us reuse code for different types and improve maintainability. Lets see how with a small example.

Consider a function that wraps a value in an object:

function wrapAsValue(value) {
    return {value: value};

Ideally, you'd want to use this function to wrap all sorts of values:

let fourObj = wrapAsValue(4);  //-> {value: 4}
let hiObj = wrapAsValue("hi"); //-> {value: "hi"}

And you might want to pass those objects to other functions:

function getDollars(obj: {value: number}){
    return "$"+obj.value.toFixed(2)

function getMessage(obj: {value: string}) {
    return obj.value + " world";

getDollars(fourObj); //-> "$4.00"
getMessage(hiObj);   //-> "hi world"

But watch out! The following will not error until runtime because strings do not have a toFixed() method.


You don't see a compile time error because hiObj object looks like {value: any} to TypeScript.

Getting a compile time error can be solved in a variety of inelegant ways:

  • Way 1 - Define the type of the variables:
    let fourObj: {value: number} = wrapAsValue(4);
    let hiObj:   {value: string} = wrapAsValue("hi");
  • Way 2 - Write multiple functions:
    function wrapStringAsValue(value: string) {
      return {value: value};
    function wrapNumberAsValue(value: number) {
      return {value: value};
  • Way 3 - Overload wrapAsValue signatures:
    function wrapAsValue(value: string): {value: string};
    function wrapAsValue(value: number): {value: number};
    function wrapAsValue(value: any) {
        return {value: value};

With generics, this problem can be solved more simply:

function wrapAsValue<MyType>(value: MyType): {value: MyType} {
    return {value: value};

let fourObj = wrapAsValue<number>(4);
let hiObj = wrapAsValue("hi");

function getDollars(obj: {value: number}){
    return "$"+obj.value.toFixed(2)

function getMessage(obj: {value: string}) {
    return obj.value + " world";


The <MyType> part of the wrapAsValue definition is the Generics part. This <MyType> allows us to capture the type the user provides, so that we can use that information later. In this case, we are using it to specify that the return type is an object with a MyType value property ({value: MyType}). This allows us to traffic that type information in one side of the function and out the other.

We can call generic functions in two ways:

  • We can explicitly pass the type:


    Notice that <number> acts as a special set of arguments. Instead of arguments passed like func(arg1, arg2, arg3), generic type arguments are passed like func<Type1, Type2, Type3>.

  • The type can be inferred:


    Notice that we didn't explicitly pass the type n the angle brackets (<>). Instead, the compiler just looked at the value "hi" and set MyType to string.

Generic Classes

Generic classes are quite common. For example, RxJS subjects are a generic class that can publish values of a particular type:

const cardNumber = new Subject<string>();"1234")

Let's look at making a basic class to collect a list of things.

class Collection {
  private list: any[] = [];
  push(thing) {

The good - we can push any type to this list.
The bad - we can push any type to this list.

let myList = Collection();

myList now holds an assortment of types and will be a likely source of runtime errors.

Let's build a generic Collection class instead.

class GenericCollection<T> {
  private list: T[] = [];
  pushItem( thing:T ) {

Now when we initialize this class we can specify a type to use.

class GenericCollection<T> {
  private list: T[] = [];
  pushItem(thing:T) {

let myListOfStrings = new GenericCollection<string>();
//error Argument type of '5' is not assignable to parameter of type 'string'

let myListOfNumbers = new GenericCollection<number>();
//error Argument type of '"boop"' is not assignable to parameter of type 'number'

interface Dinosaur {
  name: string;
  breed: string;
  teeth: number;

let myListOfDinosaurs = new GenericCollection<Dinosaur>();
let otherDino = {
  name: 'Blue',
  breed: 'Velociraptor',
  teeth: 100


myListOfDinosaurs.pushItem({name: 'Charlie'});
//error Argument type '{ name: string; }' is not assignable to parameter of type 'Dinosaur'.

Recursive Generic Classes

A great example of the power of generics is creating a linked list with type safety. We will create a simple linked list that supports:

  • Adding values to the front of the list with linkedList.unshift(value).
  • Removing and returning the front values with linkedList.shift().
  • Reading the front of the list with linkedList.head.
  • Reading the end of the list with linkedList.tail.

We can use it with strings like:

var linkedList = new LinkedList<string>();


console.log( linkedList.shift() ) //logs "b"

console.log( linkedList.shift() ) //logs "a"

Or with numbers like:

var linkedList = new LinkedList<number>();


console.log( linkedList.head ) //logs 200

console.log( linkedList.tail ) //logs 100

The implementation looks like this:

// Define node that has a value and points to the
// next item in the list.
class LinkedListNode<T> {
    value: T;
    next?: LinkedListNode<T>;

    constructor(val: T) {
        this.value = val; = null;

class LinkedList<T> {
    private _head: LinkedListNode<T>;
    private _tail: LinkedListNode<T>;

    // Adds to the start of the list.
    unshift(value: T) {
        var node = new LinkedListNode(value);

        // The existing head is now next.
        if(this._head) {
   = this._head;

        this._head = node;

        // If there wasn't a tail, this is the first node
        if(!this._tail) {
            this._tail = node;
    // removes first
        let value: T;

        // If there was a head,
        // set head to whatever is after it.
        if(this._head) {
            value = this._head.value;
            this._head =;

        // If there is no more head, the
        // list is empty.
        if(!this._head) {
            this._tail = null;
        return value;

    get head() { return this._head.value }
    get tail() {return this._tail.value }

Thanks to generics we're able to use the same LinkedList class in multiple different scenarios with any type.

Exercise: TreeNode

The Problem

Update the 6-tree-node.ts file to create a recursive TreeNode class that can house a value and be used to create a tree structure of left and right nodes.

For example, we will be able to create a TreeNode with a root value and comparison function as follows:

function stringComparison(v1: string, v2: string): number {
    if(v1 > v2) {
        return 1;
    } else {
        return -1;

let root = new TreeNode<string>("Jennifer", stringComparison);

Then we can add values to root like:


This will add Chasen to a left TreeNode of root because the stringComparison will return 1 (Jennifer > Chasen):

root.left.value //-> "Chasen"

As we add other values, they will be added to either the right or left nodes recursively:


root.right.value      //-> "Tom"
root.right.left.value //-> "Matthew"

Verify Your Solution

✏️ Run the following to verify your solution:

npm run 6-generics

The Solution

Click to see the solution

✏️ Update 6-tree-node.ts to the following:

interface Comparison<T> {
    (v1:T,v2: T): number;

class TreeNode<T> {

    value: T;
    compare: Comparison<T>;
    left?: TreeNode<T>;
    right?: TreeNode<T>;

    constructor(val: T, compare: Comparison<T> ) {
        this.value = val; = compare;

    add(val: T){
        if(, val) >= 1 ) {
            if(this.left == null) {
                this.left = new TreeNode(val,;
            } else {

        } else {
            if(this.right == null) {
                this.right = new TreeNode(val,;
            } else {

export default TreeNode;