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Use ESM with importmap to manage modern JavaScript in Rails without transpiling or bundling.


>= 6.0.0
 Project Readme

Importmap for Rails

Import maps let you import JavaScript modules using logical names that map to versioned/digested files – directly from the browser. So you can build modern JavaScript applications using JavaScript libraries made for ESM without the need for transpiling or bundling.This frees you from needing Webpack, Yarn, npm, or any other part of the JavaScript toolchain. All you need is the asset pipeline that's already included in Rails.

With this approach you'll ship many small JavaScript files instead of one big JavaScript file. Thanks to HTTP/2 that no longer carries a material performance penalty during the initial transport, and in fact offers substantial benefits over the long run due to better caching dynamics. Whereas before any change to any JavaScript file included in your big bundle would invalidate the cache for the the whole bundle, now only the cache for that single file is invalidated.

There's native support for import maps in Chrome/Edge 89+, and a shim available for any browser with basic ESM support. So your app will be able to work with all the evergreen browsers.


Importmap for Rails is automatically included in Rails 7+ for new applications, but you can also install it manually in existing applications:

  1. Add importmap-rails to your Gemfile with gem 'importmap-rails'
  2. Run ./bin/bundle install
  3. Run ./bin/rails importmap:install

Note: In order to use JavaScript from Rails frameworks like Action Cable, Action Text, and Active Storage, you must be running Rails 7.0+. This was the first version that shipped with ESM compatible builds of these libraries.


The import map is setup through Rails.application.importmap via the configuration in config/importmap.rb. This file is automatically reloaded in development upon changes, but note that you must restart the server if you remove pins and need them gone from the rendered importmap or list of preloads.

This import map is inlined in the <head> of your application layout using <%= javascript_importmap_tags %>, which will setup the JSON configuration inside a <script type="importmap"> tag. After that, the es-module-shim is loaded, and then finally the application entrypoint is imported via <script type="module">import "application"</script>. That logical entrypoint, application, is mapped in the importmap script tag to the file app/javascript/application.js.

It's in app/javascript/application.js you setup your application by importing any of the modules that have been defined in the import map. You can use the full ESM functionality of importing any particular export of the modules or everything.

It makes sense to use logical names that match the package names used by npm, such that if you later want to start transpiling or bundling your code, you won't have to change any module imports.

Using node modules via JavaScript CDNs

Importmap for Rails is designed to be used with JavaScript CDNs for your node package dependencies. The CDNs provide pre-compiled distribution versions ready to use, and offer a fast, efficient way of serving them.

You can use the ./bin/importmap command that's added as part of the install to pin, unpin, or update node packages in your import map. This command uses an API from JSPM.org to resolve your package dependencies efficiently, and then add the pins to your config/importmap.rb file. It can resolve these dependencies from JSPM itself, but also from other CDNs, like unpkg.com and jsdelivr.com.

It works like so:

./bin/importmap pin react react-dom
Pinning "react" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:react@17.0.2/index.js
Pinning "react-dom" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:react-dom@17.0.2/index.js
Pinning "object-assign" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:object-assign@4.1.1/index.js
Pinning "scheduler" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:scheduler@0.20.2/index.js

./bin/importmap json

  "imports": {
    "application": "/application.js",
    "react": "https://ga.jspm.io/npm:react@17.0.2/index.js",
    "react-dom": "https://ga.jspm.io/npm:react-dom@17.0.2/index.js",
    "object-assign": "https://ga.jspm.io/npm:object-assign@4.1.1/index.js",
    "scheduler": "https://ga.jspm.io/npm:scheduler@0.20.2/index.js"

As you can see, the two packages react and react-dom resolve to a total of four dependencies, when resolved via the jspm default.

Now you can use these in your application.js entrypoint like you would any other module:

import React from "react"
import ReactDOM from "react-dom"

You can also designate a specific version to pin:

./bin/importmap pin react@17.0.1
Pinning "react" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:react@17.0.1/index.js
Pinning "object-assign" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:object-assign@4.1.1/index.js

Or even remove pins:

./bin/importmap unpin react
Unpinning "react"
Unpinning "object-assign"

If you pin a package that has already been pinned, it'll be updated inline, along with its dependencies.

You can control the environment of the package for packages with separate "production" (the default) and "development" builds:

./bin/importmap pin react --env development
Pinning "react" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:react@17.0.2/dev.index.js
Pinning "object-assign" to https://ga.jspm.io/npm:object-assign@4.1.1/index.js

You can also pick an alternative, supported CDN provider when pinning, like unpkg or jsdelivr (jspm is the default):

./bin/importmap pin react --from jsdelivr
Pinning "react" to https://cdn.jsdelivr.net/npm/react@17.0.2/index.js

Remember, though, that if you switch a pin from one provider to another, you may have to clean up dependencies added by the first provider that isn't used by the second provider.

Run ./bin/importmap to see all options.

Note that this command is merely a convenience wrapper to resolving logical package names to CDN URLs. You can also just lookup the CDN URLs yourself, and then pin those. For example, if you wanted to use Skypack for React, you could just add the following to config/importmap.rb:

pin "react", to: "https://cdn.skypack.dev/react"

What if I don't like to use a JavaScript CDN?

You always have the option to simply download the compiled JavaScript packages from the CDNs, and saving them locally in your application. You can put such files in app/javascript/vendor, and then reference them with local pins, like:

# config/importmap.rb
pin "react", to: "vendor/react@17.0.2.js"

But using a JavaScript CDN is fast, secure, and easier to deal with. Start there.

Preloading pinned modules

To avoid the waterfall effect where the browser has to load one file after another before it can get to the deepest nested import, we use modulepreload links. Pinned modules are preloaded by default, but you can turn this off with preload: false.


# config/importmap.rb
pin "@github/hotkey", to: "https://ga.jspm.io/npm:@github/hotkey@1.4.4/dist/index.js"
pin "md5", to: "https://cdn.jsdelivr.net/npm/md5@2.3.0/md5.js", preload: false

# app/views/layouts/application.html.erb
<%= javascript_importmap_tags %> 

# will include the following link before the importmap is setup:
<link rel="modulepreload" href="https://ga.jspm.io/npm:@github/hotkey@1.4.4/dist/index.js">

Composing import maps

By default, Rails loads import map definition from the application's config/importmap.rb to the Importmap::Map object available at Rails.application.importmap.

You can combine multiple import maps by drawing their definitions onto the Rails.application.importmap. For example, appending import maps defined in Rails engines:

# my_engine/lib/my_engine/engine.rb

module MyEngine
  class Engine < ::Rails::Engine
    # ...
    initializer "my-engine.importmap" do |app|

And pinning JavaScript modules from the engine:

# my_engine/config/importmap.rb

pin_all_from File.expand_path("../app/assets/javascripts", __dir__)

Include a digest of the import map in your etag

If you're using etags generated by Rails helpers like stale? or fresh_when, you need to include the digest of the import map into this calculation. Otherwise your application will return 302 cache responses even when your JavaScript assets have changed. You can avoid this with something like:

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  etag { Rails.application.importmap.digest(resolver: helpers) if request.format&.html? }

Sweeping the cache in development and test

Generating the import map json and modulepreloads may require resolving hundreds of assets. This can take a while, so these operations are cached, but in development and test, we watch for changes to both config/importmap.rb and files in app/javascript to clear this cache. This feature can be controlled in an environment configuration file via the boolean config.importmap.sweep_cache. If you're pinning local files from outside of app/javascript, you'll need to restart your development server upon changes.

Expected errors from using the es-module-shim

While import maps are native in Chrome and Edge, they need a shim in other browsers that'll produce a JavaScript console error like TypeError: Module specifier, 'application' does not start with "/", "./", or "../".. This error is normal and does not have any user-facing consequences.

Turning off the shim

Under certain circumstances, like running system tests using chromedriver under CI (which may be resource constrained and trigger errors in certain cases), you may want to explicitly turn off including the shim. If can do this by calling the bulk tag helper with javascript_importmap_tags("application", shim: false). Thus you can pass in something like shim: !ENV["CI"]. If you want, and are sure you're not doing any full-page caching, you can also connect this directive to a user agent check (using a gem like useragent) to check whether the browser is chrome/edge 89+. But you really shouldn't have to, as the shim is designed to gracefully work with natively compatible drivers.

A note about browser extensions

Certain extensions that also load Javascript modules may block import maps from being loaded (for instance, the Apollo Client Devtools extension). If you see a console message like An import map is added after module script load was triggered, browser extensions are likely the culprit.


Importmap for Rails is released under the MIT License.