Why do I need a TypeScript declaration file for a JavaScript library even though type checking works in VSCode in own library?

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Why do I need to generate a declaration file for a javascript library in order to get type hinting in VSCode when I use that library in another project? VSCode can already get types of JS file in the same project. So why does this change when importing from an external library?

Here’s a breakdown of why declaration files are required for type hinting in VSCode when using external JavaScript libraries:

1. JavaScript’s Dynamic Nature:

  • JavaScript is dynamically typed, meaning type information isn’t explicitly included in the code itself. This flexibility makes it harder for editors to infer types accurately, especially for external code.

2. VSCode’s Type Hinting Reliance:

  • VSCode heavily relies on type information for features like:
    • IntelliSense (code completion, suggestions)
    • Hover information
    • Parameter and type checking
    • Refactoring tools

3. Separate Project Scope:

  • When a library is in a separate project, VSCode can’t directly analyze its source code to infer types. Declaration files (.d.ts) bridge this gap.

4. Declaration Files:

  • They describe the types of variables, functions, and classes within a library.
  • They’re written in TypeScript, a superset of JavaScript with explicit typing.
  • VSCode can leverage them for type hinting even in JavaScript projects.

5. Type Acquisition Methods:

  • Automatic: VSCode tries to automatically fetch declaration files for popular libraries.
  • Manual: Install declaration files from DefinitelyTyped (a community repository): npm install --save-dev @types/<library-name>
  • Generating: Compile a library’s TypeScript source code or use tools to create .d.ts files from JSDoc comments.

Key Points:

  • Declaration files are essential for type-aware features in VSCode when using external JavaScript libraries.
  • They make your code more readable, maintainable, and less prone to type-related errors.
  • Consider using TypeScript for new projects to enjoy strong typing and type safety from the start.

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