Bundling Extension

Visual Studio Code extensions often grow quickly in size. They are authored in multiple source files and depend on modules from npm. Decomposition and reuse are development best practices but they come at a cost when installing and running extensions. Loading 100 small files is much slower than loading one large file. That's why we recommend bundling. Bundling is the process of combining multiple small source files into a single file.

For JavaScript, different bundlers are available. Popular ones are rollup.js, Parcel, and webpack. This tutorial will focus on webpack, however, concepts and benefits of all bundlers are similar.

Using webpack

Webpack is a development tool that's available from npm. To acquire webpack and its command line interface, open the terminal and type:

bash
npm i --save-dev webpack webpack-cli

This will install webpack and update your extension's package.json file to include webpack in the devDependencies. Webpack is a JavaScript bundler but many VS Code extensions are written in TypeScript and only compiled to JavaScript. With the help of a loader ts-loader, webpack can understand TypeScript. Use the following to install ts-loader:

bash
npm i --save-dev ts-loader

Configure webpack

With all tools installed, webpack can now be configured. By convention, a webpack.config.js file contains the configuration to instruct webpack to bundle your extension. The sample configuration below is for VS Code extensions and should provide a good starting point:

javascript
//@ts-check 'use strict'; const path = require('path'); /**@type {import('webpack').Configuration}*/ const config = { target: 'node', // vscode extensions run in a Node.js-context πŸ“– -> https://webpack.js.org/configuration/node/ entry: './src/extension.ts', // the entry point of this extension, πŸ“– -> https://webpack.js.org/configuration/entry-context/ output: { // the bundle is stored in the 'dist' folder (check package.json), πŸ“– -> https://webpack.js.org/configuration/output/ path: path.resolve(__dirname, 'dist'), filename: 'extension.js', libraryTarget: 'commonjs2', devtoolModuleFilenameTemplate: '../[resource-path]' }, devtool: 'source-map', externals: { vscode: 'commonjs vscode' // the vscode-module is created on-the-fly and must be excluded. Add other modules that cannot be webpack'ed, πŸ“– -> https://webpack.js.org/configuration/externals/ }, resolve: { // support reading TypeScript and JavaScript files, πŸ“– -> https://github.com/TypeStrong/ts-loader extensions: ['.ts', '.js'] }, module: { rules: [ { test: /\.ts$/, exclude: /node_modules/, use: [ { loader: 'ts-loader' } ] } ] } }; module.exports = config;

The file is available as part of the webpack-extension sample. Webpack configuration files are normal JavaScript modules that must export a configuration object.

In the sample above, the following are defined:

  • The target is 'node' because extensions run in a Node.js context.
  • The entry point webpack should use. This is similar to the main property in package.json except that you provide webpack with a "source" entry point, usually src/extension.ts, and not an "output" entry point. The webpack bundler understands TypeScript, so a separate TypeScript compile step is redundant.
  • The output configuration tells webpack where to place the generated bundle file. By convention, that is the dist folder. In this sample, webpack will produce a dist/extension.js file.
  • The resolve and module/rules configurations are there to support TypeScript and JavaScript input files.
  • The externals configuration is used to declare exclusions, for example files and modules that should not be included in the bundle. The vscode module should not be bundled because it doesn't exist on disk but is created by VS Code on-the-fly when required. Depending on the node modules that an extension uses, more exclusion may be necessary.

Run webpack

With the webpack.config.js file created, webpack can be invoked. You can run webpack from the command line but to reduce repetition, using npm scripts is helpful.

Merge these entries into the scripts section in package.json:

json
"scripts": { "vscode:prepublish": "webpack --mode production", "compile": "webpack --mode none", "watch": "webpack --mode none --watch", "test-compile": "tsc -p ./", },

The compile and watch scripts are for development and they produce the bundle file. The vscode:prepublish is used by vsce, the VS Code packaging and publishing tool, and run before publishing an extension. The difference is in the mode and that controls the level of optimization. Using production yields the smallest bundle but also takes longer, so none is used for development. To run above scripts, open a terminal and type npm run compile or select Tasks: Run Task from the Command Palette (β‡§βŒ˜P (Windows, Linux Ctrl+Shift+P)).

Run the extension

Before you can run the extension, the main property in package.json must point to the bundle, which for the configuration above is "./dist/extension". With that change, the extension can now be executed and tested. For debugging configuration, make sure to update the outFiles property in the launch.json file.

Tests

Extension authors often write unit tests for their extension source code. With the correct architectural layering, where the extension source code doesn't depend on tests, the webpack produced bundle shouldn't contain any test code. To run unit tests, only a simple compile is necessary. In the sample, there is a test-compile script, which uses the TypeScript compiler to compile the extension into the out folder. With that intermediate JavaScript available, the following snippet for launch.json is enough to run tests.

json
{ "name": "Extension Tests", "type": "extensionHost", "request": "launch", "runtimeExecutable": "${execPath}", "args": [ "--extensionDevelopmentPath=${workspaceFolder}", "--extensionTestsPath=${workspaceFolder}/out/test" ], "outFiles": ["${workspaceFolder}/out/test/**/*.js"], "preLaunchTask": "npm: test-compile" }

This configuration for running tests is the same for non-webpacked extensions. There is no reason to webpack unit tests because they are not part of the published portion of an extension.

Publishing

Before publishing, you should update the .vscodeignore file. Everything that's now bundled into the dist/extension.js file can be excluded, usually the out folder (in case you didn't delete it yet) and most importantly, the node_modules folder.

A typical .vscodeignore file looks like this:

bash
.vscode node_modules out/ src/ tsconfig.json webpack.config.js

Migrate an existing extension

Migrating an existing extension to use webpack is easy and similar to the getting started guide above. A real world sample that adopted webpack is the VS Code's References view through this pull request.

There you can see:

  • Add webpack, webpack-cli, and ts-loader as devDependencies.
  • Update npm scripts so that webpack is used for development.
  • Update the debugger configuration launch.json file.
  • Add and tweak the webpack.config.js configuration file.
  • Update .vscodeignore to exclude node_modules and intermediate output files.
  • Enjoy an extension that installs and loads much faster!

Troubleshooting

Minification

Bundling in production mode also performs code minification. Minification compacts source code by removing whitespace and comments and by changing variable and function names into something ugly but short. Source code that uses Function.prototype.name works differently and so you might have to disable minification.

webpack critical dependencies

When running webpack, you might encounter a warning like Critical dependencies: the request of a dependency is an expression. Such warnings must be taken seriously and likely your bundle won't work. The message means that webpack cannot statically determine how to bundle some dependency. This is usually caused by a dynamic require statement, for example require(someDynamicVariable).

To address the warning, you should either:

  • Try to make the dependency static so that it can be bundled.
  • Exclude that dependency via the externals configuration. Also make sure that those JavaScript files aren't excluded from the packaged extension, using a negated glob pattern in .vscodeignore, for example !node_modules/mySpecialModule.

Next steps