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Running ES6 code in the browser

I recently wanted to create a tiny tiny React component outside of any React project I am currently working on. Something small, to be tested in the browser, just as an experiment. It actually took me some time to figure out the best way to work on this, so I thought it might be worth a short blog post in case you are in such a need too.

Before getting started, I shall mention that I came to the point where I exclusively write ES6 code (sorry, ES2015…) so I wanted to be able to write my React component in ES6 (oops, I did it again) and compile it to some JavaScript the browser can understand. To do so, there is Babel.

And because I wanted to import React as a dependency inside my component, and not rely on global variables and import React as a script in the browser, I needed a way to make import/require work in the browser. To do so, there is Browserify.

Now, using them both could be tricky if it was not for Babelify. It is a Babel plugin doing both ES6 to 5 compilation and Browserify magic. To be entirely honest with you right now, I am not entirely sure what I’m saying. But that’s basically how it works.

Last but not least, I came across Watchify, a watch mode for Browserify builds. This extra tool allowed me to have a watcher running to make Babelify recompile the dist file every time there is a change. Handy!

-ify all the things

From there, we can create our package.json file, starting with (dev)dependencies:

# Dependencies for the React component itself
npm install react react-dom --save
# Development dependencies to compile all the stuff
npm install babelify browserify --save-dev

Now, we only need to create a pair of npm scripts to make our life easier and save us from typing some long commands again and again. The first script we need is a build task. It runs browserify binary on our main file, compile it with babelify binary, then output in a new file.

browserify src/browser.js -t babelify -o dist/index.js

Our second script is the watcher. It works exactly the same except it uses watchify instead of browserify:

watchify src/browser.js -t babelify -o dist/index.js

Last but not least, we put them in our package.json:

{
  "scripts": {
    "build": "browserify src/browser.js -t babelify -o dist/index.js",
    "watch": "watchify src/browser.js -t babelify -o dist/index.js"
  }
}

Done! At this point, the basic index.html page can safely link to dist/index.js script which has been converted to ES5 compliant JavaScript, and bundles every dependency needed for the project to work (React and such).

<script src="dist/index.js"></script>
Hugo Giraudel’s avatar

Hugo Giraudel is a CSS goblin, Sass hacker, and serial writer who used to work at Edenspiekermann (Berlin) as a front-end developer.