# How to validate Express requests using io-ts

Combine io-ts runtime type system within an Express middleware to handle request validation

Io-ts is runtime type system which provides safe encoding and decoding, but if you landed on this page you probably already have a slight idea of what it is. As a matter of fact, I wrote this article to remind a future version of myself about how to use the library to validate the requests coming from a REST API endpoint in a Express.js middleware. Let's go straight to it then.

## Decoder

The first code we need to write is the Decoder, which will take unknown input we need to check. A Decoder is a runtime representation of a static type and, indeed, one of the benefits of using io-ts compared to popular alternatives like express-validator is the strong TypeScript typing we have for free.

Suppose we have an Express application having API endpoints for Animal Crossing, just as an example since it's my current obsession. Let's start with the Decoder of an island:

import * as D from 'io-ts/lib/Decoder';

export const IslandDec = D.type({
fruit: D.literal('apple', 'cherry', 'orange', 'peach', 'pear'),
hemisphere: D.literal('north', 'south'),
villager: D.literal('daisy', 'celeste', 'neither'),
});

/*
type Island = {
fruit: "apple" | "cherry" | "orange" | "peach" | "pear";
hemisphere: "north" | "south";
villager: "daisy" | "celeste" | "neither";
}
*/
export type Island = D.TypeOf<typeof IslandDec>;


As you can see, by using io-ts we have been able to both define the Decoder and extract the static type using the TypeOf operator, without declaring the type ourselves. io-ts comes with built-in decoders for primitive types, whereas D.type allows to define an object with required fields.

By using the method .decode we can check the validity of an object.

IslandDec.decode({
fruit: 'apples',
hemisphere: 'north',
villager: 'neither'
})


Did you even notice where is the error? Surely, the Decoder was able to strictly check the input.

{
value: 'required property "fruit"',
forest: [
{
value:
'cannot decode "apples", should be "apple" | "cherry" | "orange" | "peach" | "pear"',
forest: []
}
]
}


## Express validator

We can now leverage our Decoder to use it as a Express middleware to validate the request body of an API endpoint. We can write an utility to easily use Decoders as request validators.

import { RequestHandler } from 'express';
import { Decoder } from 'io-ts/lib/Decoder';
import { pipe } from 'fp-ts/lib/pipeable';
import { fold } from 'fp-ts/lib/Either';

export const validator: <T>(decoder: Decoder<T>) => RequestHandler<ParamsDictionary, any, T> = decoder => (
req,
res,
next,
) => {
return pipe(
decoder.decode(req.body),
fold(
errors => res.status(400).send({ status: 'error', error: errors }),
() => next(),
),
);
};


Then finally we have all the elements to setup the validation in place. As mentioned, a nice benefit of using io-ts is having better types. In this case, validator returns a RequestHandler<ParamsDictionary, any, T> which is able to type req.body in the route handler, instead of being any.

app.post('/islands', validator(IslandDec), (req, res, next) => {
return addIsland(req.body) // req.body is strictly typed
.then(island => res.status(301).send({ status: 'success', data: island }))
.catch(next);
});


## Decoder composition

As a final note, I also want to show how flexible the io-ts Decoder is. We can for instance define a more complex Decoder by composing together simpler ones.

import * as D from 'io-ts/lib/Decoder';

export const BulletinBodyDec = D.type({
dodo: D.string,
island: IslandDec,
time: D.string,
turnipPrice: D.number,
description: D.string,
preferences: D.type({
concurrent: D.number,
queue: D.number,
hasFee: D.boolean,
isPrivate: D.boolean,
}),
});

export const BulletinDec = D.intersection(
D.type({
id: D.string,
meta: D.type({
creationDate: D.string,
}),
}),
BulletinBodyDec,
);

export type BulletinBody = D.TypeOf<typeof BulletinBodyDec>;
export type Bulletin = D.TypeOf<typeof BulletinDec>;


We have defined a more complex Bulletin as an intersection of Decoders and BulletinBodyDec is able to reuse the previously defined IslandDec.

## Transform io-ts error towards a more standard error response

By default, io-ts returns a NonEmptyArray<Tree<string>> type as errors, which is an array of error trees with at least one error. The Tree structure is convenient to understand the hierarchy of the invalid properties, but you may wish to return a more standard error response to the client. Suppose you would like to have the following REST error response instead:

/**
* https://github.com/Microsoft/api-guidelines/blob/master/Guidelines.md#errorresponse--object
*/
export interface RestError {
message: string;
details: Array<RestError>;
}


The following code shows an example of how to transform the array of error Trees (the type is Array<Tree<string>> aka Forest<string>) into a flatten array of RestError, by using a recursive function which is able to extract all the error messages from the forest.

function getErrorValues(forest: Array<Tree<string>>): Array<string> {
return forest.flatMap(x => {
return x.forest.length ? [x.value, ...getErrorValues(x.forest)] : [x.value];
});
}

export const validator: <T>(decoder: Decoder<T>) => RequestHandler<ParamsDictionary, any, T> = decoder => (
req,
res,
next,
) => {
return pipe(
decoder.decode(req.body),
fold(
errorForest => {
const details: Array<RestError> = getErrorValues(errorForest).map(message => {
return {
message,
};
});
const error: RestError = {
message: 'Invalid request body',
details,
};

return res.status(400).send({ status: 'error', error });
},
() => next(),
),
);
};