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WTF is webpack?

webpack has been helping us write modular front-end JavaScript for many years. Learn the basics of module bundling and why webpack is so powerful.

webpack is a module bundler.

Cool, but WTF is a module bundler?

JavaScript modules have been around for a long time. They provide a nice clean way to break up code into individual pieces (modules), so each file can focus on doing one thing and doing that thing effectively (i.e. the single responsibility principle).

This ability has been around in Node.js for many years. You probably recognize this pattern if you've written any Node code:

const lodash = require("lodash")

For client-side JavaScript, we've needed frameworks to help us achieve similar functionality because browsers did support module loading. That has changed and browser support is improving, but there is often still a need to do some work on your own.

webpack is one of those tools that helps in this regard. It allows you to write your code in modules and then provides a mechanism to bundle that code together.

The example on their homepage is a nice simple one. You can have a src/index.js file like this:

src/index.js

import bar from "./bar.js"

bar()

And src/bar.js that looks like this:

src/bar.js

export default function bar() {
// ...
}

Using webpack's CLI, you can add a little config:

webpack.config.js

const path = require("path")

module.exports = {
entry: "./src/index.js",
output: {
path: path.resolve(__dirname, "dist"),
filename: "bundle.js"
}
}

And then bundle by running the following command on the command line:

$ webpack

Doing so would take your two JS files in src and combine them into a single file dist/bundle.js, which you could then safely load from a webpage with confidence that you have compatibility with browsers used across the web.

While the landscape will change over the coming years, webpack is an essential tool in many front-end projects' arsenal today.

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