TypeScript unknown vs. any: A Comprehensive Comparison

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When working with TypeScript, developers often encounter situations where they need to handle variables with uncertain or dynamic types. In such cases, the unknown and any types come into play. These types offer flexibility, but they also have distinct characteristics and implications for type safety and code maintainability. In this article, we will dive deep into the differences between unknown and any, exploring their use cases, advantages, and potential pitfalls.

For an in-depth guide on Typescript visit here.

Understanding unknown and any


The unknown type was introduced in TypeScript 3.0 as a safer alternative to the widely used any type. It represents a value that can have any type, but with stricter type checking. Variables of type unknown cannot be assigned to other types directly, nor can you access any properties or methods on them without proper type assertions or checks.

let myVar: unknown = 42;

// Error: Object is of type 'unknown'.

if (typeof myVar === 'number') {
    console.log(myVar.toFixed(2)); // No error

unknown encourages developers to perform type checks before performing operations that could lead to runtime errors, promoting safer and more predictable code.


On the other hand, the any type is the most flexible type in TypeScript. It essentially opts out of type checking, allowing variables of this type to be freely assigned to any value or type without causing compilation errors.

let myAnyVar: any = 42;

console.log(myAnyVar.toString()); // No error

// No error, even though 'myAnyVar' is of type 'any'
let result: number = myAnyVar + 10;

While any provides great flexibility, it sacrifices the benefits of TypeScript’s type system. Code using any is less type-safe and can lead to runtime errors that would have been caught during compilation with stricter types.

Use Cases and Advantages


  1. Type Safety: The primary advantage of unknown is improved type safety. It forces developers to handle type assertions and checks explicitly before performing operations that might lead to errors. This reduces the likelihood of runtime errors caused by unexpected type conversions.
  2. Refinement Through Narrowing: Variables of type unknown can be narrowed down to more specific types through type guards, ensuring that subsequent code can operate on them safely.
  3. Interop with JavaScript: When working with values from JavaScript libraries or APIs, using unknown provides a way to ensure that type information is handled correctly in TypeScript code.


  1. Rapid Prototyping: In the early stages of development or during rapid prototyping, the any type can be convenient for quickly experimenting with code without worrying about strict type checks.
  2. Migration: When migrating large JavaScript codebases to TypeScript, using any can be a temporary measure to make the transition smoother. However, it’s important to gradually replace any with more specific types to fully leverage TypeScript’s benefits.
  3. Third-Party Libraries: When working with third-party libraries that have complex or undocumented types, any can be a pragmatic choice to avoid overly complex type definitions or to bypass strict type checking when necessary.

Pitfalls and Best Practices

Pitfalls of unknown

  1. Verbose Code: Using unknown requires additional type checks and assertions, which can lead to more verbose code, especially when handling multiple levels of nested objects.
  2. Complexity: Deeply nested type checks and assertions can quickly become complex and hard to read, impacting code maintainability.
  3. Runtime Errors: Failing to perform proper type checks and assertions before performing operations on variables of type unknown can still lead to runtime errors.

Pitfalls of any

  1. Type Safety: The biggest pitfall of using any is the lack of type safety. Compiler checks are bypassed, which can lead to subtle bugs that only appear at runtime.
  2. Lost Type Information: Code using any loses the benefits of TypeScript’s type inference and autocomplete features, making the development process less efficient.
  3. Maintainability: As the codebase grows, the use of any can make the code harder to maintain and debug, as it lacks clear type annotations and documentation.

Best Practices

  1. Prefer unknown Over any: In situations where you need flexibility but want to maintain type safety, opt for unknown over any. This encourages proper type checking and reduces the risk of runtime errors.
  2. Use Type Guards: When working with variables of type unknown, utilize type guards and type assertions to refine their types before performing operations on them.
  3. Gradual Migration: If you are migrating from JavaScript to TypeScript, use any temporarily but aim to replace it with more specific types as your codebase evolves.
  4. Documentation: When using any, provide clear documentation explaining why you chose to use it and what type of values the variable might hold.
  5. Code Reviews: Enforce code review practices to catch and address any improper usage of unknown or any.


In the TypeScript ecosystem, both unknown and any serve specific purposes. While unknown promotes type safety and encourages proper handling of uncertain types, any offers flexibility at the cost of type checking and maintainability. As a best practice, prefer using unknown over any whenever possible, and employ type guards and assertions to ensure safe operations on variables with uncertain types. By understanding the distinctions between these two types and applying best practices, developers can strike a balance between flexibility and type safety, leading to more reliable and maintainable TypeScript codebases.

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Rajae Robinson

Rajae Robinson is a young Software Developer with over 3 years of work experience building websites and mobile apps. He has extensive experience with React.js and Next.js.

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