There are two kinds of symbols in TypeScript: value symbols and type symbols. (Note that these are distinct from the Symbol object in JavaScript.)

Value symbols represent values present at runtime in JavaScript:

  • let, const, and var bindings
  • function declarations
  • class declarations
  • enum and const enum declarations
  • namespace declarations (which produce or represent objects at runtime)

Type symbols represent types which are used in type checking:

  • interface declarations
  • type (type alias) declarations
  • function declarations
  • class declarations
  • enum and const enum declarations

(Note that namespace declarations can also be present in type-only declarations, as when a type is exported from a namespace and referenced like let val: SomeNamespace.ExportedInterface, but the value produced by the namespace is not itself a type.)


Unless otherwise specified, "functions" always refers interchangeably to: functions in standalone scope, whether defined with either function or an arrow; class methods; and class constructors.

User constructibility

A type is user-constructible if the consumer of a package is allowed to create their own objects which match a given type structurally, that is, without using a function or class exported from the package which provides the type.

For example, a package may choose to export an interface to allow users to name the type returned by a function, while specifying that the only legal way to construct such an interface is via that exported function, in which case the type is not user-constructible.

Alternatively, a package may export an interface or type alias explicitly for users to construct objects implementing that type, in which case the type is user-constructible.

Using the type-level typeof operator to construct a type using the type of an exported item from a library wholly defeats the ability of authors to specify a public API. Accordingly:

  1. Authors who wish to treat any given type as user-constructible should export a type definition for it under their public API contract (see the next section).
  2. A type defined in terms of typeof which “breaks” under the rules discussed below is not breaking, because it was not legally user-constructible.

One challenge for this definition is the common scenario where code is not ordinarily user-constructible but may need to be mocked for tests. Changes to these do not constitute breaking changes—but library authors can also mitigate the challenge presented by this scenario. (See discussion below under Appendix B: Tooling – Mitigate Breaking Changes – Avoiding User constructibility.)

Non-normative example: in Ember.js today, the interface for a Transition is public API and consumers can rely on its stability, but only Ember is allowed to create Transition instances.

If a user imported the Transition interface and wrote a class CustomTransition implements Transition { ... }, this would be stepping outside the SemVer contract.

Public API

Overview: Some packages may choose to specify that the public API consists of documented exports, in which case no published type may be considered public API unless it is in the documentation. Other packages may choose to say the reverse: all exports are public unless explicitly defined as private (for example with the @private JSDoc annotation, a note in the docs, etc.). In either case, no change to a type documented as private is a breaking change, whether or not the type is exported, where documented as private is defined in terms of the documentation norm of the package in question.

Documentation of user constructibility: Exported types (interfaces, type aliases, and the type side of classes) may be defined by documentation to be user-constructible or not.

Documentation of subclassibility: Exported classes may be defined by documentation to be user-subclassible or not.

Re-exports: using the export * from re-export syntax can in theory cause breakage by causing export conflicts: if the library being re-exported and the library doing the re-export both export the same name. For this reason, changes caused by the export * from ... are never breaking changes.1



In general, it is an antipattern for one package to re-export another package directly like this, and the cases where it makes sense (e.g. Ember re-exporting Glimmer APIs) are cases of collaborators which can manage this.