Class modifiers for API maintainers

Dart 3.0 adds a few new modifiers that you can place on class and mixin declarations. If you are the author of a library package, these modifiers give you more control over what users are allowed to do with the types that your package exports. This can make it easier to evolve your package, and easier to know if a change to your code may break users.

Dart 3.0 also includes a breaking change around using classes as mixins. This change might not break your class, but it could break users of your class.

This guide walks you through these changes so you know how to use the new modifiers, and how they affect users of your libraries.

The mixin modifier on classes


The most important modifier to be aware of is mixin. Language versions prior to Dart 3.0 allow any class to be used as a mixin in another class's with clause, UNLESS the class:

  • Declares any non-factory constructors.
  • Extends any class other than Object.

This makes it easy to accidentally break someone else's code, by adding a constructor or extends clause to a class without realizing that others are using it in a with clause.

Dart 3.0 no longer allows classes to be used as mixins by default. Instead, you must explicitly opt-in to that behavior by declaring a mixin class:

mixin class Both {}

class UseAsMixin with Both {}
class UseAsSuperclass extends Both {}

If you update your package to Dart 3.0 and don't change any of your code, you may not see any errors. But you may inadvertently break users of your package if they were using your classes as mixins.

Migrating classes as mixins


If the class has a non-factory constructor, an extends clause, or a with clause, then it already can't be used as a mixin. Behavior won't change with Dart 3.0; there's nothing to worry about and nothing you need to do.

In practice, this describes about 90% of existing classes. For the remaining classes that can be used as mixins, you have to decide what you want to support.

Here are a few questions to help decide. The first is pragmatic:

  • Do you want to risk breaking any users? If the answer is a hard "no", then place mixin before any and all classes that could be used as a mixin. This exactly preserves the existing behavior of your API.

On the other hand, if you want to take this opportunity to rethink the affordances your API offers, then you may want to not turn it into a mixin class. Consider these two design questions:

  • Do you want users to be able to construct instances of it directly? In other words, is the class deliberately not abstract?

  • Do you want people to be able to use the declaration as a mixin? In other words, do you want them to be able to use it in with clauses?

If the answer to both is "yes", then make it a mixin class. If the answer to the second is "no", then just leave it as a class. If the answer to the first is "no" and the second is "yes", then change it from a class to a mixin declaration.

The last two options, leaving it a class or turning it into a pure mixin, are breaking API changes. You'll want to bump the major version of your package if you do this.

Other opt-in modifiers


Handling classes as mixins is the only critical change in Dart 3.0 that affects the API of your package. Once you've gotten this far, you can stop if you don't want to make other changes to what your package allows users to do.

Note that if you do continue and use any of the modifiers described below, it is potentially a breaking change to your package's API which necessitates a major version increment.

The interface modifier


Dart doesn't have a separate syntax for declaring pure interfaces. Instead, you declare an abstract class that happens to contain only abstract methods. When a user sees that class in your package's API, they may not know if it contains code they can reuse by extending the class, or whether it is instead meant to be used as an interface.

You can clarify that by putting the interface modifier on the class. That allows the class to be used in an implements clause, but prevents it from being used in extends.

Even when the class does have non-abstract methods, you may want to prevent users from extending it. Inheritance is one of the most powerful kinds of coupling in software, because it enables code reuse. But that coupling is also dangerous and fragile. When inheritance crosses package boundaries, it can be hard to evolve the superclass without breaking subclasses.

Marking the class interface lets users construct it (unless it's also marked abstract) and implement the class's interface, but prevents them from reusing any of its code.

When a class is marked interface, the restriction can be ignored within the library where the class is declared. Inside the library, you're free to extend it since it's all your code and presumably you know what you're doing. The restriction applies to other packages, and even other libraries within your own package.

The base modifier


The base modifier is somewhat the opposite of interface. It allows you to use the class in an extends clause, or use a mixin or mixin class in a with clause. But, it disallows code outside of the class's library from using the class or mixin in an implements clause.

This ensures that every object that is an instance of your class or mixin's interface inherits your actual implementation. In particular, this means that every instance will include all of the private members your class or mixin declares. This can help prevent runtime errors that might otherwise occur.

Consider this library:

class A {
  void _privateMethod() {
    print('I inherited from A');

void callPrivateMethod(A a) {

This code seems fine on its own, but there's nothing preventing a user from creating another library like this:

import 'a.dart';

class B implements A {
  // No implementation of _privateMethod()!

main() {
  callPrivateMethod(B()); // Runtime exception!

Adding the base modifier to the class can help prevent these runtime errors. As with interface, you can ignore this restriction in the same library where the base class or mixin is declared. Then subclasses in the same library will be reminded to implement the private methods. But note that the next section does apply:

Base transitivity


The goal of marking a class base is to ensure that every instance of that type concretely inherits from it. To maintain this, the base restriction is "contagious". Every subtype of a type marked base -- direct or indirect -- must also prevent being implemented. That means it must be marked base (or final or sealed, which we'll get to next).

Applying base to a type requires some care, then. It affects not just what users can do with your class or mixin, but also the affordances their subclasses can offer. Once you've put base on a type, the whole hierarchy under it is prohibited from being implemented.

That sounds intense, but it's how most other programming languages have always worked. Most don't have implicit interfaces at all, so when you declare a class in Java, C#, or other languages, you effectively have the same constraint.

The final modifier


If you want all of the restrictions of both interface and base, you can mark a class or mixin class final. This prevents anyone outside of your library from creating any kind of subtype of it: no using it in implements, extends, with, or on clauses.

This is the most restrictive for users of the class. All they can do is construct it (unless it's marked abstract). In return, you have the fewest restrictions as the class maintainer. You can add new methods, turn constructors into factory constructors, etc. without worrying about breaking any downstream users.

The sealed modifier


The last modifier, sealed, is special. It exists primarily to enable exhaustiveness checking in pattern matching. If a switch has cases for every direct subtype of a type marked sealed, then the compiler knows the switch is exhaustive.

sealed class Amigo {}

class Lucky extends Amigo {}

class Dusty extends Amigo {}

class Ned extends Amigo {}

String lastName(Amigo amigo) => switch (amigo) {
      Lucky _ => 'Day',
      Dusty _ => 'Bottoms',
      Ned _ => 'Nederlander',

This switch has a case for each of the subtypes of Amigo. The compiler knows that every instance of Amigo must be an instance of one of those subtypes, so it knows the switch is safely exhaustive and doesn't require any final default case.

For this to be sound, the compiler enforces two restrictions:

  1. The sealed class can't itself be directly constructible. Otherwise, you could have an instance of Amigo that isn't an instance of any of the subtypes. So every sealed class is implicitly abstract too.

  2. Every direct subtype of the sealed type must be in the same library where the sealed type is declared. This way, the compiler can find them all. It knows that there aren't other hidden subtypes floating around that would not match any of the cases.

The second restriction is similar to final. Like final, it means that a class marked sealed can't be directly extended, implemented, or mixed in outside of the library where it's declared. But, unlike base and final, there is no transitive restriction:

sealed class Amigo {}
class Lucky extends Amigo {}
class Dusty extends Amigo {}
class Ned extends Amigo {}
// This is an error:
class Bad extends Amigo {}

// But these are both fine:
class OtherLucky extends Lucky {}
class OtherDusty implements Dusty {}

Of course, if you want the subtypes of your sealed type to be restricted as well, you can get that by marking them using interface, base, final, or sealed.

sealed versus final


If you have a class that you don't want users to be able to directly subtype, when should you use sealed versus final? A couple of simple rules:

  • If you want users to be able to directly construct instances of the class, then it can't use sealed since sealed types are implicitly abstract.

  • If the class has no subtypes in your library, then there's no point in using sealed since you get no exhaustiveness checking benefits.

Otherwise, if the class does have some subtypes that you define, then sealed is likely what you want. If users see that the class has a few subtypes, it's handy to be able to handle each of them separately as switch cases and have the compiler know that the entire type is covered.

Using sealed does mean that if you later add another subtype to the library, it's a breaking API change. When a new subtype appears, all of those existing switches become non-exhaustive since they don't handle the new type. It's exactly like adding a new value to an enum.

Those non-exhaustive switch compile errors are useful to users because they draw the user's attention to places in their code where they'll need to handle the new type.

But it does mean that whenever you add a new subtype, it's a breaking change. If you want the freedom to add new subtypes in a non-breaking way, then it's better to mark the supertype using final instead of sealed. That means that when a user switches on a value of that supertype, even if they have cases for all of the subtypes, the compiler will force them to add another default case. That default case will then be what is executed if you add more subtypes later.



As an API designer, these new modifiers give you control over how users work with your code, and conversely how you are able to evolve your code without breaking theirs.

But these options carry complexity with them: you now have more choices to make as an API designer. Also, since these features are new, we still don't know what the best practices will be. Every language's ecosystem is different and has different needs.

Fortunately, you don't need to figure it out all at once. We chose the defaults deliberately so that even if you do nothing, your classes mostly have the same affordances they had before 3.0. If you just want to keep your API the way it was, put mixin on the classes that already supported that, and you're done.

Over time, as you get a sense of where you want finer control, you can consider applying some of the other modifiers:

  • Use interface to prevent users from reusing your class's code while allowing them to re-implement its interface.

  • Use base to require users to reuse your class's code and ensure every instance of your class's type is an instance of that actual class or a subclass.

  • Use final to completely prevent a class from being extended.

  • Use sealed to opt in to exhaustiveness checking on a family of subtypes.

When you do, increment the major version when publishing your package, since these modifiers all imply restrictions that are breaking changes.