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Use Discriminated Unions to Represent Your State

January 31, 2024

How you represent your state inside of your store is an important consideration. One of the principles that I like to follow is to make impossible states impossible. This is a concept that is inspired by the FP, and in particular Elm community.

Assuming some todo items loaded from the server somewhere, you could set up your state to look something like this

export type Todo = {
  id: string;
  text: string;
  completed: boolean;
interface TodoState {
  todos: Todo[];
  loading: boolean;
  error: boolean;

Pretty straight forward right? But what would it mean for your app if your state somehow got into this state:

  todos: [];
  loaded: true;
  error: true;

If you bind to those values in your template, it could show the user both an error alert as well as incomplete data, or some other weird UI glitch that would happen because this makes no sense.

You may say "that's what testing if for!" Sure... but what if we could eliminate this from ever happening? You don't need to write a test for something that cannot possibly exist in the first place right?

Use discriminated unions

Discriminated unions (also known as tagged unions or sum types) are one of the core data structures leveraged inside of functional languages. I personally would argue it is one of the most powerful features that comes from FP.

The good news is TypeScript has the ability to leverage discriminated unions!

The bad news is that it is unfortunately a bit more clumsy than the first-class support FP languages give to this construct. But even with it being a bit more clunky, it is still well worth the guarantees that it gives you.

Quick overview

A discriminated union is a type in which can represent one of many different states. The catch is that you can be in only one of these states at a time. Sounds a bit simplistic and obvious, but let's looks at an example of how I like to represent async data that gets loaded from a server. Here is the definition of the type:

export type AsyncStateInitial = {
  type: 'initial';

export type AsyncStateLoading = {
  type: 'loading';

export type AsyncStateError = {
  type: 'error';
  errorMessage: string;

export type AsyncStateLoaded = {
  type: 'loaded';
  data: Todo[];

export type AsyncState =
  | AsyncStateInitial
  | AsyncStateLoading
  | AsyncStateError
  | AsyncStateLoaded;

Every variant of this union has a common "discriminator" (the field 'type' in this case). This creates a very powerful way to represents business logic. A variable of this type can be in only one of these states at a time. Depending on the state that it is in, can carry variant-specific payloads. So in the case of loaded it is the only variant that actually carries the result of loading the todos from the server.

This wouldn't be super interesting if it didn't give us some guarantees. In TypeScript, it will narrow the type down inside of if/else or other control flow syntax.

const myState: AsyncState = select(selectTodoState);

if (myState.type === 'loading') {
  console.log(; // ERROR! TypeScript won't compile
if (myState.type === 'loaded') {
  console.log(; // Prints todos

As you can probably see, this type narrowing also comes in play inside of your Angular templates. Therefore you can easily use control flow inside of your template to show/hide data given a certain variant.

<div *ngIf="myState.type === 'loading'">Loading ...</div>
<div *ngIf="myState.type === 'loaded'">
    <li *ngFor="let todo of">{{ todo.text }}</li>

Using discriminated unions in your store

Because discriminated unions do such a good job of explicitly representing your domain, they make a solid fit for your NgRx store.

const initialState: TodoState = {
  type: 'initial',
} as TodoState;

export const todoFeature = createFeature({
  name: 'todo',
  reducer: createReducer(
    on(TodoUIActions.loadTodos, (state): TodoState => {
      return {
        type: 'loading',
      (_, { todos }): TodoState => ({
        type: 'loaded',
        data: todos,

Now when you select this type out of your store, you have something that can accurately represent the state of the async operation of loading your data from the server. Better yet, you can never get in a state where you are both loading and in an error state. No test to write, because it's not even possible to represent with this structure.

Using discriminated unions as a computed/derived state

As mentioned with the lack of first-class support of discriminated unions in TypeScript, sometimes dealing with the extra wrapping/unwrapping of the discriminated union directly in your store can be annoying, or overly verbose that it isn't quite worth dealing with. I personally will go above and beyond to keep the backing data structure in my store as a discriminated union, but there are times where I will give in. A secondary approach is to derive/compute the discriminated union as your "view model" while keeping the backing structure of your store a bit more flat and simple.

Taking the similar to what we started with:

export interface TodoState {
  todos: Todo[];
  status: 'initial' | 'loading' | 'loaded' | 'error';
  errorMessage: string;

Then within our selectors we assemble the view model as a discriminated union.

const selectComputedState = createSelector(
  (state): ComputedState => {
    if (state.status === 'initial') {
      return { type: 'initial' };
    } else if (state.status === 'loading') {
      return { type: 'loading' };
    } else if (state.status === 'loaded') {
      return { type: 'loaded', todos: state.todos };
    return { type: 'error', message: state.errorMessage };

Granted it is now possible for our store to be in a state we wish to make impossible, but with complicated state representations, or using something like NgRx entity, wrapping that up inside of a discriminated union can be a bit of a pain. This approach will still allow your view layer to cleanly represent your problem and the states it can be in, without the extra complexity of managing that in the store.


Using a discriminated union as the backing structure inside of your NgRx store can be a powerful tool to eliminate entire classes of bugs because they are no longer even possible to represent inside of your code base. Even without it as a backing structure, using it as part of your view model can still give you a clean way to represent your state for your view.