Lightning Components and Browserify

Lightning Components

Over the last week, I’ve been working with the Salesforce Lightning Component Framework. It’s a simple way to build single page apps using client side JS and server side Apex. I am in no way a true Salesforce developer - I’m really just a noob - but it’s super fun to learn and for any one with a MVC background, you can pick it up quickly.

This is not, however, an overview of how to get started on Lightning - there are other, more qualified tutorials out there like Reid Carlberg’s Newbie Notes or Christoph Coenraets Lightning Components Tutorial. If you are looking for a solid front-to-back overview - start with one of these.

Challenge Accepted

One of the difficulties I have run into during my learning process, is that including a library like jQuery, isn’t as simple as adding a file and calling it in the application. Salesforce uses “static resources” for things like css files, and javascript files.

When you want to use those in a Lightning component, you simply call it like so:

<aura:application >
    <link href='/resource/bootstrap/' rel="stylesheet"/>

This calls the static resource that is the css file for Bootstrap SF1 theme.

Based on this, simply adding a jQuery static resource should be a piece of cake.

<aura:application >
    <script src="/resource/jQuery/"></script>
    <link href='/resource/bootstrap/' rel="stylesheet"/>

One would expect this to load jQuery, which, essentially it does, however it’s a bit of a race case. The script loads a few milliseconds after the application, and you can’t actually use it. There is a great thread covering this behavior, and I won’t go into much detail here, but the solution is to use RequireJS in a component, and an event to listen for everything to be loaded, and then load the RequireJS config and all of the static resources.

This, to me, was a challenge.

The Dark Magic of Browserify

I have been toying with Browserify for a bit now, and ditched RequireJS some time ago. I was never a fan of the AMD syntax, and I love being able to pull all of my JS together into one file with one command. So I was curious, if it would be at all possible to pull off some magic and load everything with one file.

In my developer console, I created a New->Static Resource, and named it AppScripts. It creates a new js file with a sample function in it. I’ll use this again in a bit, but went ahead and set it up in the application.

<aura:application >
    <script src="/resource/AppScripts/"></script>
    <link href='/resource/bootstrap/' rel="stylesheet"/>

Now I turned my attention to my local machine. I’m not going to go over all the ins and outs of Browserify, but I will walk you through what I did to set it up.

First, you have to get set up a bit, and install a couple things. You will be using NPM to manage your packages, so go through a quick npm init process first. Once that’s complete, open up your package.json and update your scripts section.

"scripts": {
  "bundle": "browserify main.js -o scripts.js"

This will allow you to use npm run bundle from the command line, and will output a scripts.js file.

First, however, you have to install the required modules -

npm i --save-dev browserify jQuery

This will install the requirements for this simple test. After that completes, I created a main.js file. Remember the script in npm? It’s looking for main.js - you can change the script to be any name - just make sure they match.

In my main.js file - I did just a quick script to see if it was working -

var $ = jQuery = require('jquery');

  console.log('This is working.');

When npm run bundle gets called on the command line - it will take this file, and it’s recursive dependencies, and output them to scripts.js. You can then minify this file to save space, but for now I’m skipping that. At this point, I opened my scripts.js file, copied the entire file, and pasted into my static resource AppScripts, and saved it.

I previewed the application in the browser, and my console log showed the text appropriately. I have tried a few other simple tests, and so far, everything appears to load properly and execute.

So What’s Next

Now I’m going to go nuts. So many things I want to try out and see if they will work. It’s not that the current framework is limiting, but it’s a restriction not having some go-to libraries. I don’t want to reinvent modules that exist, so any way I can get this to work, I’m going to make it happen.

Some ideas to try - bootstrap js components, data grids, knockout, handlebars, and so on. What I have yet to determine is what is available to me at run time. Some of the controller js will need to be tested - can I use my Browserify bundle to run controller code? No clue - this may not even work at all - I was just excited to get this to work - I had to share.