ReactJS, JSX, async/await, babel, webpack and getting it all working


Stranger in a strange land

I’m not primarily a front-end dev so getting everything setup and configured for web development is particularly frustrating for me and most blog posts, tutorials don’t actually give explanations, just copy-pasting blindly tons of little configs.

Here’s my post that I’m using as reference for me and hopefully for any other non-frontend developer that wants to use the latest and greatest JavaScript like fetch, async, await, React, JSX.

Getting started, compiling JavaScript to …JavaScript

Because of fragmentation in implementations of the latest JavaScript features, we’ll use babel to compile our JavaScript using the latest features to JavaScript that will work in Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

babel has a concept of plugins. These are like features that you can turn on during the compilation steps and are pretty granular. Often you’ll want a whole bunch of plugins together and that is so common enough that babel has something called presets. You can put that in separate .babelrc file, but I prefer not having so much silly little config files, so you can also put it in your package.json; example:

 "babel": {
    "presets": [
    "plugins": [

These are the ones I’m using to compile JSX, use ES6 modules, and async, await.

So when you invoke babel, it will look at the package.json, see the babel field and turn on those features, so an example invocation is:

$ babel lib --out-dir dist

which will compile all the code in the lib directory and output the results in the dist directory. This process is the same for node.

Bundling code

Now we have our legal JavaScript for today’s browsers/node. We can bundle up everything as a single JavaScript file using webpack. I previously used browserify but like all things web, apparently its not hot anymore. We can invoke it like so:

$ webpack --progress --colors dist/homepage.js bundle.js

where bundle.js is the name of the single output file that we’ll get. You can apparently do some kind of config file for webpack, yet another config file, but this is enough for me right now.

Actual code/project with JSX

So let’s say we have these two files, one is homepage.jsx and the other is button.jsx. Note that I use a real example of async, await, for a great explanation see here, for OCaml programmers, await is basically >>= or let%lwt.

This is button.jsx

'use strict';
import React from 'react';

class Button extends React.Component {

  async do_request(e) {
    let query =
	'' +
    let nonsense = "";
    try {
      let pulled = await fetch(query);
      let body = await pulled.json();

      await fetch(nonsense);

    } catch (e) {
      console.log("Exception raised:", e);
      console.log('Logic continued');

  render () {
    let s = {color:'red'};
    return (
      <p style={s}
	Click Me
// Remember to put wrap in {}
export {Button};

and homepage.jsx

'use strict';

import React from 'react';
import ReactDOM from 'react-dom';
// REMEMBER to do {} since button.jsx doesn't do
// export default
import {Button} from './button';

class Page extends React.Component {
  render () {
    return (
	Hello World


So all this will be compiled correctly and turned into one bundle.js which we can use in this index.html

<!DOCTYPE html>
<meta charset="utf-8">
  <div id="cont"></div>
  <script src="bundle.js"></script>

and when we click the button we see this in the Chrome dev tools:

Object {24h_avg: 614.98, ask: 613.72, bid: 613.05, last: 613.56, timestamp: "Tue, 20 Sep 2016 20:09:30 -0000"…}
bundle.js:23085 GET net::ERR_NAME_NOT_RESOLVED_callee$ @ bundle.js:23085tryCatch @ bundle.js:23242invoke @ bundle.js:23516prototype.(anonymous function) @ bundle.js:23275step @ bundle.js:23872(anonymous function) @ bundle.js:23883
bundle.js:23095 Exception raised: TypeError: Failed to fetch(…)
bundle.js:23096 Logic continued

Yay, things worked.

See the repo here for the full package.json