Find out the best Node.js bundler and build tools that help you develop high-traffic web applications, responsive mobile apps, messaging apps, and IoT applications.
What Are Node.js Bundler and Build Tools?
A Node.js module bundler can automatically identify dependencies, source files, and third-party dependencies to keep them error-free and up-to-date. In addition, module bundlers facilitate functions like hot module replacement and code splitting to improve app performance.
Node.js Build Tools
Web/Mobile App Development Challenges for Developers
Developers usually face the following challenges when developing apps using Node.js:
- Most web or mobile apps are complex and need hundreds of scripts. If developers run them separately in HTML, the app will take forever to respond. Thus, developers need a single Js file but Node.js does not provide that.
- Also, there will be multiple codes or dependencies that have the same variables and functions. But, their execution takes place differently. Manual tracking of such files is a huge burden and highly error-prone.
- When developers import third-party libraries from npm, these components come with other dependencies. Thus, developers will need to manually create a massive flowchart of codebases, dependencies, libraries, and library dependencies.
- A trivial but common issue with many files is naming them.
- Lastly, a developer needs to ensure that all these components work as intended in all the browsers. Ensuring browser supportability is a daunting task if you plan to do it manually.
The issues mentioned above can drive your app development project to failure. Not to mention you have already invested too much time and money. To avoid that, you need specialized tools.
How Does Node.js Bundler or Build Tools Help Developers?
Today’s front-end, back-end, or full-stack developers use specialized Node.js build tools and bundlers to automate most of the maintenance tasks. Thus, they can focus more on the app’s user interface (UI), user experience (UX), features, and performance. Moreover, you can take your apps to the public if investing less time in development and debugging.
Here is how module bundlers and Node.js build tools help developers:
- Automatically manages dependency relationships
- Loads the modules in exact dependency order as you want
- Automatically creates a dependency chart for debugging purposes
- Ensures cross-browser supportability of your app’s modules
- Optimizes and reduces the codes
- Loads and optimizes assets like images, animations, CSS, etc.
Without further ado, let’s look at some popular Node.js build tools and bundlers that you should be using:
Its CLI is also pretty easy to understand and has only three commands. For example, to create a new project, use brunch new; to start building, use brunch build, and for live compilation, use brunch watch.
If you are looking for faster web app development, Snowpack is the latest option. Snowpack is a much more advanced option since it was released in 2019 when most web browsers started supporting ESNext and ES Modules.
Snowpack follows the unbundled development process, which is faster than the usual module bundlers. When you modify and save a single file, a conventional bundler will rebuild and rebundle the entire application and delay development.
In Snowpack, you build each file once, and the tool caches all the files forever. When you modify a file and save that, the tool rebuilds the altered file, only saving time and effort. Additionally, Snowpack introduces instant updates of in-browser web apps by utilizing Hot-Module Replacement (HMR).
Parcel is again a new module bundler for Node.js projects with many promising features. For example, it facilitates lighting-fast bundling through a multicore design architecture. It can utilize your workstation’s hardware for the fast bundling of modules.
- Hot-Module Replacement (HMR) enables you to modify your web app’s code without refreshing it.
- It can split a bundle into small pieces to facilitate lazy loading and thus optimizes app performance.
- The tool can automatically transform the app code using Babel, PostHTML, and PostCSS.
Parcel also offers performance optimization of production-based apps. Its optimization processes include tree-shaking, image optimization, minification, compression, content hashing, and code splitting.
This program comes with a sourced copy of the gyp-next project of GitHub. The Chromium team also used the same gyp-next to support the native addons development of Node.js. Node-gyp supports various target versions of Node.js, like Node.js 17, 16, 15, 14, etc.
Thus, if you do not have the target Node.js version installed on your computer, node-gyp will fetch the necessary headers or development files from the internet. You can effortlessly install node-gyp using npm, and the tool supports Unix, macOS, and Windows computers.
Its coding interface lets you write focused and individual tasks to reduce repetition while increasing accuracy. Later on, you can compose the individual functionalities into one large application.
gulp also offers many community plugins to automate various tasks of your Node.js app development project. For example, gulp-rename helps with file renaming, gulp-live reload for real-time reload, and gulp-uglify for code minification.
Rollup lets you seamlessly and freely combine individual functions, assets, and dependencies from various libraries. Therefore, your team can reduce the development time and take the app to market faster than your competitors.
Rollup addresses various development phase issues of Node.js projects, and these are:
- Analyzes the entry point file and automatically sorts all the dependencies
- It creates an elaborate chart for all dependencies
- While compiling module resources, it carefully avoids name collision
- Implements tree-shaking to keep the project free from unnecessary dependencies
Since the build tool follows a minimalistic approach, the resulting web or mobile app becomes faster and lighter.
The tool is available under the MIT license so that you can leverage the program in development projects for free. The bundler is still in the experiment phase and undergoing rapid development. The latest version of esbuild is v0.14.27, and soon a new version will replace it.
In addition, it offers a safe environment for Node.js applications since the tool has been built using Rust. Rust is well known for safe concurrency and memory safety since it uses a borrow checker for reference validation.
Its faster module bundling can also be attributed to the multicore compilation technology. Therefore, if you own a high-performance or gaming computer, Packem can use the extra computing power to bundle individual modules into one code.
One of the most popular and widely used static Node.js module bundlers is webpack. It follows a basic workflow for module bundling—the dependency graph method. In simple words, it analyzes your inputs like code files, libraries, dependencies, and assets.
Then it creates a dependency relationship graph. This graph facilitates the mapping of every module the application requires. You can also customize the input configs to generate different outcomes.
Webpack is outstanding, but learning it is a time-consuming process. The config file it produces is somewhat complex and becomes more ambiguous because of its hard syntaxes.
Nx is an extensible, smart, and fast-build system for Node.js projects. Its design philosophy is similar to that of the Visual Studio Code. The VS Code text editor lets you become highly productive without using extensions.
Like VS Code, Nx is simple, minimalistic, and generic. Nx also gives you access to various plugins for your Node.js projects. However, plugins are optional. For productive development, Nx offers interactive visualizations, VS Code plugins, and GitHub integration.
When you edit a code, Nx analyzes the whole workspace and rebuilds the module that changed. It does not retest or rebuild every module on every commit.
Want to convert your Node.js project into an executable? You should try pkg. It is meant for container-based applications and not for serverless environments.
You can run the packaged Node.js executable file on any device, even without a Node.js installation. Thus, it is suitable in the following scenarios:
- Commercialization of your app and excluding the source modules
- Create a trial version of your app for public presentations
- Increase asset portability by including assets into the package
The tool and its package is available in GitHub under the MIT License. Hence, you have the option to use it for free.
Millions of developers prefer Node.js as a development platform for mobile and web apps. Single-page or multi-page web apps built with Node.js look better than standalone software.
The user interface and data execution of such apps also are of the best quality. Moreover, big brands like Uber, Netflix, Walmart, Trello, and LinkedIn use Node.js to accommodate high traffic volume.