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Setting up Webpack 5 with React and Babel from scratch [2021]

riyanegi profile image RiyaNegi ・6 min read

Creating your own Webpack configurations sounds intimidating to even intermediate React developers. But the best way to tackle a problem is to face it head on! This blog will help you setup your own basic Webpack bundler with React and Babel for your next React project! It is also suitable for people who are trying to understand basics of Webpack, how Webpack is setup or exactly what happens under the hood. So let's dive into it!

TLDR

For coders who want to straightaway take a look at the code.
Github repo

Step 1 (Setting up folder and downloading dependencies)

  • Start with creating a folder and name it whatever you like. I named mine react-webpack.
  • Go inside the file and initialize the package manager. -y stands for β€œyes” to all general development questions asked on the command line.
npm init -y
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This is what it will look like.
Alt Text

  • Next we will install react dependencies.
npm i react react-dom
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  • Your dependencies in the package.json file will now have following:
"dependencies": {
   "react": "^17.0.1",
   "react-dom": "^17.0.1"
 }
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  • Next we will install dev dependencies and loaders
npm i -D @babel/core @babel/preset-env @babel/preset-react babel-loader file-loader css-loader style-loader webpack webpack-cli html-webpack-plugin
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  • This is how the devDependencies will look like in package.json:
"devDependencies": {
   "@babel/core": "^7.13.10",
   "@babel/preset-env": "^7.13.10",
   "@babel/preset-react": "^7.12.13",
   "babel-loader": "^8.2.2",
   "css-loader": "^5.1.3",
   "file-loader": "^6.2.0",
   "html-webpack-plugin": "^5.3.1",
   "style-loader": "^2.0.0",
   "webpack": "^5.27.0",
   "webpack-cli": "^4.5.0",
   "webpack-dev-server": "^3.11.2"
 }
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Step 2 (Setting up Webpack with Babel)

  • Next we will create a file called .babelrc which will transpile our react code from jsx to regular js. We need to include the following presets :
{
   "presets": [
       "@babel/preset-env",
       "@babel/preset-react"
   ]
}
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Our code and file structure by far looks like this.
Alt Text

  • Next we will create the webpack file. We will name it webpack.config.js. This webpack folder essentially runs in the node environment and not the browser. Therefore we can write vanilla js code here.

This is how the file will look like:

const path = require('path')
const HtmlWebpackPlugin = require('html-webpack-plugin')

module.exports = {
  // Where files should be sent once they are bundled
 output: {
   path: path.join(__dirname, '/dist'),
   filename: 'index.bundle.js'
 },
  // webpack 5 comes with devServer which loads in development mode
 devServer: {
   port: 3000,
   watchContentBase: true
 },
  // Rules of how webpack will take our files, complie & bundle them for the browser 
 module: {
   rules: [
     {
       test: /\.(js|jsx)$/,
       exclude: /nodeModules/,
       use: {
         loader: 'babel-loader'
       }
     },
     {
       test: /\.css$/,
       use: ['style-loader', 'css-loader']
     }
   ]
 },
 plugins: [new HtmlWebpackPlugin({ template: './src/index.html' })],
}
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Understanding webpack.config.js

  • In output we mention where the files should be sent once they are bundled.

    • path mentions the name of the directory to be created where all the bundled files will be stored. We have named our folder dist, which is a common practice.
    • And filename is the name we set for the new bundled file that will be created after webpack runs it's magic(basically bundles all the js code into one file).
  • devServer is used to quickly develop an application, which is contrary to the production mode, which takes slighlty more time to build the application since it minifies the file, which doesn't happen in development mode.

    • With port we can set a port number of our choice. I have set it to 3000.
    • watchContentBase triggers a full page reload when any changes are made in any file.It is disabled by default.
  • module is where you pass the rules for bundling files.

    • test is where we mention the extension of file which needs to be targetted by the specific loader. All .js or .jsx files need to be bundled by the babel loader.
    • exclude is where we mention files that are needed to be ignored by the bundler.
    • Same goes for the css files.It is important to take in note that the array of use :['style-loader', 'css-loader'] needs to be written in that exact order.
    • When webpack bundles the css files,this is the order it follows :
      • It first runs the css-loader which turns css files to common js.
      • Then it runs style-loader which extracts css into files as string.
  • Lastly we add a plugin called HtmlWebpackPlugin which ensures that the webpack knows which html file template to follow for running the app.

Step 3 (Setting up react folder)

Okay so the complicated part is done!Let us build our react app files now!πŸ˜„
Create a src folder and inside it create 4 files.

src

index.html
index.js
App.js
App.css

index.html

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">

<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
    <title>React Webpack App</title>
</head>

<body>
    <div id="app"></div>
    <script src="index.bundle.js"></script>
</body>

</html>
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index.js

import React from "react"
import ReactDom from "react-dom"
import App from "./App"
import "./App.css"

ReactDom.render(<App />, document.getElementById('app'))
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App.js

I am creating a very basic app for example but you can add in more stuff you like.

import React from "react"

function App() {
    return (<div>
        <h2>Welcome to React App</h2>
        <h3>Date : {new Date().toDateString()}</h3>
    </div>)
}

export default App
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App.css

h1{
    color: teal
}
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package.json

Okay so now we have to create a script for running our app in package.json file. Add the following scripts :

"scripts": {
    "serve": "webpack serve --mode development",
    "build": "webpack --mode production"
  }
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Step 4 (Running the app)

  • Now simply run it through the CLI using the run command and you can see your code running on the mentioned port. In my case it is running on port 3000. This how the bundle looks in development mode.
npm run serve
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Alt Text

  • You can then do build to see how the dist folder is build in production mode.
npm run build
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-Once the dist folder is built, right click on the index.html file in the dist folder and click on 'Open in live server' to check out how it will look in production mode. This is how the bundle looks in production mode. It is minfied.

Alt Text

Bonus: Optimizations!

For optimizng the react web app, we will separate the JS/JSX files and CSS/SASS files.
The reason why this is good practice is because in Webpack, loaders like style-loader and css-loader pre-process the stylesheets and embed them into the output JavaScript bundle, instead of the HTML file.
And sometimes because of this there might be a flash of unstyled content (FOUC) where for a second you can see ugly plain HTML without any styling. To avoid this bad visual experience we need to split files and link CSS in the HTML file so that they load at the same time and there is no FOUC.

  • Plugins like MiniCssExtractPlugin can help in separating and minifying the CSS files and embedding them as a link into the HTML file, and thus avoiding FOUC. Install it with the following command:
npm install --save-dev mini-css-extract-plugin
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  • Here's how we can add it. First require it in your webpack.config.js and replace the MiniCssExtractPlugin loader with style-loader and also add it in the plugin.

  • It should look something like this (I have highlighted the 3 places where changes are required):

Alt Text

  • Finally run build command again and in your dist folder you can see your new main.css file.
npm run build
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  • This is the final look. I added a generic form element to show how we can build various components with their own CSS files and build a React web app similar to CRA. Alt Text

Credits

If you are a visual learner and want a video explanation, check out this amazing video by James Bubb. I followed his Youtube Video to learn and build this react starter template.

Discussion (5)

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kunalt96 profile image
Kunal Tiwari

It's simple and awesome for new starters or developers. Keep up the good work πŸ™‚

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riyanegi profile image
RiyaNegi Author

Thanks a lot !😊

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kunalt96 profile image
Kunal Tiwari

Welcome && Welcome to the community

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andreidascalu profile image
Andrei Dascalu

Pretty nice intro. I always advocate doing it "the hard way" a few times rather than use ready-to-go setups like create react app.

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riyanegi profile image
RiyaNegi Author

Thanks! and yeah It's pretty intimidating to do "the hard way", but once you start working on it, you understand things a lot better!