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You don't need null

  • avatar
    Ramon Alejandro


You don't need null. Use undefined instead.

  • Having two non-values in JavaScript is now considered a design mistake (even by JavaScript's creator, Brendan Eich and Douglas Crockford).
  • The creator of null pointers Tony Hoare is known for calling his own creation a "billion-dollar mistake". One nullish value is bad enough.
  • You get smaller API payloads and less code overall.
  • It will dramatically reduce the amount and complexity of presence checks in the code.

Counter arguments

What if I want to define a nullish value intentionally?

In that case, just assign undefined to it:

const anObject = {
    propertyToNullify: undefined,

But what about the semantic differences?

Folks that use it a lot (generally coming from other languages that have null as the only nullish value) get pretty mad about such claims. The most common response I get is:

null is for intentional missing values, and undefined should be used when the values were never set in the first place.

The first thing I think with responses like that is: Why would you ever need to make that distinction? Both are nullish, and you don't need to differentiate between "intentionally missing" and "unintentionally missing".

const people = [
        firstName: "Bernard",
        middleName: null,
        lastName: "Roy",
        firstName: "Donald",
        middleName: "Ervin",
        lastName: "Knuth",

But you can just omit middleName when the user doesn't have one:

const people = [
        firstName: "Bernard",
        lastName: "Roy",
    // ...

Or, you can set middleName to an empty string if the user intentionally left that blank and you need to know that:

const people = [
        firstName: "Luke",
        middleName: "",
        lastName: "Shiru",
    // ...

The TypeScript representation would be something like this:

type Person = {
    firstName: string;
    middleName?: string;
    lastName: string;

But document.querySelector('wrong-selector') returns null

Yes, it does, and it's a pain, but you can easily type it like this instead:

const element = document.querySelector('wrong-selector') ?? undefined;

This prevents null from leaking into the rest of the codebase.

But the API is returning null

  • Use an API wrapper. Instead of spreading null all over your codebase, update your surface of contact with the API so nulls are removed.
  • If you have any contact with the folks making the API, propose making API responses smaller by getting rid of null values. You should try to avoid ending up over-engineering/over-complicating your app just to deal with null when you can just avoid it altogether.

The nullish coalescing operator ?? can be used to convert from null to undefined anywhere a null value is received from an external API.

But in JSON, at least, I can use null?

In JSON structures undefined cannot be used as that type does not exist. You can hover assign null to a property {"someProperty": null}, but why would you do that? If the property someProperty has no value, it's better to just exclude that property completely. Keeping such properties just increases the payload size that needs to be sent over the network or stored in a file without actually giving you any extra benefits. If you are thinking that having the explicit property makes it easier to discover, that's what types and schemas are for.

Action items

Don't compare to null

If your code base interacts with other APIs that might give you a null then use an == check instead of ===. value == undefined will be true for null and undefined but not for other falsy values ('', false, 0).

/// Imaging you are doing `value == undefined` where value can be one of:
console.log(undefined == undefined); // true
console.log(null == undefined); // true
console.log(0 == undefined); // false
console.log('' == undefined); // false
console.log(false == undefined); // false

Don’t initialize optional sub-properties

Just don't set it. Your type annotation should have it as optional anyway. Don’t set it to null or undefined. Just have it as absent:

interface Foo {
 a: number;
 b?: number;

// Don't set `b` to anything.
const foo: Foo = {
  a: 123

Arrays (type and value) should never be left uninitialized

Setting any array to undefined will trigger presence checks down the line. Initialize all arrays to empty instead.

Okay okay, this might make sense, how can I force all my colleagues into submission?

That is not a nice thought, anyhow, ask them nicely and then add the eslint-plugin-no-null plugin to your .eslintrc:

  "plugins": [
  "rules": {
    "no-null/no-null": 2


Never use null, unless the ecosystem dictates it. e.g. node style callbacks expect the error argument to be set to null in case of no error. Even then I (and pretty much everyone else) do a truthy check on null and not an explicit one.

fs.readFile('someFile', 'utf8', (err,data) => {
  if (err) {
    // do something
  // no error


I created this post to have a single place I can reference when I need to revisit this topic. It's based on the following articles and all credit goes to the authors.