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AngularJS And Browserify — The Dream Team For Single Page Applications

codecentric Blog - Sun, 17-Aug-14 23:45

Browserify Your AngularJS App

Let’s face it, structuring a large JavaScript project is not trivial. The tool Browserify enables you to use CommonJS modules for your frontend JavaScript, even though browsers do not support CommonJS modules natively. Browserify transforms all modules and their dependencies and creates one big lump of JavaScript which works in the browser – the Browserify bundle. Can we also use Browserify in an AngularJS project? Does it even make sense? Yes, and yes, definitely. This post shows how that is supposed to work.

Browserify — Why?

The biggest advantage when using Browserify is the modularization of the code base. Up to and including version ECMAScript 5, JavaScript does not offer a native module concept. Thus, Browserify/CommonJS is a direct competitor to AMD/RequireJS and also to ECMAScript 6 transpilers like Traceur (ES6 offers native modules). In my opinion, Browserify offers a number of advantages.

Including packages from npm directly is one of these advantages, maybe the most important one. The npm registry contains a multitude of JavaScript modules (close to 90,000 modules at the time of writing). And npm is no longer a package manager for server side JavaScript only. The npm registry also contains a lot of packages for the browser. Classics like jQuery, jQuery UI and es5-shim are already available via npm. Each day, more frontend projects make their releases available on npm, so the numbers are growing. Even packages which were not intended to be used in the browser originally can often be used in frontend projects, thanks to Browserify.

Thus, Browserify is a very good alternative to other frontend project setups (like RequireJS or a bunch of script tags).

Browserify — How?

To transform the sources, Browserify starts at one CommonJS module (the entry point) and follows all require statements in this module. The entry point and all dependencies are transferred into the bundle. The require statements in the dependencies are also resolved and included into the bundle. This process is continued recursively until all require statements have been processed and the bundle is complete.

AngularJS and Browserify

Using Browserify means using CommonJS modules and the CommonJS constructs exports/module.exports and require. When you are working with AngularJS at the same time, we need to decide how to to combine CommonJS modules with AngularJS’ dependency system. There are a few proposals how to do this. The most interesting in this respect is probably a presentation by Ben Clinkinbeard from ng-conf 2014. Some of his ideas have been used in this post.


The example repository for this post is available on GitHub. If you would rather read code instead of prose, head over there. The example app is a todo app, as usual. The example repository can also be used as a project template for your next AngularJS project with Browserify.

Include AngularJS

Before we start out implementing the app, we first need to import the AngularJS libraries. Angular Core is available as a package in the npm registry and is maintained by Ben Clinkinbeard. So it should be sufficient to run

npm install angular --save

Then, just use the following in the code:

var angular = require('angular');

That works fine, but as soon as we wanted to include additional AngularJS modules (like angular-route or angular-animate), we might find that just using the npm packages is suboptimal. Both angular-route as well as angular-animate are available on npm, but the packages are all maintained by different people. While Ben’s AngularJS core package has nearly all stable versions from the 1.2 branch (up to 1.2.21, missing only 1.2.22, which is the latest 1.2 release at the time of writing), the other packages are sometimes on older AngularJS versions and it is not even always immediately obvious, to which AngularJS versions a package on npm relates. The relatively new npm package angular-bsfy could be an alternative, as it contains matching versions of all official AngularJS libraries. But its promise to be “always up to date” is already broken with 1.2.17 as the latest version, so it is 2 month and 5 patch levels behind.

All of this might be a bit confusing, at the least, it is annoying. It will probably only change for the better when (if) the AngularJS team decides to publish releases via npm. They actually have been planning to do this for a long time, as can be seen in this lengthy GitHub issue discussion, but it does not seem to have a high priority.

Fortunately, with Browserify it is no big deal to include AngularJS on our own. We just download the required files (angular.js, angular.min.js as well as all additional modules we need, say angular-route.js and angular-route.min.js) in the desired version and put them into a dedicated directory (like app/js/third-party/angular/). Then, we add the following file to that directory:


module.exports = angular;

This is equivalent to the code in Ben Clinkinbeard’s package. We can always change the require statement to require('./angular.js'); to switch to the non-minified version of angular during development.

We also add the following to package.json:

"browser": {
  "angular": "./app/js/third-party/angular/angular-index.js",
  "angular-route": "./app/js/third-party/angular/angular-route.min.js"

Now angular core as well as angular-route are available. The advantage of doing this on our own is that we have full control over the versions being used and we do not rely on when and if someone publishes the desired version on npm.

Integrating AngularJS With CommonJS — A Play In Three Acts

In an ordinary AngularJS project (without Browserify) each file usually contains one AngularJS entity, be it a controller, a service, a provider, etc. The typical AngularJS boilerplate code to start the declaration of a controller might look like this:


(function() {
  'use strict';
  .controller('TodoCtrl', function($scope, TodoService) {

In the simplest possible project setup, all JavaScript files are referenced in the HTML by a bunch of script tags.


<script src="/app/js/service/todos.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/app/js/service/imprint.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/app/js/controller/edit_todo.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/app/js/controller/todo.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/app/js/controller/todo_list.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/app/js/controller/imprint.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="/app/js/controller/footer.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
// more script tags

The Naive Approach

We could do something quite similar when using Browserify. A CommonJS module to define a controller would look like that:


'use strict';
var angular = require('angular');
.controller('TodoCtrl', function($scope, TodoService) {

The only difference then is that we omit the IIFE — by definition, CommonJS modules always have their own scope and do not access the global scope. This is also why we need the statement var angular = require('angular');, there is no global variable angular.

Since Browserify merges all CommonJS module into a single file, the script tags in index.html will be replaced by a single script tag for the Browserify bundle. This lengthy enumeration now moves to a JavaScript file, for example to our entry point. The file that declares the AngularJS module is a reasonable choice for the entry point.


'use strict';
var angular = require('angular');
var app = angular.module('todoApp', [ 'ngRoute' ]);
// ... more require statements, one per file

Right now using Browserify does not yet really help to structure the code. We ought to do better than that.

One index.js Per Source Directory

The first flaw we would like to get rid of is the long list of require statements in app.js. app.js will only list the directories from which we import modules.


'use strict';
var angular = require('angular');
var app = angular.module('todoApp', []);
// one require statement per sub directory instead of one per file

If we pass a directory instead of a file as the argument to the require function, it will automatically look for a file named index.js in that directory and require this file. To make use of this feature, we create an index.js in each directory that defines which files from this directory will be required:


'use strict';

A little aside: Reasonable directory structures for AngularJS projects have been discussed a number of times. The suggestions of this post are independent of the directory structure, it does not matter if the directories are created along a technical axis (controller, service, directive, …) or along the business domain.

With this change the code already has become a bit cleaner. But we are still using Browserify primarily as an oversized tool for script concatenation — not entirely satisfying.

Where To Put The AngularJS Boilerplate Code?

Our next optimization takes care of the usual AngularJS boilerplate code that is needed to define an AngularJS entity (controllers, services, …). Instead of putting this code in each CommonJS module, we can also put this into the index.js files:


'use strict';
var app = require('angular').module('todoApp');
app.controller('EditTodoCtrl', require('./edit_todo'));
app.controller('FooterCtrl', require('./footer'));
app.controller('TodoCtrl', require('./todo'));
app.controller('TodoListCtrl', require('./todo_list'));
app.controller('ImprintCtrl', require('./imprint'));

Now the individual CommonJS modules for each controller and service are independent of AngularJS:


'use strict';
module.exports = function($scope, TodoService) {

All in all the code is now considerably cleaner. An added bonus of this approach is improved testability for the AngularJS entities (see next section).

Unit Tests

The fact that the individual CommonJS modules are now comprised only of one single function which does not depend on AngularJS, has a distinct advantage: We can write unit tests independently of AngularJS, so we can use any test framework we like. Here is an example with Mocha and Chai:


'use strict';
var chai = require('chai')
  , expect = chai.expect;
var TodoServiceModule = require('../../../app/js/service/todos.js');
describe('The TodoService', function() {
  var TodoService;
  beforeEach(function() {
    TodoService = new TodoServiceModule();
  it('should have some todos initially', function() {
    var todos = TodoService.getTodos();
    expect(todos[0].title).to.equal('Buy milk');

These tests can be executed without AngularJS and, in particular, without a browser. For example, we can simply execute them with Mocha in Node.js. This allows for rapid feedback and can easily be integrated into CI builds (because it is headless).

Additionally we should execute the unit tests in real browsers once in while, since there can be minute differences between Node.js and browser JavaScript runtimes. That’s very easy with Mocha, we just need to put the Mocha library and the tests in a small HTML file. Since the tests contain require statements, we need to process them with Browserify first (see below).

Karma is another possibility to execute tests in the browser. Karma also supports Mocha test suites and it is possible to trigger Karma from a task runner like Gulp or Grunt, so this can be used in a CI environment.

Command Line Tools: Browserify & Watchify

No matter how nicely structured our code is, it’s all for naught when it does not work in the browser. We need to process our sources with Browserify to turn a bunch of CommonJS modules into something that the browser understands:

browserify --entry app/js/app.js --outfile app/dist/app.js

It would be quite annoying for the development workflow if we had to run this manually after every change. That’s the reason for Watchify. Watchify is a companion tool to Browserify and keeps running in the background, watching the source files. As soon as one changes, Watchify recreates the Browserify bundle. It supports the same command line parameters as Browserify, thus the command to start it is:

watchify --entry app/js/app.js --outfile app/dist/app.js.

To browserify the tests (to execute them with Karma, for example) the following command can be used:

browserify test/unit/controller/*.js test/unit/service/*.js --outfile test/browserified/browserified_tests.js


watchify test/unit/controller/*.js test/unit/service/*.js --outfile test/browserified/browserified_tests.js

There’s a directory named bin in the example repository, which has some useful shell scripts to start Browserify and Watchify.

Gulp Build, Live Reload, Karma, Protractor And All That

Doing things with a build system might be even more convenient then the command line tools Browserify and Watchify. gulp.js is a good choice here. The example repository contains a gulpfile.js with all the stuff that you would expect from a decent build configuration:

  • linting the JavaScript code with ESlint
  • run unit tests with Mocha (in Node.js),
  • process the code with Browserify (to create a non-minified bunde),
  • ngmin & uglify (to create a minified Browserify bundle),
  • bundle the unit tests with Browserify and execute them in the Browser via Karma,
  • execute end-to-end tests with Protractor,
  • a server for static assets (gulp-connect),
  • browser live reload.

During development we can simply have gulp watch running in the background all the time. Every time we change a source file, the Browserify bundle will be updated and the browser automatically loads the new bundle so that the change is there immediately.


AngularJS projects profit from Browserify, too. It offers some nifty advantages:

  • modularizing with CommonJS
  • simple use of npm packages
  • improved testability, especially for unit testing
  • very mature tooling (Browserify command line tool, Watchify, integration with Gulp and Grunt)

And here we haven’t even tapped the advanced features of Browserify:

  • transforms
  • using Node.js core modules in the browser
  • source maps
  • cloud based cross browser tests with testling-ci

Therefore, the recommendation for today is: Try Browserify in your next project! And then, never again go without it. :-)

This is a translation of a German article published first at AngularJS.de, the leading German site for everything related to AngularJS.

The post AngularJS And Browserify — The Dream Team For Single Page Applications appeared first on codecentric Blog.

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