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This page contains experimental documentation

The contents are about a work in progress topic.

Experimental Support for ECMAScript Modules in Node.js

Note: this functionality is currently experimental and prone to changing. It can currently only be used on nightly builds of TypeScript, and we are currently seeking feedback around bugs and pain-points.

For the last few years, Node.js has been working to support running ECMAScript modules (ESM). This has been a very difficult feature to support, since the foundation of the Node.js ecosystem is built on a different module system called CommonJS (CJS). Interoperating between the two brings large challenges, with many new features to juggle; however, support for ESM in Node.js is now largely implemented in Node.js 12 and later, and the dust has begun to settle.

That’s why TypeScript brings two new module and moduleResolution settings: node12 and nodenext.

json
{
"compilerOptions": {
"module": "nodenext",
}
}

These new modes bring a few high-level features which we’ll explore here.

type in package.json and New Extensions

Node.js supports a new setting in package.json called type. "type" can be set to either "module" or "commonjs".

json
{
"name": "my-package",
"type": "module",
"//": "...",
"dependencies": {
}
}

This setting controls whether .js files are interpreted as ES modules or CommonJS modules, and defaults to CommonJS when not set. When a file is considered an ES module, a few different rules come into play compared to CommonJS:

  • import/export statements (and top-level await in nodenext) can be used
  • relative import paths need full extensions (we have to write import "./foo.js" instead of import "./foo")
  • imports might resolve differently from dependencies in node_modules
  • certain global-like values like require() and process cannot be used directly
  • CommonJS modules get imported under certain special rules

We’ll come back to some of these.

To overlay the way TypeScript works in this system, .ts and .tsx files now work the same way. When TypeScript finds a .ts, .tsx, .js, or .jsx file, it will walk up looking for a package.json to see whether that file is an ES module, and use that to determine:

  • how to find other modules which that file imports
  • and how to transform that file if producing outputs

When a .ts file is compiled as an ES module, ECMAScript import/export syntax is left alone in the .js output; when it’s compiled as a CommonJS module, it will produce the same output you get today under --module commonjs.

This also means paths resolve differently between .ts files that are ES modules and ones that are CJS modules. For example, let’s say you have the following code today:

ts
// ./foo.ts
export function helper() {
// ...
}
// ./bar.ts
import { helper } from "./foo"; // only works in CJS
helper();

This code works in CommonJS modules, but will fail in ES modules because relative import paths need to use extensions. As a result, it will have to be rewritten to use the extension of the output of foo.ts - so bar.ts will instead have to import from ./foo.js.

ts
// ./bar.ts
import { helper } from "./foo.js"; // works in ESM & CJS
helper();

This might feel a bit cumbersome at first, but TypeScript tooling like auto-imports and path completion will typically just do this for you.

One other thing to mention is the fact that this applies to .d.ts files too. When TypeScript finds a .d.ts file in package, it is interpreted based on the containing package.

New File Extensions

The type field in package.json is nice because it allows us to continue using the .ts and .js file extensions which can be convenient; however, you will occasionally need to write a file that differs from what type specifies. You might also just prefer to always be explicit.

Node.js supports two extensions to help with this: .mjs and .cjs. .mjs files are always ES modules, and .cjs files are always CommonJS modules, and there’s no way to override these.

In turn, TypeScript supports two new source file extensions: .mts and .cts. When TypeScript emits these to JavaScript files, it will emit them to .mjs and .cjs respectively.

Furthermore, TypeScript also supports two new declaration file extensions: .d.mts and .d.cts. When TypeScript generates declaration files for .mts and .cts, their corresponding extensions will be .d.mts and .d.cts.

Using these extensions is entirely optional, but will often be useful even if you choose not to use them as part of your primary workflow.

CommonJS Interop

Node.js allows ES modules to import CommonJS modules as if they were ES modules with a default export.

ts
// ./foo.cts
export function helper() {
console.log("hello world!");
}
// ./bar.mts
import foo from "./foo.cjs";
// prints "hello world!"
foo.helper();

In some cases, Node.js also synthesizes named exports from CommonJS modules, which can be more convenient. In these cases, ES modules can use a “namespace-style” import (i.e. import * as foo from "..."), or named imports (i.e. import { helper } from "...").

ts
// ./foo.cts
export function helper() {
console.log("hello world!");
}
// ./bar.mts
import { helper } from "./foo.cjs";
// prints "hello world!"
foo.helper();

There isn’t always a way for TypeScript to know whether these named imports will be synthesized, but TypeScript will err on being permissive and use some heuristics when importing from a file that is definitely a CommonJS module.

One TypeScript-specific note about interop is the following syntax:

ts
import foo = require("foo");

In a CommonJS module, this just boils down to a require() call, and in an ES module, this imports createRequire to achieve the same thing. This will make code less portable on runtimes like the browser (which don’t support require()), but will often be useful for interoperability. In turn, you can write the above example using this syntax as follows:

ts
// ./foo.cts
export function helper() {
console.log("hello world!");
}
// ./bar.mts
import foo = require("./foo.cjs");
foo.helper()

Finally, it’s worth noting that the only way to import ESM files from a CJS module is using dynamic import() calls. This can present challenges, but is the behavior in Node.js today.

You can read more about ESM/CommonJS interop in Node.js here.

package.json Exports, Imports, and Self-Referencing

Node.js supports a new field for defining entry points in package.json called "exports". This field is a more powerful alternative to defining "main" in package.json, and can control what parts of your package are exposed to consumers.

Here’s an package.json that supports separate entry-points for CommonJS and ESM:

json
// package.json
{
"name": "my-package",
"type": "module",
"exports": {
".": {
// Entry-point for `import "my-package"` in ESM
"import": "./esm/index.js",
// Entry-point for `require("my-package") in CJS
"require": "./commonjs/index.cjs",
},
},
// CJS fall-back for older versions of Node.js
"main": "./commonjs/index.cjs",
}

There’s a lot to this feature, which you can read more about on the Node.js documentation. Here we’ll try to focus on how TypeScript supports it.

With TypeScript’s original Node support, it would look for a "main" field, and then look for declaration files that corresponded to that entry. For example, if "main" pointed to ./lib/index.js, TypeScript would look for a file called ./lib/index.d.ts. A package author could override this by specifying a separate field called "types" (e.g. "types": "./types/index.d.ts").

The new support works similarly with import conditions. By default, TypeScript overlays the same rules with import conditions - if you write an import from an ES module, it will look up the import field, and from a CommonJS module, it will look at the require field. If it finds them, it will look for a colocated declaration file. If you need to point to a different location for your type declarations, you can add a "types" import condition.

json
// package.json
{
"name": "my-package",
"type": "module",
"exports": {
".": {
// Entry-point for TypeScript resolution - must occur first!
"types": "./types/index.d.ts",
// Entry-point for `import "my-package"` in ESM
"import": "./esm/index.js",
// Entry-point for `require("my-package") in CJS
"require": "./commonjs/index.cjs",
},
},
// CJS fall-back for older versions of Node.js
"main": "./commonjs/index.cjs",
// Fall-back for older versions of TypeScript
"types": "./types/index.d.ts"
}

TypeScript also supports the "imports" field of package.json in a similar manner (looking for declaration files alongside corresponding files), and supports packages self-referencing themselves. These features are generally not as involved, but are supported.

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Contributors to this page:
DRDaniel Rosenwasser  (7)
TTyler  (1)

Last updated: Nov 29, 2021