This post is a brief(-ish) overview of the current state of DefinitelyTyped and its (potential) future. If you’re looking for deep history, you should definitely check out John Reilly’s “Definitely Typed: The Movie”, which tells the story of DefinitelyTyped from the start in 2012.

What is “DefinitelyTyped”?

Generally speaking, there are two categories of packages on npm:

  1. Packages authored in TypeScript.
  2. Packages authored in JavaScript.

Whenever you install a package authored in TypeScript, you’ll also get its types.1 This means that when you import it in your own project, you’ll get the types that the authors wrote in their code. This is the easy path; the hard work is done!

But what if the package wasn’t written in TypeScript? In this situation, it may be the case that the author hand-wrote types for their package, but most of the time, you’ll have to install types separately. It’s likely you’ve installed a package like @types/node or @types/react.

Packages published under the @types scope come from “DefinitelyTyped”, aka “DT”. DT is huge, comprising of 8,000+ packages, 6,000+ package owners, and 17,000+ unique contributors since its inception in 2012. Operating at this scale is hard, but the infrastructure is powerful enough to automate most PRs and automatically publish these packages every half hour.

How is DT laid out?

In the DT repo, there’s a directory named “types”, and that directory has all 8,000+ packages. With so many packages, you’d expect this to be one of those newfangled “monorepos” everyone’s been talking about. And it is! Well, kinda.

It turns out that even though there are over 8,000 packages in the repo, there are only about 1,200 package.json files. What gives? How does anything work?

Let’s look a file that every package does have; tsconfig.json. Here’s the tsconfig for @types/minimist:

    "compilerOptions": {
        "module": "commonjs",
        "lib": [
        "noImplicitAny": true,
        "noImplicitThis": true,
        "strictNullChecks": true,
        "strictFunctionTypes": true,
        "baseUrl": "../",
        "typeRoots": [
        "types": [],
        "noEmit": true,
        "forceConsistentCasingInFileNames": true
    "files": [

Pretty standard stuff, but this is the critical subset:

    "compilerOptions": {
        "baseUrl": "../",
        "typeRoots": [
        "types": []

What does this do?

  • baseUrl defines a path where TypeScript is allowed to perform absolute lookups. So if this package were to write import _ from "lodash", TypeScript will look for that in the types directory.
  • typeRoots tells TypeScript to consider the types directory to be the @types directory that would typically be in node_modules; now, it can find @types/lodash as /types/lodash!
  • types configures which @types packages are automatically included in the compilation. This can be convenient for typical projects since installing @types/node will declare all of Node’s packages and ambient types. But on DT, this is a bad idea, because we’d pull every @types package in. Setting this to the empty array stops this and allows us to manually pull things in with /// <reference types="...">.

The combined result is that DT works like a monorepo already, just without the involvement of a package manager (for the most part). If a package depends on another DT package, the publisher detects that import and automatically adds a dependency to the final package when publishing to npm.

And so, DT is a monorepo, but, it also isn’t, at least not in the way that people have come to know most monorepos in the JS world.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. A small fraction (~15%) of DT do have package.json files. This is because some packages depend on the types of packages not in DefinitelyTyped. This makes sense; a lot of packages are now written in TypeScript directly, and so publish their types directly, without involving DT. If a package typed on DT depends on a package that already has types, then the DT types will likely need types from that dependency as well.

What’s the problem?

It turns out that we’ve recently felt the need to change the status quo, for at least two reasons.

Firstly, since each package with a package.json needs its own external dependencies, we need to run npm install. But, we’re not a monorepo! This turns into over 30 minutes of just looping over every folder with a package.json and running npm install. Recently (as of writing), we’ve had issues with the install step randomly timing out. It’s really frustrating for the TypeScript team as we test all of DefinitelyTyped on most type checking changes, just to make sure we don’t break anyone (or, only break things in desirable ways).

Secondly, you may remember that the tsconfig.json from earlier set "module": "commonjs". This is the only valid configuration on DT and it has worked for a very long time. But as more and more packages start using features like ESM and export maps, DT needs to be able to support those features. And it does! Mostly. The "module": "commonjs" lie can be worked around for the most part, but DT should really be set to "moduleResolution": "node16" and then actually test that the packages and their dependencies and dependants actually work in that more modern mode.

A solution to both of these problems is to turn DefinitelyTyped into a monorepo more like what other major projects are doing, meaning:

  • Add a package.json to every DT package.
  • Explicitly declare all dependencies, even those within the repo.
  • Let a package manager or monorepo tool link the projects in node_modules.
  • Install everything at once.
  • Drop baseUrl and typeRoots out of every tsconfig.json.

This (theoretically) gets us a much faster install time, as well as getting us a final state on disk that matches what downstream users see, enabling packages to start making use of "moduleResolution": "node16".

What next?

This is a cool idea in theory, but to make it real, we have to make some choices. Specifically, the tooling. There are some unique restrictions which make this choice complicated:

  • The tool has to be handle the 8,000+ DT packages and their external dependencies.
  • The tool shouldn’t hoist anything, unless it’s safe to do so. We don’t want to accidentally resolve anything.
  • The tool must be able to handle multiple versions of packages in types (e.g. @types/react in types/react, @types/react@v17 in types/react/v17, and so on).
  • The tool should be fast. Right now, if you work on one package, you may not even need to install anything. If you do install a package, you’re only going to pay for the cost of installing that one DT package’s deps. If we have to get the whole monorepo, that experience hopefully shouldn’t suffer.
  • The tool shouldn’t try and do anything else. We just want package linking, not a build system. There’s nothing to build!

This set of requirements really narrows it down; at the time of writing, the only package manager which meets these requirements is pnpm. The other choices either ban packages of duplicated names, are generally not configurable enough, or take too long to install (though no option is likely slower than the 30 minute CI install). I’m not super surprised; pnpm is the default package manager of the rushstack tooling and there are some pretty ridiculously sized monorepos using it.

Even still, pnpm’s great performance still felt a little slow. I noticed that on install it’d hang and then start printing text, implying some performance problem. Not shocking; the number of packages it finally resolves to is over 9,000, and I’d think any tool would chug with that much work to do.

But, there’s good news! By profiling pnpm install, I discovered that that the performance holes are mostly just cases of “accidentally quadratic” code, and therefore can be addressed.

And that’s the actual thing I wanted to write about before I got carried away. For details on that, check out the next post in this series.

👋 package manager maintainers

There’s no doubt in my mind that this post will eventually make its way to the maintainers of the other package managers and monorepo tools. Understand, I really truly do not mean anything negative in the above. I use all of your tools and they’re all great! My focus on pnpm above is due to the fact that I’m able to make immediate progress with it and that it also lets me demo some cool profiling techniques I’ve been meaning to share for a while. I have no idea how DT will actually end up, we’re just hurting now and I’m finding this fun to play around with.

  1. If the author set "declaration": true and published them, anyway. ↩︎