Use Webpack to manage app-like JavaScript modules in Rails


Webpacker makes it easy to use the JavaScript preprocessor and bundler Webpack to manage application-like JavaScript in Rails. It coexists with the asset pipeline, as the purpose is only to use Webpack for app-like JavaScript, not images, css, or even JavaScript Sprinkles (that all continues to live in app/assets).

It’s designed to work with Rails 5.1+ and makes use of the Yarn dependency management that’s been made default from that version forward. You can either make use of Webpacker during setup of a new application with --webpack or you can add the gem and run bin/rails webpacker:install in an existing application.


Webpacker ships with two binstubs: ./bin/webpack and ./bin/webpack-watcher. They’re both thin wrappers around the standard webpack.js executable, just to ensure that the right configuration file is loaded and the node_modules from vendor are used.

In development, you’ll need to run ./bin/webpack-watcher in a separate terminal from ./bin/rails server to have your app/javascript/packs/*.js files compiled as you make changes. If you’d rather not have to run the two processes separately by hand, you can use Foreman.


Webpacker gives you a default set of configuration files for development and production. They all live together with the shared points in config/webpack/*.js. By default, you shouldn’t have to make any changes for a basic setup out the box. But this is where you do go if you need something more advanced.

The configuration for what Webpack is supposed to compile by default rests on the convention that every file in app/javascript/packs/* should be turned into their own output files (or entry points, as Webpack calls it).

Let’s say you’re building a calendar. Your structure could look like this:

<%= javascript_pack_tag 'calendar' %>


app/javascript/calendar/index.js // gets loaded by require('calendar')

But it could also look a million other ways. The only convention that Webpacker enforces is the one where entry points are automatically configured by the files in app/javascript/packs.


To compile all the packs during deployment, you can use the rails webpacker:compile command. This will invoke the production configuration, which includes digesting. The javascript_pack_tag helper method will automatically insert the correct digest when run in production mode. Just like the asset pipeline does it.

Ready for React

To use Webpacker with React, just create a new app with rails new myapp --webpack=react (or run rails webpacker:install:react on a Rails 5.1 app already setup with webpack), and all the relevant dependencies will be added via yarn and changes to the configuration files made. Now you can create JSX files and have them properly compiled automatically.

Work left to do

  • Make asset pipeline digests readable from webpack, so you can reference images etc
  • Consider chunking setup
  • Consider switching to Webpack 2.0
  • Consider on-demand compiling with digests when digesting=true
  • I’m sure a ton of other shit


Webpacker is released under the MIT License.

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