Seamless backend/frontend communication with code generation

At work we have a Java backend that exposes HTTP endpoints for our frontend to call. Some do simple create/read/update/delete, some do specific requests, and there are a bunch to remember with many different types of objects that are returned. Because we rely on these API calls so much, we’ve put a lot of effort into tooling to make the frontend/backend communication as seamless as possible for our developers. Here is a brief overview before I go into detail:

  • Java interfaces describe each API and its endpoints
  • Each interface is connected to its backend implementation with a special Javalin handler which exposes each endpoint via HTTP, parses arguments, then calls the implementation
  • Some custom tooling loops through every interface and generates a Typescript class for each one, with methods to call each endpoint
  • The Java library typescript-generator generates Typescript definitions for all the classes used in arguments and return values of the APIs

The end result is that as we add endpoints to our backend, our API client automatically generates the methods to call it, making frontend-to-backend calls almost as easy as native calls. Read on for details on how it works, or view the demonstration on Github.

API definitions

This is the easy part. Our API interfaces look something like this:

interface UserApi {
    UserDto getUser(int userId);

Backend implementation for our API

Javalin is a great webserver that provides exactly the balance of power-to-simplicity that we need. A backend call might look something like this:

POST /api/UsersApi/getUser
    'userId': 1001

So, we create a handler for each of these calls. It involves a bit of reflection which is a bit hairy but makes things easier for devs:

public static void main(){
    var app = Javalin.create();
    // UsersApi is the interface that defines the endpoints.
    // UsersService is the backend implementation of UsersApi.
    // We repeat the below for every API we want to expose.
    expose(app,UsersApi.class, new UsersService())

private <T> void expose(Javalin app, Class<T> api, T implementation) {
    String apiName = api.getSimpleName();
    for (Method method : api.getMethods()) {
        // handle calls to, for example, POST /api/UsersAPI/getUser"/api/" + apiName + "/" + method.getName(), (ctx) -> {
            Map<String, String> body = ctx.bodyAsClass(Map.class);
            List<Object> args = new ArrayList<>();
            for (Parameter param : method.getParameters()) {
                String json = body.get(param.getName());
                var arg = GSON.fromJson(json, param.getParameterizedType());
            try {
                Object result = method.invoke(implementation, args.toArray());
                String json = objectMapper.writeValueAsBytes(result);
            } catch (Exception e) {
                throw new RuntimeException("Failed to invoke " + apiName + "/" + method, e);

That’s pretty much it. For every API, then every method, expose an endpoint that deserializes the arguments given, then calls the actual implementation’s method with those arguments.

The only special thing I’d note here is that the body of our request is not a single object we can deserialize immediately, but instead is better thought of as a key-value pair of parameter names to a JSON string. So it’s essentially doubly-serialized JSON.

So! Our backend is ready to receive requests. Next up is the API client.

Typescript client

The code here works a little like the above again - given an interface like UsersAPI, iterate over its methods, and iterate over its arguments. However, along the way, we build a string by appending bits of Typescript to it. The code here is a bit ugly so I’m going to write some pseudocode to describe it:

String toTypescript(Class... api) {
    for each api:
        typescript += "class ${api.getSimpleName()} {"
        for each method:
            typescript += "${method.getName()}("
            for each parameter:
                typescript += "${parameter.getName()}: ${getType(parameter)}, "
            typescript += "): Promise<${getType(method.returnType)}">
            var body = Map<String, String>
            typescript += "return fetch('/api/${api}/${method}', {"
            typescript += "   method: 'POST',"
            typescript += "   headers: {'Content-Type': 'application/json', 'Accept': 'application/json'},"
            typescript += "   body: JSON.stringify({"
            for each parameter:
                typescript += "${parameter.getName()}: JSON.stringify(${parameter.getName}), 
            typescript += "   }"
            typescript += "}).then(res => res.json())
        typescript += "}"
    return typescript

Hmm… is that more readable? If you’d prefer you can read the actual code instead. Mine uses raw strings for simplicity, though I suggest using a templating engine instead. Here’s what you might expect to see in the generated Typescript, as an example:

class UsersAPI {
    getUser(userId: number): UserDto {
        return fetch('/api/UsersApi/getUser', {
            method: 'POST',
            headers: {'Content-Type': 'application/json', 'Accept': 'application/json'},
            body: JSON.stringify({userId: JSON.stringify(userId)})
        }).then(res => res.json())

We store the above file in target/ts/api.ts, and generate this file using the Exec Maven Plugin which lets us run the client generator when we run mvn package.

One bit of magic I’m skipping over is the getType(parameter) call. This converts Java classes to Typescript equivalents. Here’s basically how the conversions work:

  • String -> string
  • int, Integer, float, Float, double, Double, long, Long -> number
  • Object -> any
  • Array<T>, List<T>, Set<T>, Collection<T> -> Array<T>
  • Map<K, V> -> Record<K, V>
  • Otherwise, just use the object’s class name (e.g. UserDto)

Now you’re almost ready to call new UsersApi().getUser(1001) - we’re just missing the Typescript type for the UserDto returned.

Typescript definitions for our Java types

This one’s pretty easy. We have a Java package that contains all the types that we want to use on the frontend (, and we point the Maven plugin typescript-generator to it:


Assuming we have a UserDto class like this:

public record UserDto(int userId, String username) {}

We’ll end up with a types.ts file like this:

interface UserDto {
    userId: number,
    username: string

Putting it all together

So, now we have:

  • A Javalin server with endpoints ready to deserialize parameters for each of our backend methods
  • An api.ts file with classes ready to query each of those endpoints
  • A types.ts file that describes the types for both the parameters and returns of those endpoints

The end result is that adding a new endpoint looks like this:

  1. Add void changeUsername(int userId, String newUsername) call to interface, and implement it on the backend
  2. Run mvn package to update our Typescript files
  3. In the frontend, write new UsersService().changeUsername(1001, "foo") - that’s it!


There are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way that are worth noting, including:

  • Java’s Map is a lot more flexible than Javascript objects. Particularly in Javascript objects can only have strings as keys, so don’t return a Map<MyRecord, String>
  • Javascript has no method overloading so if you declare a getUser() and getUser(int userId) you’ll run into issues.


I’m a big fan of typed languages (hence Java backend and Typescript frontend) but traditionally there is a disconnect between types on the two domains. This tooling allows us to modify a method or class in one place and immediately be comfortable using it everywhere else, or see errors during compile time when we’re misusing it. This tooling catches so many bugs and allows development to be so much faster that I can’t imagine working without it now. I know there are some similar tools out there but they either add a significant amount of complexity (OpenAPI) or are locked into a certain stack (Remix). Building our own offers significant control at a relatively minor cost (i.e. it’s just not that complicated).

As an example: we pass dates around to the frontend with epoch millis. But sometimes when you’re staring at a long you might think it stores epoch seconds. Java has a better class for this: Instant, which you can retrieve either from. I wanted our devs to use Instants instead of longs in our DTOs, so:

  1. I added a long to Instant deserializer and Instant to long serializer to our JSON serializer
  2. I told typescript-generator to convert Instants to numbers with a <customTypeMapping> in types.d.ts
  3. I adjusted my getType(parameter) class to convert Instants to numbers instead in api.ts

That was it! Having written our own tooling this was an easy task and allowed us to further strengthen our use of types to reduce another source of bugs.

Complete demo

You can find a full demo on Github here: crummy/java-typescript-api-generator