If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must be about typing

David Heinemeier Hansson (aka DHH), creator of Ruby on Rails and founder of 37signals recently announced, he's removing TypeScript from Turbo starting from version 8, which has made him the target of never-ending mocking regarding typing and software reliability.

Turbo is a JavaScript framework to create progressively enhanced web applications. The way it achieves that is by capturing every link click and form submission, changes all to AJAX requests, then extracts the body from the response to replace corresponding parts of the existing page. It does that without affecting the head tag and requiring a full page reload. Behind the scenes, it also manages the browser's back button functionality and stores the history of full body contents in a cache. Additionally, Turbo also supports requesting and fetching updates through WebSocket, not just XHR.

Turbo is the heart of the Hotwire framework which contains a couple other frameworks like Stimulus and Strada to build native-like Single Page Applications (SPA) without using any progressive frameworks like React or Vue, and all templates are generated on server-side.

It is the similar technique what Laravel LiveWire implemented, which was also heavily inspired by an Elixir module called Phoenix LiveView. Other implementations are also available out there like htmx or Inertia.js. Unlike LiveWire, Hotwire doesn't require any backend framework.

What is TypeScript?

JavaScript was originally never intended to be a programming language, certainly not for large applications. It was born as LiveScript, a scripting language thanks to a collaboration between Netscape and Sun Microsystems to embed Java into Netscape Navigator in 1995. That's also the reason for its later renaming, because of its syntax similarities to Java. When the legendary browser wars began between Netscape and Microsoft, the latter reverse-engineered Navigator's interpreter to create their own variation which they named JScript. A year later, Netscape submitted JavaScript to ECMA International, an organisation founded to standardise computer systems. The intention was to create a standard which could all browser vendors adopt and that finally led to the official release of the first ECMAScript specification in June 1997. JavaScript in the beginning didn't really have structuring concepts you would normally find in other programming languages. These deficiencies made very difficult to build reliable large-scale applications.

TypeScript is a programming language built on the top of JavaScript (or as they refer themselves a superset of JavaScript) introduced in 2012 by Microsoft, mainly to resolve those concerns about large-scale development. Aside to static typing and type checking at compile time, it also introduced classes, generics, visibility, union types, enums, modules and namespaces which all helped to elevate JavaScript to a higher level. TypeScript code is backward compatible with JavaScript, which can be compiled into regular JavaScript, then it can be executed in a browser's JS engine or in server-side runtime environments like Node.js.

Here's an example of a simple TypeScript code:

class Car implements Vehicle {
    private brand: Brand;
    private model: Model;
    private year: string;

    constructor(brand: Brand, model: Model, year: string) {
        this.brand = brand;
        this.model = model;
        this.year = year;

    getTitle($withYear: boolean = false): string {
        if ($withYear) {
            return `${this.brand.name} ${this.model.name} (${this.year})`;

        return `${this.brand.name} ${this.model.name}`;

You might love or hate TypeScript, but you cannot really find a job where the tech stack doesn't require TypeScript in pair with JavaScript, weather it is server or client side programming. JavaScript also evolved in the past decade, and today it has features which were only available in TypeScript before:

  • Class keyword and modules have been introduced in ECMAScript 2015 (ES6)
  • You can emulate enums using object literals or constants
  • JSDoc annotations can provide type hints for better tooling

Strong or weak vs. dynamic or static

Type safety is a feature of a programming language which simply means the language only allows you to perform operations allowed by a data type. For an example you shouldn't use a method which requires a string on a numeric value. This permission is checked during type checking which can be static or dynamic. Dynamically (or weakly) typed languages check the types during runtime, meanwhile statically (or strong) typed languages usually does the same through compile time. Not all languages are need to be compiled before runtime (like PHP, Ruby or Python), those are called interpreted languages.

JavaScript itself is weakly typed, which means its type system is more permissive and allows for implicit type conversions and late type binding. Type violations might not be caught until runtime which may lead to unexpected runtime errors. Languages like PHP, Ruby and Perl are all weakly typed.

On the other hand, with strong typing every variable and expression has a fixed data type that is determined at compile-time. Type violations are caught at compile-time, which means that the code must stick to the specified types, and any mismatch will result in a compilation error. Examples for strongly typed languages are Java, C, Smalltalk or Pascal. Python however is both strongly and dynamically typed language.

TypeScript is also strongly typed and because it's compatible with JavaScript we can enforce type checks on our code during compilation. As I've already mentioned PHP is dynamically typed, and we have no options to force type checking. Although, it offers features like type declarations and type hinting which can check types in runtime if we specifically ask it to do so by adding declare(strict_types=1). Static analysis tools like Psalm and PHPStan can be also very helpful by going through on our codebase without actually running it and catch possible issues caused by typing. Those tools can also benefit any additional details specified in PHPDocs, mainly because PHP's native typehints are still not perfect.

We can compare the previous TypeScript example with a PHP implementation and see the code is very much similar:



class Car implements VehicleInterface
    public function __construct(
        private Brand $brand,
        private Model $model,
        private string $year,
    public function getTitle(bool $withYear = false): string
        if ($withYear) {
           return "{$this->brand->getName()} {$this->model->getName()} ({$this->year})";    
        return "{$this->brand->getName()} {$this->model->getName()}";

There are also other ways to work around typing. Duck typing is a method of type checking that looks at the structure (properties and methods) and the functional aspect of the object rather than its name or class. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, we treat it like a duck, even if it's not.

People who prefer dynamically typing generally highlight the flexibility, reusability, faster development speed, and a better flow, which were also the same arguments that DHH came up with in his post. Others favour catching bugs early, ensuring safety, reliability, benefiting from additional type information in the code and better IDE support, even if compiling is a slower process or strict typing could affect readability.

"You don't need static type checking if you have 100% unit test coverage." (Robert C. Martin)

Personally, I believe there isn't a good or bad choice here. Like many aspects of software engineering, it's about trade-offs. Whenever it's possible I always enforce strict typing in PHP and use static analysis as part of continuous integration, because it helps me recognise what the code accept and what's expected to be the outcome. However, I cannot really appreciate enough that PHP is dynamically typed language.

This post was published on Sep 15, 2023 in Programming