Learn TypeScript w/ Mike North

Modules & CJS interop

June 10, 2021

Table of Contents

The JS ecosystem was without an “official” module specification until 2015, which led to a variety of different community-defined module types, including…

AMD and UMD modules are increasingly rare these days, but CommonJS has stuck around, in part due to it still being the default module type for code that runs in Node.js.

While it’s unusual that we write anything other than “ES modules” these days, it’s very common to need to describe the types of older CJS code.

ES Module imports and exports

First, let’s get the conventional stuff out of the way: TypeScript does exactly what you’re used to seeing in modern JavaScript code.

Here are some of the basics:

ts
// named imports
import { strawberry, raspberry } from "./berries"
import kiwi from "./kiwi" // default import
export function makeFruitSalad() {} // named export
export default class FruitBasket {} // default export
export { lemon, lime } from "./citrus"

Although fairly uncommon in the JS world, it’s possible to import an entire module as a namespace. TypeScript supports this as well

ts
import * as allBerries from "./berries" // namespace import
allBerries.strawberry // using the namespace
allBerries.blueberry
allBerries.raspberry
export * from "./berries" // namespace re-export

TypeScript also allows something that was recently added (2021) to the JS language

ts
export * as berries from "./berries" // namespace re-export

CommonJS Interop

Things can sometimes get a bit tricky when consuming CommonJS modules that do things that are incompatible with the way ES Modules typically work.

Most of the time, you can just convert something like

js
const fs = require("fs")

into

ts
// namespace import
import * as fs from "fs"

but occasionally, you’ll run into a rare situation where the CJS module you’re importing from, exports a single thing that’s incompatible with this namespace import technique.

Here’s a small example of where the namespace import fails:

ts
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// @filename: fruits.ts
This module can only be referenced with ECMAScript imports/exports by turning on the 'esModuleInterop' flag and referencing its default export.2497This module can only be referenced with ECMAScript imports/exports by turning on the 'esModuleInterop' flag and referencing its default export.
function createBanana() {
return { name: "banana", color: "yellow", mass: 183 }
}
 
// equivalent to CJS `module.exports = createBanana`
export = createBanana
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// @filename: smoothie.ts
 
import * as createBanana from "./fruits"
Try

While this error message is accurate, you may not want to follow the advice it provides in all situations.

If you need to enable the esModuleInterop and allowSyntheticDefaultImports compiler flags in order to allow your types to compile, anyone who depends on your types will also have no choice but to enable them.

I call these “viral options”, and take extra steps to avoid using them in my libraries.

Thankfully we have another option here — the use of an older module loading API that imports the code properly, and matches up the type information as well

ts
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// @filename: fruits.ts
function createBanana() {
return { name: "banana", color: "yellow", mass: 183 }
}
 
// equivalent to CJS `module.exports = createBanana`
export = createBanana
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// @filename: smoothie.ts
 
import createBanana = require("./fruits")
const banana = createBanana()
const banana: { name: string; color: string; mass: number; }
Try

The error message said

This module can only be referenced with ECMAScript imports/exports by turning on the ‘esModuleInterop’ flag

and we have solved this by avoiding the use of an ECMAScript import/export. After all, the code we’re referring to here is not following the ES module spec to begin with

The compiled output of this file will still be what we’re looking for in the CJS world

ts
"use strict";
function createBanana() {
return { name: "banana", color: "yellow", mass: 183 };
}
module.exports = createBanana;
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
 
Try
ts
"use strict";
Object.defineProperty(exports, "__esModule", { value: true });
var createBanana = require("./fruits");
var banana = createBanana();
 
Try
emoji-bulb Reminder: Visual Studio Code downloads types automatically

The type information you publish could be downloaded into a user’s authoring environment, even if they don’t directly consume your library

Type-checking is a holistic operation that can be upset by even one dependency whose types are “unhappy”

Importing non-TS things

Particularly if you use a bundler like webpack, parcel or snowpack, you may end up importing things that aren’t .js or .ts files

For example, maybe you’ll need to import an image file with webpack like this

ts
import img from "./file.png"
Cannot find module './file.png' or its corresponding type declarations.2307Cannot find module './file.png' or its corresponding type declarations.
Try

file.png is obviously not a TypeScript file — we just need to tell TypeScript that whenever we import a .png file, it should be treated as if it’s a JS module with a string value as its default export

This can be accomplished through a module declaration as shown below

ts
// @filename: global.d.ts
declare module "*.png" {
const imgUrl: string
export default imgUrl
}
// @filename: component.ts
import img from "./file.png"
Try

Like an interface, this is purely type information that will “compile away” as part of your build process. We’ll talk more about module declarations when we discuss ambient type information



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