4/8/2015 - 1:22 AM

Better local require() paths for Node.js


When the directory structure of your Node.js application (not library!) has some depth, you end up with a lot of annoying relative paths in your require calls like:

var Article = require('../../../models/article');

Those suck for maintenance and they're ugly.

Possible solutions

Ideally, I'd like to have the same basepath from which I require() all my modules. Like any other language environment out there. I'd like the require() calls to be first-and-foremost relative to my application entry point file, in my case app.js.

1. The Symlink

Stolen from: focusaurus / express_code_structure # the-app-symlink-trick

  1. Create a symlink under node_modules to your app directory:
    Linux: ln -nsf node_modules app
    Windows: mklink /D app node_modules

  2. Now you can require local modules like this from anywhere:

    var Article = require('models/article');

Note: you can not have a symlink like this inside a Git repo, since Git does not handle symlinks cross-platform. If you can live with a post-clone git-hook and/or the instruction for the next developer to create a symlink, then sure.

Alternatively, you can create the symlink on the npm postinstall hook, as described by scharf in this awesome comment. Put this inside your package.json:

"scripts": {
    "postinstall" : "node -e \"var s='../app',d='node_modules/app',fs=require('fs');fs.exists(d,function(d){d||fs.symlinkSync(s,dstpath,'dir')});\""

2. The Global

  1. In your app.js:

    global.__base = __dirname + '/';
  2. In your very/far/away/module.js:

    var Article = require(__base + 'app/models/article');

3. The Module

  1. Install some module:

    npm install rekuire
  2. In your app.js:

    global.rekuire = require('rekuire');
  3. In your very/far/away/module.js:

    var Article = rekuire('models/article');

Mind that rekuire will allow you to not specify any path at all, so the file app/a/b/c/d/e/f/my-mod.js can just be loaded like this:

var myMod = rekuire('my-mod');

If you choose rekuire, I advise you to make all paths relative to your app/ directory, to prevent any ambiguity. Like this:

var myMod = rekuire('app/a/b/c/d/e/f/my-mod.js');

Just so you know, rekuire actually handles ambiguity the right way, with a sane error message.

4. The Environment

Set the NODE_PATH environment variable to the absolute path of your application, ending with the directory you want your modules relative to (in my case .).

There are 2 ways of achieving the following require() statement from anywhere in your application:

var Article = require('app/models/article');

4.1. Up-front

Before running your node app, first run:

Linux: export NODE_PATH=.
Windows: set NODE_PATH=.

Setting a variable like this with export or set will remain in your environment as long as your current shell is open. To have it globally available in any shell, set it in your userprofile and reload your environment.

4.2. Only while executing node

This solution will not affect your environment other than what node preceives. It does change your application start command.

Start your application like this from now on:
Linux: NODE_PATH=. node app
Windows: cmd.exe /C "set NODE_PATH=.&& node app"

(On Windows this command will not work if you put a space in between the path and the &&. Crazy shit.)

5. The Start-up Script

Effectively, this solution also uses the environment (as in 4.2), it just abstracts it away.

With one of these solutions (5.1 & 5.2) you can start your application like this from now on:
Linux: ./app (also for Windows PowerShell)
Windows: app

An advantage of this solution is that if you want to force your node app to always be started with v8 parameters like --harmony or --use_strict, you can easily add them in the start-up script as well.

5.1. Node.js

Example implementation:

5.2. OS-specific start-up scripts

Linux, create in your project root:

NODE_PATH=. node app.js

Windows, create app.bat in your project root:

@echo off
cmd.exe /C "set NODE_PATH=.&& node app.js"

6. The Hack

Courtesy of @joelabair. Effectively also the same as 4.2, but without the need to specify the NODE_PATH outside your application, making it more fool proof. However, since this relies on a private Node.js core method, this is also a hack that might stop working on the previous or next version of node.

This code needs to be placed in your app.js, before any require() calls:

process.env.NODE_PATH = __dirname;

7. The Wrapper

Courtesy of @a-ignatov-parc. Another simple solution which increases obviousness, simply wrap the require() function with one relative to the path of the application's entry point file.

Place this code in your app.js, again before any require() calls:

global.rootRequire = function(name) {
    return require(__dirname + '/' + name);

You can then require modules like this:

var Article = rootRequire('app/models/article');

Another option is to always use the initial require() function, basically the same trick without a wrapper. Node.js creates a new scoped require() function for every new module, but you there's always a reference to the initial global one. Unlike most other solutions this is actually a documented feature. It can be used like this:

var Article = require.main.require('app/models/article');


1. The Symlink
If you're using CVS or SVN (but not Git!), this solution is a great one which works, otherwise I don't recommend this to anyone.

2. The Global
You're effectivly swapping ../../../ for __base + which is only slightly better if you ask me. However it's very obvious for the next developer what's exactly happening. That's a big plus compared to the other magical solutions around here.

3. The Module
The verdict for this one is the same as for solution 2, this is a very nasty hack. Steer clear.

4. The Environment
Setting application-specific settings as environment variables globally or in your current shell is an anti-pattern if you ask me. E.g. it's not very handy for development machines which need to run multiple applications.

If you're adding it only for the currently executing program, you're going to have to specify it each time you run your app. Your start-app command is not easy anymore, which also sucks.

5. The Start-up Script
You're simplifying the command to start your app (always simply node app), and it gives you a nice spot to put your mandatory v8 parameters! A small disadvantage might be that you need to create a seperate start-up script for your unit tests as well.

6. The Hack
Most simple solution of all. Use at your own risk.

7. The Wrapper
Great and non-hacky solution. Very obvious what it does, especially if you pick the require.main.require() one.