Null safety codelab

This codelab teaches you about Dart’s null-safe type system, which was introduced in Dart 2.12. When you opt into null safety, types in your code are non-nullable by default, meaning that values can’t be null unless you say they can be.

This codelab covers the following material:

  • Nullable and non-nullable types.
  • When to add ? or ! to indicate nullability or non-nullability.
  • Flow analysis and type promotion.
  • How the late keyword affects variables and initialization.

Using embedded DartPad editors, you can test your knowledge by completing and running exercises. To get the most out of this codelab, you should have some knowledge of basic Dart syntax.

Nullable and non-nullable types

When you opt in to null safety, all types are non-nullable by default. For example, if you have a variable of type String, it will always contain a string.

If you want a variable of type String to accept any string or the value null, give the variable a nullable type by adding a question mark (?) after the type name. For example, a variable of type String? can contain a string, or it can be null.

Exercise: Non-nullable types

The variable a below is declared as an int. Try changing the value in the assignment to 3 or 145. Anything but null!

void main() {
  int a;
  a = null;
  print('a is $a.');

Exercise: Nullable types

What if you need a variable that can hold a null value? Try changing the type of a so that a can be either null or an int:

void main() {
  int a;
  a = null;
  print('a is $a.');

Exercise: Nullable type parameters for generics

Type parameters for generics can also be nullable or non-nullable. Try using question marks to correct the type declarations of aNullableListOfStrings and aListOfNullableStrings:

void main() {
  List<String> aListOfStrings = ['one', 'two', 'three'];
  List<String> aNullableListOfStrings = [];
  List<String> aListOfNullableStrings = ['one', null, 'three'];

  print('aListOfStrings is $aListOfStrings.');
  print('aNullableListOfStrings is $aNullableListOfStrings.');
  print('aListOfNullableStrings is $aListOfNullableStrings.');

The null assertion operator (!)

If you’re sure that an expression with a nullable type isn’t null, you can use a null assertion operator (!) to make Dart treat it as non-nullable. By adding ! just after the expression, you tell Dart that the value won’t be null, and that it’s safe to assign it to a non-nullable variable.

Exercise: Null assertion

In the code below, try adding exclamation points to correct the broken assignments:

int? couldReturnNullButDoesnt() => -3;

void main() {
  int? couldBeNullButIsnt = 1;
  List<int?> listThatCouldHoldNulls = [2, null, 4];

  int a = couldBeNullButIsnt;
  int b = listThatCouldHoldNulls.first; // first item in the list
  int c = couldReturnNullButDoesnt().abs(); // absolute value

  print('a is $a.');
  print('b is $b.');
  print('c is $c.');

Type promotion

With sound null safety, Dart’s flow analysis has been extended to take nullability into account. Nullable variables that can’t possibly contain null values are treated like non-nullable variables. This behavior is called type promotion.

Exercise: Definite assignment

Dart’s type system can track where variables are assigned and read, and can verify that non-nullable fields are given values before any code tries to read from them. This process is called definite assignment.

Try uncommenting the if-else statement in the code below, and watch the analyzer errors disappear:

void main() {
  String text;

  //if ( < 12) {
  //  text = "It's morning! Let's make aloo paratha!";
  //} else {
  //  text = "It's afternoon! Let's make biryani!";


Exercise: Null checking

In the code below, add an if statement to the beginning of getLength that returns zero if str is null:

int getLength(String? str) {
  // Add null check here

  return str.length;

void main() {
  print(getLength('This is a string!'));

Exercise: Promotion with exceptions

Promotion works with exceptions as well as return statements. Try a null check that throws an Exception instead of returning zero.

int getLength(String? str) {
  // Try throwing an exception here if `str` is null.

  return str.length;

void main() {

The late keyword

Sometimes variables — fields in a class, or top-level variables — should be non-nullable, but they can’t be assigned a value immediately. For cases like that, use the late keyword.

When you put late in front of a variable declaration, that tells Dart the following:

  • Don’t assign that variable a value yet.
  • You will assign it a value later.
  • You’ll make sure that the variable has a value before the variable is used.

If you declare a variable late and the variable is read before it’s assigned a value, an error is thrown.

Exercise: Using late

Try using the late keyword to correct the following code. For a little extra fun afterward, try commenting out the line that sets description!

class Meal {
  String description;

  void setDescription(String str) {
    description = str;

void main() {
  final myMeal = Meal();

Exercise: Late circular references

The late keyword is helpful for tricky patterns like circular references. The following code has two objects that need to maintain non-nullable references to each other. Try using the late keyword to fix this code.

Note that you don’t need to remove final. You can create late final variables: you set their values once, and after that they’re read-only.

class Team {
  final Coach coach;

class Coach {
  final Team team;

void main() {
  final myTeam = Team();
  final myCoach = Coach(); = myCoach; = myTeam;

  print('All done!');

Exercise: Late and lazy

Here’s another pattern that late can help with: lazy initialization for expensive non-nullable fields. Try this:

  1. Run this code without changing it, and note the output.
  2. Think: What will change if you make _cache a late field?
  3. Make _cache a late field, and run the code. Was your prediction correct?
int _computeValue() {
  print('In _computeValue...');
  return 3;

class CachedValueProvider {
  final _cache = _computeValue();
  int get value => _cache;

void main() {
  print('Calling constructor...');
  var provider = CachedValueProvider();
  print('Getting value...');
  print('The value is ${provider.value}!');

What’s next?

Congratulations, you’ve finished the codelab! If you’d like to learn more, here are some suggestions for where to go next:

If you’re interested in using embedded DartPads, like this codelab does, see best practices for using DartPad in tutorials. If you’re interested in improving this codelab, see issue #3093.