Shipping PropTypes from Flow definitions in NPM Packages

Dec 15, 2016 · 6 min read

I have been using flow to add type safety to my JavaScript for a few months now. I have been using it mainly with my React projects.

Flow is a static typechecker for JavaScript written by facebook. It follows the Unix philosophy of do one thing and do it well.

The precursor to flow is PropTypes, which is built directly into react.

So if I use PropTypes why do I want to use flow?

The three key differences between PropTypes and flow are:

  1. flow can be used in all JavaScript files and not just in React components
  2. typing is checked at runtime with PropTypes and at compile time with flow
  3. PropTypes are quite limited in comparison to flow

For example, it’s possible to specify that a prop is some kind of function with PropTypes, but not what parameters that function accepts or what kind of value it might return.

How do I get started with flow?

This is out of the scope of this post, I might write something later, but in the meantime, the docs are a pretty good place to start.

Migrating from PropTypes to flow

So you have decided to start introducing flow into your codebase and migrate from using PropTypes to flow definitions.

Where flow is opt-in, it means that you can migrate your components one at a time. This approach does mean that you might only have partial coverage as you migrate over, which means that you might miss things that would otherwise error.

These errors would also not be caught at runtime by PropTypes as they will have been removed as part of the migration.

One solution is to write both PropTypes and flow definitions, but let’s be honest that sucks!

Automatically adding PropTypes from flow definitions

Chances are that if you are using flow you will also be using babel.

Thankfully there is a babel plugin, babel-plugin-flow-react-proptypes, that will automatically add PropTypes from your flow definitions, so you don’t have to.

It works the same as any other babel plugin, so you start by installing it as a dependency.

yarn add --dev babel-plugin-flow-react-proptypes

Then by adding it to your babelrc.

  "presets": ["..."],
  "plugins": ["flow-react-proptypes"]

With this plugin enabled you have maximised your type checking coverage to include both compile time (flow) and runtime (PropTypes), this also has the added affect of fixing the issue with migration that was mentioned above.

Automatically adding PropTypes from flow definitions in npm packages

I have extended my use of the babel-plugin-flow-react-proptypes to include adding PropTypes from my flow definitions, for my React components that I publish to npm.

This works pretty much the same as when you are building a website, but where you would normally be using something like webpack to bundle, watch and update your bundles, instead you use the babel-cli to compile your code down to ES5 JavaScript, ready for publishing to npm.

This can be achieved by first installing the babel-cli and babel-plugin-flow-react-proptypes.

yarn add --dev babel-cli babel-plugin-flow-react-proptypes rimraf

rimraf is the rm -rf util for node.js

Then by setting up your babelrc.

  "presets": ["..."],
  "plugins": ["flow-react-proptypes"]

And finally setting up builds command in your package.json.

  "scripts": {
    "build": "npm run build:clean && npm run build:dist",
    "build:clean": "rimraf dist",
    "build:dist": "babel src --out-dir dist"

That’s all there is to it!

Real world example

This is taken from a react component I built that renders markdown, react-markdown-renderer.

/* @flow */

import React from 'react';
import Remarkable from 'remarkable';

type PropsType = {
  markdown: string,
  options?: Object,

export default function MarkdownRenderer({
  options = {},
}: PropsType) {
  const remarkable = new Remarkable(options);
  const html = remarkable.render(markdown);

  return <div {...props} dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: html }} />;


function MarkdownRenderer(_ref) {
  var markdown = _ref.markdown,
    _ref$options = _ref.options,
    options = _ref$options === undefined ? {} : _ref$options,
    props = _objectWithoutProperties(_ref, ['markdown', 'options']);

  var remarkable = new _remarkable2.default(options);
  var html = remarkable.render(markdown);

  return _react2.default.createElement(
    _extends({}, props, { dangerouslySetInnerHTML: { __html: html } })

MarkdownRenderer.propTypes = {
  markdown: require('react').PropTypes.string.isRequired,
  options: require('react').PropTypes.object,

Compiled Source. (Some code has been removed to make reading easier).

Shipping flow definitions in npm packages

Now that we have shipped PropTypes in our npm packages we can extend our packages to also include our flow definitions.

You start by install flow-copy-source.

yarn add flow-copy-source --dev

And finally setting up builds command in your package.json.

  "scripts": {
    "build": "npm run build:clean && npm run build:dist",
    "build:clean": "rimraf dist",
    "build:dist": "babel src --out-dir dist",
    "build:flow": "flow-copy-source src dist"

flow-copy-source will (by default) copy all *.js files in src and copy them into the target directory dist, all while preserving the original directory hierarchy. The files that are copied get a different file-ending, called *.js.flow.

This works because flow resolves modules in the same way as node does. If you are importing my-lib, by default flow will look into my-lib and try to find the type definitions, but unfortunately all of our files get compiled into ES5 code, so we loose all of our type definitions.

Luckily if flow finds files with a *.js.flow file ending, it will prefer them over the actual *.js file. So by including the additional files, we will inform flow about the types that are exposed by our ES5 file.

ryyppy wrote a great article on this, it’s well worth a read.

Future Posts

  • getting started with flow
  • in depth migrating from PropTypes to flow