The perfect AMD setup

I’ve been using AMD modules (RequireJS) for various projects for a while. It has some advantages over ‘CommonJS’ (ie. Browserify) solutions, but has additional complexity around package installation.

One thing I disliked about AMD was having to maintain a large paths config to resolve third-party package sub-dependencies. Here’s an example of one of these:

  baseUrl: '/js',

  // 'paths' lets us alias complex
  // paths to something simpler and
  // resolve sub-dependency require paths
  paths: {
    'debug': '../bower_components/debug/index',
    'attach': '../bower_components/attach/index',
    'model': '../bower_components/model/index',
    'view': '../bower_components/view/index',
    'evt': '../bower_components/evt/index',
    'drag': '../bower_components/drag/index',
    'device-orientation': '../bower_components/device-orientation/index',
    'gaia-header': '../bower_components/gaia-header/gaia-header',
    'gaia-icons': '../bower_components/gaia-icons/gaia-icons',
    'gaia-component': '../bower_components/gaia-component'

This config means that anywhere in my app code or third-party code I will be able to call require('gaia-component'), and it’ll actually require js/bower_components/gaia-component, under the hood.

As gaia-component is a dependency of the gaia-header module, this path config must be in place, otherwise gaia-header will error.

Installation process

Bower/AMD package installation process is involved and error prone:

  1. $ bower install cool-package
  2. Search through source code of cool-package and identify any sub-dependency require()s.
  3. Amend the require.config paths to map any sub dependency paths to their correct locations.
  4. Run app, on failure return to step 2.

By contrast the NPM installation process is dreamy:

  1. $ npm install cool-package
  2. require('cool-package');

The good news is there’s a better solution for Bower and AMD users which enables:

  1. $ bower install cool-package
  2. require('cool-package');

Seamlessly resolving any nested require('some-sub-dependency'). Read on, all will be revealed…

A better solution

I was discussing this problem with James Burke and he kindly wrote a small command-line tool called ‘adapt-pkg-main’ to help. The documentation in the repo is thorough, but I’ll try to outline briefly how it works.

Step One: Package main adapters

Adapt-pkg-main will look for packages in a given packages directory (eg. bower_components/). For each package in the directory it will look for a package description file (eg. bower.json, package.json). Both bower.json and package.json have the convention of a "main" attribute which declares the package’s entry point (eg. cool-package/cool-package.js).

Adapt-pkg-main will use this "main" value to create a new ‘adapter’ module for each package like so:

Main file: bower_components/cool-package/cool-package.js
Created adapter: bower_components/cool-package.js

The cool-package.js adapter is AMD by default, but this ‘adapterText’ can be configured:

define(['./cool-package/cool-package'], function(m) { return m; });

Step Two: require.config

The second part of the trick is to configure RequireJS to assume all unprefixed paths to look in bower_components.

  baseUrl: 'bower_components',
  paths: { root: '../' }


After this one-time configuration, paths will be resolved as follows:

  • require('cool-package') -> bower_components/cool-package.js
  • require('some-sub-dependency') -> bower_components/some-sub-dependency.js
  • require('./lib/foo') -> CURRENT_MODULE_DIR/lib/foo.js
  • require('root/app') -> /app.js

You’ll notice that the unprefixed paths now resolve to the adapter files that adapt-pkg-main created, so the full resolution (via the adapter module) will look like:

require('cool-package') -> bower_components/cool-package.js -> bower_components/cool-package/cool-package.js

Path convention

Once you have this require configuration, it makes sense to use relative style paths whenever you’re requiring a file that doesn’t live in bower_components/, otherwise it’ll have to prefixed with root/. Just write your require() paths exactly as you would in Node.


It makes sense to plug the adapter creation step into a Bower postinstall hook so we can forget all about it. Create a .bowerrc file at the root of you project (if you don’t already have one) with the following:

  "scripts": {
    "postinstall": "./node_modules/.bin/adapt-pkg-main bower_components configFileNames=bower.json,package.json"


Drop a comment if you have any questions or improvements :)

bower install sweet-dreams

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