TypeScript: The Difference Between "any" and "unknown" Types

This short article will look at the differences between any and unknown types in TypeScript.

The "any" type

As its name implies, the any type can represent "any" value in TypeScript.

It is incredibly flexible, but you essentially opt out of TypeScript's type-checking mechanism.

With any, you can perform any operation (like calling a method or accessing a property), and assign it to any other type, and TypeScript wouldn't raise a single type error.

As an example:

const profile: any = {
  firstName: "Niall",
// No error even though lastName does not exist. Compiles successfully. 🙀

This is usually a major "NOPE" since we want good types in TypeScript. 😉 By skipping type checking, you might accidentally introduce type errors that TypeScript can't catch.

The "unknown" type

unknown is similar to any in that it can contain any value, but unknown is type-safe.


TypeScript forces you to perform a type check before operating on unknown variables. You can't accidentally misuse the value because TypeScript will require you to verify with the compiler what type the value is before you can use it.

Let's look at an example similar to our last one:

const profile: unknown = {
  firstName: "Niall",
// ❌ ERROR! Because TypeScript doesn't know what type `profile` is.

And if we wanted to make it work it takes a little extra work:

const profile: unknown = {
  firstName: "Niall",

if (typeof profile === "object" && profile !== null) {
  if ("firstName" in profile) {
    // ✅ We have confirmed the type sufficiently before compile time!

Although it takes a bit more work, using unknown maintains type safety, making it the better option when unsure of a variable's type.

Happy coding! ✨

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Avatar for Niall Maher

Written by Niall Maher

Founder of Codú - The web developer community! I've worked in nearly every corner of technology businesses; Lead Developer, Software Architect, Product Manager, CTO and now happily a Founder.


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