NativeScript Core

Using Webpack to Bundle Your Code

JavaScript code and general asset bundling have been a member of the web developer toolbox for a long time. Tools like Webpack have been providing support for an enjoyable development experience that lets you assemble client-side code from various module sources and formats and then package it together. Most importantly, they allow for page load time optimizations that reduce or parallelize the number of requests a browser makes to the server.

Why bundle scripts in a mobile app though? Aren't all files stored on the local device, so requesting them should be faster than an HTTP request? Yes, that is the case, but bundling still has an essential place in mobile app optimizations:

  • Fewer filesystem operations on app startup since all code is loaded from a single bundle file. Mobile file storage is not known for being very performant.
  • Smaller code size. Bundlers traverse the module import graph and do not bundle unused modules. Not using that obscure feature in module X? Don't make your users pay for it then.
  • Tree-shaking. With the advent of ECMAScript 2015 modules, we have new tools that allow stripping unused parts of big modules and further reduce our application size.

With NativeScript 6 and above, Webpack is the primary developer workflow and can't be disabled.

Introducing Webpack

Webpack works by traversing your source tree starting from some "entry" modules and navigating through module imports. This makes it possible to collect just modules that are used in your program. Webpack is very extensible - you can customize every step of the bundling process and add support for all sorts of asset generation and manipulation procedures.

Installation and Configuration

With NativeScript 6 and above, the framework is automatically adding nativescript-dev-webpack (as a devDependency) and creating a default webpack.config.js configuration file. The Webpack application bundling and developer workflow are enabled by default, and no further setup steps are required.

Note: For projects created with an older version of NativeScript (version 5.x.x and prior), you can run the tns migrate command to add the Webpack dependencies and configuration files. Detailed instructions for installing, configuring and using Webpack with NativeScript CLI 5.x and below can be found here

How nativescript-dev-webpack Works

Installing the plugin adds a webpack.config.js file which contains sensible defaults, but it is designed to be as readable and easy to modify as possible.

Note: In case you need to update your project dependencies or regenerate the configuration file, you can do that by running the update-ns-webpack script that comes with the plugin:

$ ./node_modules/.bin/update-ns-webpack --configs --deps

The --configs flag will update the webpack.config.js and the --deps flag will update the related Webpack dependencies.

Usage

NativeScript CLI commands

  • Run with Webpack and HMR

The Webpack bundling and Hot Module Replacement are enabled by default. That means that the known CLI commands like run and build won't need any additional flags.

tns run

or

tns build

Both commands will execute your project with Webpack and HMR enabled.

Note: If you need to disable the HMR experience, you can achieve that by adding the --no-hmr flag. With NativeScript 6.0.0 and above, Webpack is the primary developer workflow and can't be disabled.

  • Pass Environment Variables

You can also provide environmental variables to the Webpack build:

$ tns build android --env.development --env.property=value

They can be accessed through the env object in the Webpack configuration:

// webpack.config.js
module.exports = env => {
    console.dir(env); // { development: true, property: 'value' }
}

Publishing Application

Create a bundled version of the application for Android in release with the known release command - no additional flags are needed:

$ tns build android --release --keyStorePath ~/path/to/keystore --keyStorePassword your-pass --keyStoreAlias your-alias --keyStoreAliasPassword your-alias-pass

Once this is finished, proceed with uploading the output .apk file in the /platforms/android/app/build/outputs/apk directory on Google Play store.

You can build a bundled version of the application for iOS in release with this script:

$ tns build ios --release --forDevice --teamId TEAM_ID

Note that if --teamId flag is emitted, the NativeScript CLI will prompt for team ID during the build process.

Once the release build is ready, you have two options:

  • Open <project/platforms/ios/<project>.xcodeproj> (or <project/platforms/ios/<project>.xcworkspace> if present) in Xcode to configure project signing and upload the archive to App Store. This is the recommended option.
  • Specify your development team in <project>/app/App_Resources/iOS/build.xcconfig from the command line and execute
$ tns publish ios --ipa ipa-file-path-here

More options for publishing an iOS application can be found in the "Publishing for iOS article" article.

If there are multiple mobile provisioning profiles for the selected development team available on the machine, it is not guaranteed that Xcode will choose the desired one and publishing using the command line will be successful. Therefore, in such cases, we recommend manually configuring and uploading the project from Xcode.

Optimizations

Uglify.js

The Webpack configuration includes the uglifyjs-webpack-plugin. The plugin performs code minification and improves the size of the bundle. It is disabled by default because it slows down the building process. You can enable it by providing the --env.uglify flag:

$ tns build android|ios --env.uglify

Angular and Ahead-of-Time Compilation

The NativeScript Angular projects have the @ngtools/webpack plugin added by the nativescript-dev-webpack plugin. The @ngtools/webpack plugin performs Ahead-of-Time compilation and code splitting for lazily loaded modules. If your application is Ahead-of-Time compiled, you don't need the Angular compiler included in your app bundle which results in smaller application size and improved startup time.

To build with Ahead-of-Time compilation provide the --env.aot flag:

$ tns build android|ios --env.aot

V8 Heap Snapshot

The Webpack configuration also includes the NativeScriptSnapshotPlugin. The plugin loads a single Webpack bundle in an empty V8 context, a.k.a. snapshotted context, and after its execution captures a snapshot of the produced V8 heap and saves it in a .blob file. The .blob file is included in the .apk bundle and is loaded by the Android Runtime on app initialization. This prevents the need for loading, parsing, and executing the script on app startup, which can drastically decrease the starting time.

You can use the snapshot plugin only for release builds. You need to provide the --env.snapshot flag along with the other release arguments:

$ tns build android --env.snapshot --release --keyStorePath ~/path/to/keystore --keyStorePassword your-pass --keyStoreAlias your-alias --keyStoreAliasPassword your-alias-pass

Known limitations:

  • No iOS support. Heap snapshot is a V8 feature which is the engine used in the Android Runtime. Providing --env.snapshot flag on the iOS bundling commands will not affect.

V8 Heap Snapshot per architecture

The Android app size can be reduced by splitting the app per device architecture. However, the blob files generated by the --env.snapshot are just assets which cannot be split.

In order to get a maximum app size reduction, you can pass an additional --env.compileSnapshot flag which compiles the static assets produced by --env.snapshot into .so files allowing the native build to split them per architecture. The snapshot compilation requires the Android NDK to be installed on your system. It is strongly recommended that the same version of the NDK is used to produce the snapshot file as the one used to compile the {N} runtime itself. The current NDK version used in the runtime can be found in its settings.json file.

NOTE: Read more about reducing the Android app size in the Android App Bundle article

NativeScriptSnapshotPlugin configuration

The NativeScriptSnapshotPlugin by default comes with the following configuration:

if (snapshot) {
    config.plugins.push(new nsWebpack.NativeScriptSnapshotPlugin({
        chunk: "vendor",
        requireModules: [
            "tns-core-modules/bundle-entry-points",
        ],
        projectRoot,
        webpackConfig: config,
        snapshotInDocker,
        skipSnapshotTools,
        useLibs
    }));
}
  • chunk - the name of the chunk to be snapshotted.
  • requireModules - modules in the snapshotted chunk that should be executed at build time. You shouldn't add modules that access directly native Android APIs here since they are available only at runtime.
  • projectRoot - path to the app root folder.
  • webpackConfig - Webpack configurations object. The snapshot generation modifies the Webpack config object to ensure that the specified bundle will be snapshotted successfully.

Other options

  • targetArchs - Since the serialization format of the V8 heap is architecture-specific, we need a different blob file for each V8 library target architecture. The Android Runtime library contains 4 architecture slices - ia32 (x86), ia64 (x86_64), arm (armeabi-v7a) and arm64 (arm64-v8a).

Snapshot compilation options:

  • useLibs - the option is configurable through --env.compileSnapshot and compiles the static assets produced by --env.snapshot into .so files allowing the native build to split them per architecture. This will reduce the app size when using the --aab option.
  • androidNdkPath - Path to a local installation of Android NDK. If not set, the plugin is looking for it in ANDROID_NDK_HOME, the global PATH or downloaded from Android Studio.

Note: The snapshot compilation is the recommended way of reducing the app size along with the Android App bundle.

Advanced debugging - checking if the snapshot is enabled

If you want to toggle whether specific logic is executed only in the snapshotted context you can use the global.__snapshot flag. Its value is true only if the current execution happens in the snapshotted context. Once the app is deployed on the device, the value of the flag is changed to false. There is also global.__snapshotEnabled flag. Its only difference compared to global.__snapshot is that its value is true in both snapshotted and runtime contexts, given that snapshot generation is enabled.

function logMessage(message) {
    if (global.__snapshotEnabled) {
        if (!global.__snapshot) {
            console.log("The current execution is happening in runtime context when we have all {N} APIs available, including console.log(), so this line of code won't fail.");
        }
        console.log("This will fail if logMessage is called in snapshotted context because console.log() is not available there.");
    }
}

Custom Application and Activity

NativeScript provides a way to create custom android.app.Application and android.app.Activity implementations. Please, refer to this documentation article for a detail description of how to achieve these as well as how to configure and bundle such a project.

Inspecting Bundles

Bundles are generated in the platform output folders. Look for the bundle.js and vendor.js files in your platforms/android/... and platforms/ios/... "app" folders. You could change the destination directory by editing your configuration.

Generating Webpack Report

The default webpack configuration includes the webpack-bundle-analyzer plugin. To generate a report provide the --env.report flag:

$ tns build android|ios --env.report

The report is generated inside your-project/report. The report/report.html page shows the application chunks.

Android report

For analyzing the dependency graph between the modules, use webpack.github.ui/analyze and open the stats.json file.

Recommendations for Plugin Authors

Most third-party packages are problem-free and get picked up by Webpack without any issues. Some libraries though require a bit of tweaking. When you encounter a library that does not get recognized by your Webpack configuration, please open up an issue on that library's GitHub repository.

Referencing Platform-specific modules from "package.json"

This is the most common problem with third-party plugins. Most plugins provide two platform-specific implementations stored in modules named like my-plugin.android.js and my-plugin.ios.js. The package.json file for the plugin looks like this:

{
    "main": "my-plugin.js"
}

Webpack reads the package.json file and try to find a my-plugin.js module and fails. The correct way to reference a platform-specific module would be to remove the .js extension:

{
    "main": "my-plugin"
}

That allows Webpack to reference my-plugin.android.js or my-plugin.ios.js correctly.

Emitting Helper Functions in TypeScript Plugins

The TypeScript compiler implements class inheritance, decorators and other features using a set of helper functions that get emitted at compile time. NativeScript ships with its implementations of those helpers to allow features like extending platform native classes. That is why you need to configure the TypeScript compiler NOT to emit helpers. The easiest way is to edit the tsconfig.json file and set the noEmitHelpers option to true:

{
    "compilerOptions": {
        ...
        "noEmitHelpers": true,
        ...
    },
    ...
}

Bundling Background Workers

When the application is implementing workers, some additional steps are required to make the project Webpack compatible. Check out the nativescript-worker-loader and the detailed documentation article about using workers.

Webpack Resources

Bundling JavaScript code can get complex quickly, and encountering Webpack for the first time can be daunting. A full introduction to webpack and related technologies is beyond the scope of this article, and we recommend the following resources: