nodejs require module

Understand module component loading system is quite important in NodeJS, those who tried to play with it may know what I am talking about. How it works, what is the difference between export, module.exports.

In this article, we will focus at how node core dependency management works.

Module system in NodeJS is handle by Module.js file and description of Module API is here, but we use it very rarely.

Main purpose of Module is to handle your code dependencies by providing a runtime context.

Constructor

function Module(id, parent) {
  this.id = id;
  this.exports = {};      // what you show to others
  this.parent = parent;   // parent module reference or null
  if (parent && parent.children) { // glue
    parent.children.push(this);
  }

  this.filename = null;   // absolute path source file code
  this.loaded = false;    // has module been loaded
  this.children = [];     // child module
}

Note that all your dependencies only shows exports object attribute to their parent modules.

A specific namespace is created for each module by the use of an anonymous function wrapping your own code.

Main role of Module is to build your dependency tree, and to return the exports object:

// create a new module
// digest your module code
// and then return exports attr
return module.exports;

Here some common scenarios when you start to write your own module (note the dot .).

exports.myFn = function() {

}
exports.myFn2 = function() {

}

This fills your module exports object attribute.

return module.exports directive will return something like:

{
  myFn : function() {

  },
  myFn2 : function() {

  }
}

Side effect:

exports = {
  fn: function() {

  },
  fn2: function() {

  }
}

you expect return module.exports returning the same object shown before but it won't, you have just created a new object and module.exports still point to an empty obj {}

If you want to be be sure, just can start your module with (note the dot .)

var exports = module.exports = {};

exports.fn = function() {

};

exports.fn2 = function() {

};

But a more convenient way to avoid this inconvenience would be

var myStuff = 'I love Nodejs';

// OR

var myStuff = function doStuff() {

};

// OR

var myStuff = {
  doStuff: function doStuff1() {

  },
  doStuff1: function doStuff1() {

  }

};

// OR ....

module.exports = myStuff;

But then, what happened when we apply a require() call ?

Require

By using require, behind the scene a module context is created and your code runs in it.

Global

require function is attached to node global object, imagine window object for a browser environment.

So when you type require('something') js prototype pattern looks for it and finds require function.

global.require = require;
global.exports = self.exports;

Global object

Applied to current module

But then remember that when you call it, you are in a specific module object context (parent module), and by consequence your current Module will load its new child Module.

To recap when you type require, js engine retrieves global object and look for a require named function and find it :), then apply it to current module context.

Useful functions

Note that some functions are part of Module prototype ('_' prefix), others are like global static methods.

require function takes a non empty string as parameter, a name, a path.

//
// - Loads a module at the given file path.
// - Returns that module's `exports` property.
//
Module.prototype.require = function(path) {
  assert(path, 'missing path');
  assert(util.isString(path), 'path must be a string');
  return Module._load(path, this);
};

Before seen what is going on in load process, just take a simple example.

Example

A main file and its dependency module file.

./main.js

var dep = require('./dependency');

./dependency.js

module.exports = 'I love JS';

Loader routines

Module we first try to locate the file containing your code 'dependency' module.

Load function is called with 3 parameters

  • request : here 'dependency'
  • parent: null if root module
  • isMain: main root file flag, here true when loading main.js file.

Here my annotations about it:

Module._load = function(request, parent, isMain) {
  //
  // 1> resolve filename and look for absolute path of file
  //
  var filename = Module._resolveFilename(request, parent);
  //
  // 2> check in cache by id and return it if found
  //
  var cachedModule = Module._cache[filename];
  if (cachedModule) {
    return cachedModule.exports;
  }
  //
  // 3> check if native module and compile it and return it if needed,
  // example require('fs');
  //
  if (NativeModule.exists(filename)) {
    // do some compil stuff
  }
  //
  // 4> create new module with reference to parent Module
  //
  var module = new Module(filename, parent);
  //
  // 5> put it in cache
  //
  Module._cache[filename] = module;
  //
  // 6> the MOST interesting part, load module source code
  //
  try {
    module.load(filename);
    hadException = false;
  } finally {
    if (hadException) {
      delete Module._cache[filename]; // wrong dependency name...
    }
  }
  //
  // 7> return exports object
  //
  return module.exports;
}

Focus

Method to look for dependency module.

Module._resolveFilename = function(request, parent) {
 //
 // internal stuff to compute path
 //
 return filename; // example here /mypath/myproject/dependency.js
}

The load function.

Module.prototype.load = function(filename) {
...
  this.filename = filename;
  this.paths = Module._nodeModulePaths(path.dirname(filename));
  // "/mypath/myproject/node_modules"
  // "/mypath/node_modules"
  // "/node_modules"

  var extension = path.extname(filename) || '.js';
  //
  // 1> by default only .js, .json, .node types are handled by module loader
  //
  if (!Module._extensions[extension]) extension = '.js';
  //
  // 2> here js extensions is used to load dependency.js
  //
  Module._extensions[extension](this, filename);
  //
  // 3> set loaded flag
  //
  this.loaded = true;
};

Then here we go, we have filename path.

// Native extension for .js
Module._extensions['.js'] = function(module, filename) {
  //
  // 1> load file content of 'dependency.js'
  //
  var content = fs.readFileSync(filename, 'utf8');
  //
  // 2> compile it
  //
  module._compile(stripBOM(content), filename);
};

Compiler routine

Module.prototype._compile = function(content, filename) {
  //
  // here content is a my dependency.js file in a string :
  // "module.exports = 'I love JS';"
  //
  // filename
  // /mypath/myproject/dependency.js
  // ...
  // some stuff
  // ...
  // retrieve modules cache
  //
  require.cache = Module._cache;
  //
  // here come the tricky part
  // ******** IMPORTANT *********
  // create a wrapper function as string
  var wrapper = Module.wrap(content);
  // it will gives the following anonymous function
  // NOTE: it is a simple STRING
  //
  // "(function (exports, require, module, __filename, __dirname) {
  //  module.exports = 'I love JS';
  // });"
  //
  // That is how magic happens and module exports object is fill,
  // by a simple anonymous function wrapper
  //
  // here a call to native code with this code, imagine eval() function.
  // https://nodejs.org/api/vm.html
  //
  var compiledWrapper = runInThisContext(wrapper, { filename: filename });
  // now we have a real js function, let's call it
  var args = [self.exports, require, self, filename, dirname];
  // finishing by applying above wrapper function on current module previously compiled.
  return compiledWrapper.apply(self.exports, args);
}

Conclusion

  • node modules handle their dependencies themselves
  • node modules structure in like a composite pattern, parent, children...
  • a loading processus looks into your code into file
  • a require call checks first in cache, otherwise load into cache.
  • a compilation phase involved an anonymous function that wraps your module code with 3 main params (exports,require,module). By executing this function, exports Module object attribute is fill.
  • at the end of loading process it returns your module exports attribute.

Result

Your compiled code looks like:

./main.js

(function (exports, require, module, __filename, __dirname) {
  var dep = require('./dependency');
});

./dependency.js

(function (exports, require, module, __filename, __dirname) {
  module.exports = 'I love JS';
});

You can imagine the following

./main.js

(function (exports, require, module, __filename, __dirname) {
  ./dependency.js
  var dep = (function (exports, require, module, __filename, __dirname) {
    return module.exports = 'I love JS';
  });
});

Main

When you start a new NodeJS program the Main Root Parent module is created here and follow above process.

// bootstrap main module.
Module.runMain = function() {
  // Load the main module--the command line argument.
  Module._load(process.argv[1], null, true);
  // Handle any nextTicks added in the first tick of the program
  process._tickCallback();
};

If you want to look further, write a small test and debug it.

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Just for fun


Tags: Javascript NodeJS