TypeScript Enums and Serialization

In general, TypeScript is not its own language - it's a set of annotations that can be added to JavaScript to help check the "correctness" of you program. The authors have been very reluctant to add features to TypeScript that don't exist in JavaScript, and so normally you can turn your TypeScript into JavaScript purely by deleting the type annotations that you've added.

Enums, though, are a bit different. They actually generate JavaScript code based on the TypeScript you write. Today, we're going to look at a piece of code that allows you to deserialize enums with string values in a type safe manner. And we're going to take advantage of the fact that enums (according to the TypeScript compiler) are both a type, and a value with a different type - at the same time.

For context, we're going to be using SchemaWax to create our decoder, so we can build it into a larger contextual decoder as needed.

First: the code! If you already know SchemaWax, you don't care about types, and you're here because it was a hit for "deserialize any enum" on Google this is the bit to cut and paste.

import * as D from "schemawax"

// This is only type safe if passed a Enum with string values.
// I don't think there's anyway to stop someone passing { "boo": "broken" }
// in TypeScripts type system :(
// At least this stops us from rewriting the same unsafe code every time though.
export const stringEnumDecoder = <Enum extends { [name: string]: string }>(
  targetEnum: Enum,
): D.Decoder<Enum[keyof Enum]> => D.literalUnion(...Object.values(targetEnum)) as D.Decoder<Enum[keyof Enum]>

That's it. The whole thing. How do you use it?

Like this:

import * as D from "schemawax"
import { stringEnumDecoder } from "./enum"

enum TestEnum1 {
  "why" = "would",
  "anyone" = "do",
  "this" = "!",

type ObjectWithEnumField = {
  testEnum: TestEnum1
  name: string
  age?: number

describe("stringEnumDecoder", () => {
  it("decodes string enums", () => {
    const result = stringEnumDecoder(TestEnum1).forceDecode("!")
  it("rejects invalid enum values", () => {
    const result = stringEnumDecoder(TestEnum1).decode("this")

  it("can be used in larger decoders", () => {
    const objectDecoder: D.Decoder<ObjectWithEnumField> = D.object({
      required: {
        testEnum: stringEnumDecoder(TestEnum1),
        name: D.string,
      optional: {
        dateOfBirth: D.string.andThen((str) => new Date(str)),

    const inputFromApi = `{ "testEnum": "!", "name": "bob", "dateOfBirth": "2022-11-24"}`
    const result1 = objectDecoder.decode(JSON.parse(inputFromApi))
    expect(result1).toEqual({ testEnum: TestEnum1.this, name: "bob", dateOfBirth: new Date("2022-11-24") })

How does this work? How can we write a function that can take an enum type as an argument, and then generate a decoder? (Feel free to drop out if you were just here to solve your immediate problem!)

If you type an enum into the online TypeScript playground (here's one I prepared earlier), you'll see that the enum (with string values) is, in fact, compiled into a variable that ends up with a simple record with string keys and values attached to it.

Going back to the implementation, you'll see that's exactly the constraint on the argument we pass into stringEnumDecoder.

export const stringEnumDecoder = <Enum extends { [name: string]: string }>(... rest of implementation)

Then some slightly weird magic happens: when you pass an enum into the function, the TypeScript compiler infers that the type of the argument is the typeof the enum you passed in. Whatever is happening internally here, it keeps track of the fact that the keys of this type are the types of the valid enum cases, so it turns Enum[keyof Enum] into the union type of each of the possible enum value types which is, if you squint hard enough, actually the enum itself. We then return a decoder that accepts a string, checks that said string is actually one of the values stored in the enum object, and then tells the compiler that this decoder will only ever return valid enum values. Unfortunately with a cast - but the full context we need to check this cast is valid is contained within this one line of code.

So there you have it: a safe way to deserialize strings into enums, and it even composes nicely into more complex decoders.

Until next time!

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