by Nazare Emanuel Ioan

How to use ReactJS with Webpack 4, Babel 7, and Material Design

For the past year and some, I have been working with React at Creative Tim. I have been using create-react-app for developing some nice products. There have been a lot of clients asking how can someone migrate our product templates on Webpack.

So after a number of requests, we created this little tutorial about how to start using React with Webpack 4 and Babel 7. At the end of the tutorial, I am going to show you guys how to add Material Dashboard React on top of the newly created app.

Before we get started please make sure you have the latest versions of npm and Nodejs installed globally on your machine. At the time of writing this post, the latest versions were 6.4.1 for npm and 8.12.0 (lts) for Nodejs on my machine.

Creating a new project folder with package.json

First things first, let’s create a new folder for our new app and enter it:

mkdir react-webpack-babel-tutorialcd react-webpack-babel-tutorial

Now that we have created the folder in which we are going to develop the app, we need to add a package.json file to it. We can do this two ways and you should choose one of them:

  1. just create the package.json file without any other configuration:
npm init -y

As you can see, the package.json file has been created with some very basic information in it.

npm init -y output

2. create the package.json file with some extra config settings

npm init

I’ve added some stuff to our newly created package.json file, such as some nice keywords, a repo and so on…

npm init output

After this, let’s add an index.html and index.js files to our new project folder, inside an src folder.

  1. Linux/MacOS commands
mkdir srctouch src/index.htmltouch src/index.js

2. Windows commands

mkdir srcecho "" > src\index.htmlecho "" > src\index.js

After this, let’s add the following template inside the index.html.

<!DOCTYPE html><html lang="en">  <head>    <meta charset="utf-8">    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1, shrink-to-fit=no">    <meta name="theme-color" content="#000000">    <title>React Tutorial</title>  </head>  <body>    <noscript>      You need to enable JavaScript to run this app.    </noscript>    <div id="root"></div>    <!--      This HTML file is a template.      If you open it directly in the browser, you will see an empty page.      You can add webfonts, meta tags, or analytics to this file.      The build step will place the bundled scripts into the <body> tag.    -->  </body></html>

Let’s add something inside the index.js just for the sake of some showcase that we are going to see a bit further down.

(function () {  console.log("hey mister");}());

And this is what we’ve got so far:

folder project structure

Adding Webpack to the project

Let’s start adding all the Webpack packages that we are going to need. We are going to install them as devDependencies since they will be only used in development mode.

npm install --save-dev webpack webpack-cli webpack-dev-server
  • webpack
    - used to configure our new app
    - at the time of this post, the version was 4.19.0
  • webpack-cli
    - used so that we can use Webpack in the command line
    - at the time of this post, the version was 3.1.0
  • webpack-dev-server
    - used so that when we make a change to a file inside our new app, we won’t need to refresh the page. It refreshes the browser page automatically every time we change a file in our app
    - as its name says, it’s a server that is working non-stop
    - at the time of this post, the version was 3.1.8
npm install — save-dev webpack webpack-cli webpack-dev-server output

If we take a look inside the package.json file, we are going to see that these three packages were added to this file like so:

"devDependencies": {  "webpack": "^4.19.0",  "webpack-cli": "^3.1.0",  "webpack-dev-server": "^3.1.8"}

I’m going to go ahead and delete the ^ (caret) from each version. This is because I can’t tell whether the next version of these plugins is still going to work with what I am building. I think this is something that should be common sense. When creating a new app, use the available versions and then, maybe make some updates to newer versions. You might not know what a new version will break in your app.

As you will see, the installation of these plugins made some changes to our project folder. It added node_modules folder and package-lock.json to it.

project folder after installing webpack

Now, we need to add a new file to our project, the config file for Webpack called webpack.config.js:

  1. Linux/MacOS command
touch webpack.config.js

2. Windows command

echo "" > webpack.config.js

Or you can simply manually create the new file if you do not want to use the command line.

Before we go ahead and start messing with the Webpack config file, let’s first install some stuff that we are going to need in our app.

First, we are going to work with some paths inside the Webpack config file. Let’s install path in our project as a devDependency.

npm install --save-dev path

Also, since we don’t want to manually inject the index.js file inside the HTML one, we are going to need a plugin called html-webpack-plugin. This plugin will inject the index.js inside the HTML file without any manual operation.

npm install --save-dev html-webpack-plugin

Once again, I am going to edit my package.json file and delete all the ^ (caret) occurrences from it.

One more edit that we are going to make to our package.json is to add some new scripts inside the scripts object, after the test script (See the second example below).

"webpack": "webpack","start": "webpack-dev-server --open"

This is what your package.json should look like at this point:

{  "name": "react-webpack-babel-tutorial",  "version": "1.0.0",  "description": "This is a Tutorial to showcase the usage of React with Webpack and Babel",  "main": "index.js",  "scripts": {    "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1",    "webpack": "webpack",    "start": "webpack-dev-server --open"  },  "repository": {    "type": "git",    "url": "git+https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial.git"  },  "keywords": [    "react",    "webpack",    "babel",    "creative-tim",    "material-design"  ],  "author": "Creative Tim &lt;[email protected]> (https://www.creative-tim.com/)",  "license": "MIT",  "bugs": {    "url": "https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial/issues"  },  "homepage": "https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial#readme",  "devDependencies": {    "html-webpack-plugin": "3.2.0",    "path": "0.12.7",    "webpack": "4.19.0",    "webpack-cli": "3.1.0",    "webpack-dev-server": "3.1.8"  }}

Let’s go ahead and run these commands one by one and see what happens.

npm run webpack

Webpack will automatically take the src/index.js file, compile it, and output it inside dist/main.js and will minify that code. This is because we haven’t yet configured the Webpack config file. Also, since we haven’t configured the file, we are going to have some warnings in our console.

npm run webpack output

If we run the other command

npm start

webpack-dev-server will automatically start a server and open the default browser with this server. But once again, since we do not have our webpack.config.js file configured, the output will not be the expected one.

npm start output

If you want to stop the server, just press at the same time the CTRL + C keys while in the command line.

Let’s add the following template inside our Webpack config file:

const path = require('path');const HtmlWebpackPlugin = require('html-webpack-plugin');module.exports = {  entry: path.join(__dirname,'src','index.js'),  output: {    path: path.join(__dirname,'build'),    filename: 'index.bundle.js'  },  mode: process.env.NODE_ENV || 'development',  resolve: {    modules: [path.resolve(__dirname, 'src'), 'node_modules']  },  devServer: {    contentBase: path.join(__dirname,'src')  },  plugins: [    new HtmlWebpackPlugin({      template: path.join(__dirname,'src','index.html')    })  ]};
  • entry and output
    — these are used to tell our server what has to be compiled and from where (entry: path.join(__dirname,’src’,’index.js’),). It also tells where to put the outputted compiled version (output — the folder and the filename)
  • mode
    — this is the mode of our output. We are setting it to ‘development’. If in the scripts we specify the NODE_ENV variable, it will take that one instead. See the below example on how to use NODE_ENV (note that the below changes will not be made inside the package.json file in this tutorial, it is just an example for you to see how it works)
"webpack": "NODE_ENV=production webpack",
  • resolve
    — this is used so that we can import anything from src folder in relative paths instead of absolute ones. It is the same for the node_modules. We can import anything from node_modules directly without absolute paths
  • devServer
    — this tells the webpack-dev-server what files are needed to be served. Everything from our src folder needs to be served (outputted) in the browser
  • plugins
    — here we set what plugins we need in our app. As of this moment we only need the html-webpack-plugin which tells the server that the index.bundle.js should be injected (or added if you will) to our index.html file

If we now run the earlier commands we will see some differences.

npm run webpack
npm run webpack output with webpack.config.js

We’ve changed where the output should be (from dist folder to build folder). By changing the mode of Webpack, now the code has a different look. It is not minified as the last time with no config.

npm start
npm start output with webpack.config.js

The webpack-dev-server took everything from the src folder and outputted it to our browser.

We are on the right path, but we’ve only added Webpack to our project. Where are React and Babel? Well, that is what we are going to do next.

React, Babel and some nice loaders for styles

Add React and ReactDOM to our project as normal dependencies.

npm install --save react react-dom

At this moment in our development, if we were to add React code inside our JS file, Webpack will give us an error. It doesn’t know how to compile React inside the bundle.js file.

Let’s modify the index.js file as follows:

import React from "react";import ReactDOM from "react-dom";let HelloWorld = () => {  return <h1>Hello there World!</h1>}ReactDOM.render(  <HelloWorld/>,  document.getElementById("root"));

And after that let’s start the server again.

npm start

And this is the error:

webpack error for not having appropriate loaders for react

So this is where Babel comes to our aid. Babel will tell Webpack how to compile our React code.

Let’s go ahead and add a bunch of Babel packages to our app as devDependencies.

npm install --save-dev @babel/core @babel/node @babel/preset-env @babel/preset-react babel-loader
  • @babel/core
    — this is used to compile ES6 and above into ES5
  • @babel/node
    — this is used so that we can import our plugins and packages inside the webpack.config.js rather than require them (it’s just something that I like, and maybe you’ll like it too)
  • @babel/preset-env
    — this will determinate which transformations or plugins to use and polyfills (i.e it provides modern functionality on older browsers that do not natively support it) based on the browser matrix you want to support
  • @babel/preset-react
    — this is going to compile the React code into ES5 code
  • babel-loader
    — this is a Webpack helper that transforms your JavaScript dependencies with Babel (i.e. will transform the import statements into require ones)

Since you are probably going to need to add some styles to your project (I know that I need them), we are going to add a loader that will let us import and use CSS files and SCSS files.

npm install --save-dev style-loader css-loader sass-loader node-sass
  • style-loader
    — this will add to the DOM the styles (will inject a <style> tag inside the HTML file)
  • css-loader
    — will let us import CSS files into our project
  • sass-loader
    — will let us import SCSS files into our project
  • node-sass
    — will compile the SCSS files into normal CSS files

We are going to create a new SCSS file and add it to our folders.

  1. Linux/MacOS command
touch src/index.scss

2. Windows command

echo "" > src/index.scss

And also add some nice styles to it.

body {  div#root{    background-color: #222;    color: #8EE4AF;  }}

And change our index.js by adding an import for the SCSS file.

import React from "react";import ReactDOM from "react-dom";
// this line is new// we now have some nice styles on our react appimport "index.scss";
let HelloWorld = () => {  return <h1>Hello there World!</h1>}
ReactDOM.render(  <HelloWorld/>,  document.getElementById("root"));

Don’t forget to delete the carets (^) from package.json.

This is how your package.json should look like:

{  "name": "react-webpack-babel-tutorial",  "version": "1.0.0",  "description": "This is a Tutorial to showcase the usage of React with Webpack and Babel",  "main": "index.js",  "scripts": {    "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1",    "webpack": "webpack",    "start": "webpack-dev-server --open"  },  "repository": {    "type": "git",    "url": "git+https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial.git"  },  "keywords": [    "react",    "webpack",    "babel",    "creative-tim",    "material-design"  ],  "author": "Creative Tim &lt;[email protected]> (https://www.creative-tim.com/)",  "license": "MIT",  "bugs": {    "url": "https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial/issues"  },  "homepage": "https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial#readme",  "devDependencies": {    "@babel/core": "7.0.1",    "@babel/node": "7.0.0",    "@babel/preset-env": "7.0.0",    "@babel/preset-react": "7.0.0",    "babel-loader": "8.0.2",    "css-loader": "1.0.0",    "html-webpack-plugin": "3.2.0",    "node-sass": "4.9.3",    "path": "0.12.7",    "sass-loader": "7.1.0",    "style-loader": "0.23.0",    "webpack": "4.19.0",    "webpack-cli": "3.1.0",    "webpack-dev-server": "3.1.8"  },  "dependencies": {    "react": "16.5.1",    "react-dom": "16.5.1"  }}

If we run any of the above commands again, the error will still persist. We haven’t yet told Webpack that it should use Babel and the style loaders to compile our React and SCSS code.

Next thing to do is add a configuration file for Babel. For this we need to create a file named .babelrc in which we will configure Babel.

I’ve heard that you can add the configuration for Babel directly in the webpack.config.js file. For this, you can take a look at the official babel-loader docs. As far as I am concerned, I think it’s best to have the Babel config in its own file. That way you do not overcrowd your Webpack config.

So, let’s run in the command line the following:

  1. Linux/MacOS command
touch .babelrc

2. Windows command

echo "" > .babelrc

And add the following code inside .babelrc so that babel-loader will know what to use to compile the code:

{  "presets": [    "@babel/env",    "@babel/react"  ]}

After these steps, we will need to add something to our project so we can import all sorts of files such as images. We will also need to add a plugin that will let us work with classes and much more. Let us add class properties in our classes. Basically, it will let us work with Object Oriented Programming — nice.

npm install --save-dev file-loader @babel/plugin-proposal-class-properties

Now that we have done this, we need to make some changes inside webpack.config.js so that Webpack will now use Babel. We’ll also configure Webpack to listen for style files and we are going to change the require statements to import ones.

So this being said, let’s change our webpack.config.js to the following (I’ve also added some comments, maybe they will help you):

// old// const path = require('path');// const HtmlWebpackPlugin = require('html-webpack-plugin');// newimport path from 'path';import HtmlWebpackPlugin from 'html-webpack-plugin';module.exports = {  entry: path.join(__dirname,'src','index.js'),  output: {    path: path.join(__dirname,'build'),    filename: 'index.bundle.js'  },  mode: process.env.NODE_ENV || 'development',  resolve: {    modules: [path.resolve(__dirname, 'src'), 'node_modules']  },  devServer: {    contentBase: path.join(__dirname,'src')  },  module: {    rules: [      {        // this is so that we can compile any React,        // ES6 and above into normal ES5 syntax        test: /\.(js|jsx)$/,        // we do not want anything from node_modules to be compiled        exclude: /node_modules/,        use: ['babel-loader']      },      {        test: /\.(css|scss)$/,        use: [          "style-loader", // creates style nodes from JS strings          "css-loader", // translates CSS into CommonJS          "sass-loader" // compiles Sass to CSS, using Node Sass by default        ]      },      {        test: /\.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif|mp3|svg)$/,        loaders: ['file-loader']      }    ]  },  plugins: [    new HtmlWebpackPlugin({      template: path.join(__dirname,'src','index.html')    })  ]};

There’s one more change we need to do to the package.json file. We need to tell our scripts that inside the config files of Webpack, we use import instead of require statements. Else it will give us an error that it doesn’t know what import stands for.

{  "name": "react-webpack-babel-tutorial",  "version": "1.0.0",  "description": "This is a Tutorial to showcase the usage of React with Webpack and Babel",  "main": "index.js",  "scripts": {    "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1",    "webpack": "babel-node ./node_modules/webpack/bin/webpack",    "start": "babel-node ./node_modules/webpack-dev-server/bin/webpack-dev-server --open"  },  "repository": {    "type": "git",    "url": "git+https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial.git"  },  "keywords": [    "react",    "webpack",    "babel",    "creative-tim",    "material-design"  ],  "author": "Creative Tim <[email protected]> (https://www.creative-tim.com/)",  "license": "MIT",  "bugs": {    "url": "https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial/issues"  },  "homepage": "https://github.com/creativetimofficial/react-webpack-babel-tutorial#readme",  "devDependencies": {    "@babel/core": "7.0.1",    "@babel/node": "7.0.0",    "@babel/plugin-proposal-class-properties": "7.0.0",    "@babel/preset-env": "7.0.0",    "@babel/preset-react": "7.0.0",    "babel-loader": "8.0.2",    "css-loader": "1.0.0",    "file-loader": "2.0.0",    "html-webpack-plugin": "3.2.0",    "node-sass": "4.9.3",    "path": "0.12.7",    "sass-loader": "7.1.0",    "style-loader": "0.23.0",    "webpack": "4.19.0",    "webpack-cli": "3.1.0",    "webpack-dev-server": "3.1.8"  },  "dependencies": {    "react": "16.5.1",    "react-dom": "16.5.1"  }}

Another thing that we will have to still add is the @babel/plugin-proposal-class-properties to the .babelrc file. Babel will know how to deal with class properties.

{  "presets": [    "@babel/env",    "@babel/react"  ],  "plugins": [    "@babel/plugin-proposal-class-properties"  ]}

Now we are done. We can run either one of the above commands and it should not give us any errors. Let’s see them in action.

npm run webpack
npm run webpack with no errors

And now let’s see the main script of our app.

npm start
npm start output

Add Material Design to our new React with Webpack and Babel project

As I’ve told you at the beginning of this post, we are not going to create from scratch styles for Material Design. That would require a lot of work. We don’t have time for that.

Instead, we are going to add a nice product that implements Google’s Material Design with some minor touches from the Creative Tim staff. We are going to add Material Dashboard React to it.

First things first, you need to get the product. Here are a few ways of getting the product:

  • Clone the repo inside another folder:
git clone https://github.com/creativetimofficial/material-dashboard-react.git

Ok, so now we have both projects — Material Dashboard React and our newly created one with Webpack and Babel — with React.

material-dashboard-react and react-webpack-babel-tutorial

Now, we can’t simply copy the src folder from Material Dashboard React into our new project. That will give us a lot of errors. Such as errors for missing dependencies, module not found, you get the point, a lot of errors.

So, I suggest that we start with adding the dependencies from Material Dashboard React’s package.json to our package.json. We do not need all the dependencies from Material Dashboard React’s packages, since we have built our own server using Webpack. We have added other style loaders beyond what the product has.

So this being said, we need the following:

npm install --save @material-ui/[email protected] @material-ui/[email protected] @types/[email protected] @types/[email protected] [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] [email protected]

We are not going through all of them. They can be found on npmjs.com with all the details and their own documentation.

Once again, we go inside the package.json file and delete the carets (^) from the packages that we just installed.

Ok, we are almost done. We are going to copy all the contents of the src folder from Material Dashboard React inside our project’s src folder and override the index.js file. But keep it in the index.html file.

Folder structure before and after adding the Material Dashboard React src folder

Now we need to add some styles and fonts cdns inside our index.html.

<!DOCTYPE html><html lang="en">  <head>    <meta charset="utf-8">    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1, shrink-to-fit=no">    <meta name="theme-color" content="#000000">    <link rel="stylesheet" href="//cdn.jsdelivr.net/chartist.js/latest/chartist.min.css">    <script src="//cdn.jsdelivr.net/chartist.js/latest/chartist.min.js"></script>    <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Roboto:300,400,500,700|Material+Icons">    <link href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/icon?family=Material+Icons" rel="stylesheet">    <title>React Tutorial</title>  </head>  <body>    <noscript>      You need to enable JavaScript to run this app.    </noscript>    <div id="root"></div>    <!--      This HTML file is a template.      If you open it directly in the browser, you will see an empty page.      You can add webfonts, meta tags, or analytics to this file.      The build step will place the bundled scripts into the <body> tag.    -->  </body></html>

And we are almost there. We still have a small problem. When we refresh the page, we have an error Cannot GET /dashboard. If we navigate to another page we will get, for example, Cannot GET /user and so on. So basically, our routes do not work. We need to make some changes inside either src/index.js or inside our webpack.config.js.

I will choose the first option since it is pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

We navigate inside the new index.js and we change the history type. We put createHashHistory() instead of createBrowserHistory().

This will allow us to refresh the page without any other errors. Now we are done.

import React from "react";import ReactDOM from "react-dom";import { createHashHistory } from "history";import { Router, Route, Switch } from "react-router-dom";import "assets/css/material-dashboard-react.css?v=1.5.0";import indexRoutes from "routes/index.jsx";const hist = createHashHistory();ReactDOM.render(  <Router history={hist}>    <Switch>      {indexRoutes.map((prop, key) => {        return <Route path={prop.path} component={prop.component} key={key} />;      })}    </Switch>  </Router>,  document.getElementById("root"));

I really hope you’ve liked this tutorial and I am very keen on hearing your thoughts about it. Just give this thread a comment and I’ll be more than happy to reply.

Special thanks should also go to Linh Nguyen My for her tutorial which has given me some much needed understanding on Webpack.

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