elm-electron-webpack

by johnomarkid

johnomarkid /elm-electron-webpack

A guide, not a template, for building electron apps with elm and webpack

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Updated to Elm 0.18

Elm is a really cool functional programming language used for front end development. Use it to build cross platform desktop apps with Electron and Webpack.

A guide, not a template

You can find starter templates for a lot of frameworks in the javascript ecosystem. They aren't helpful. Templates make your life harder. When something goes wrong or your code veers slightly from the template, you'll be fighting a beast that you likely do not understand. More so, the template probably includes packages and settings that you don't need.

So here it goes.

Create some folders and files

Whenever you see Project-Name you should substitute it with the name of your project. Per traditon, let's put your project files in a folder called Project-Name:

mkdir Project-Name

Now let's make a few files and folders.

$ cd Project-Name
$ touch README.md webpack.config.js 
$ mkdir src src/elm src/static
$ npm init

After

npm init
you'll be presented with a few questions about the project. Answer them or keep pressing enter. Now is a good time to initialize git and make your first commit.

Note that the

/elm
and
/static
folders inside
/src
are how I choose to structure my elm projects. Elm files have their place, and js/html/css go into static.

Electron

Electron allows you to use web technologies to build desktop apps. As of now, Elm compiles to javascript. That's why we can use Elm to build desktop apps. The goal in this section is to get an electron window displaying "Hello Electron". We won't be using Elm yet.

First make sure electron is globally installed.

$ sudo npm install -g electron

Electron has a Main process and a Renderer process. You can think of the Main process as the code that interacts with the file system and desktop with node.js. It's a local server. The Renderer process is where you write the front end code that the user interacts with. You can send data between processes using ipc.

Let's create two files to see this in action.

$ touch main.js src/static/index.html

Fill in the index.html file with text that shows you that this is working.

   This title shows at the top



<h2>Hello Electron</h2>

And now the main.js file.

'use strict'
const electron = require('electron')

const app = electron.app // this is our app const BrowserWindow = electron.BrowserWindow // This is a Module that creates windows

let mainWindow // saves a global reference to mainWindow so it doesn't get garbage collected

app.on('ready', createWindow) // called when electron has initialized

// This will create our app window, no surprise there function createWindow () { mainWindow = new BrowserWindow({ width: 1024, height: 768, webPreferencs: { nodeIntegration: true } })

// display the index.html file mainWindow.loadURL(file://${ __dirname }/src/static/index.html)

// open dev tools by default so we can see any console errors mainWindow.webContents.openDevTools()

mainWindow.on('closed', function () { mainWindow = null }) }

/* Mac Specific things */

// when you close all the windows on a non-mac OS it quits the app app.on('window-all-closed', () => { if (process.platform !== 'darwin') { app.quit() } })

// if there is no mainWindow it creates one (like when you click the dock icon) app.on('activate', () => { if (mainWindow === null) { createWindow() } })

This code is well commented. When we run this file, it will create a window of the specified size and create other application lifecycle methods. Notice the line:

mainWindow.loadURL(
file://${ __dirname }/src/static/index.html
)
That's where we tell our electron app to load the html file we created earlier.
$ electron main.js

Glorious.

Elm

Now for the fun part. Here's how this goes when electron isn't in the picture.

  • write some elm code
  • run
    elm init
    • elm will ask you to create a
      elm.json
      file which contains the package defintion for your package. All options should be self-explanatory and you do not need to think about this until later.
  • run
    elm make Main.elm --output bundle.js
    which compiles the elm code into javascript
  • import bundle.js into javascript and embed it into a div in your html.

That's still the general flow. Let's do this for real.

$ touch src/elm/Main.elm

Finally some Elm code.

module Main exposing (..)

import Html exposing (text)

main = text "Hello Electron. I'm Elm."

Now let's turn this Elm code into javascript. First, install elm package using:

sudo npm install -g elm

Once installed, issue "elm make" command below that will turn the Elm code into javascript. Elm will also install some packages.

$ elm make src/elm/Main.elm --output src/static/bundle.js 

The output file, bundle.js, is being put into the static folder. This is temporary for convenience. It's easier to import into the html file for lazy people since it is in the same directory. Many future decisions, but not all, are driven by laziness. But only when quality isn't at stake.

Edit the index.html file to import the new bundle.js file and embed it into a div.

   This title shows at the top



<div id="container"></div>
<script src="bundle.js"></script>
<script>
    var Elm = require('./bundle.js');
    var app = Elm.Elm.Main.init({
        node: document.getElementById('container')
    });
</script>

Here you are grabbing the container div and embedding the javascript code in there. Elm automatically creates the Main.init function during compilation.

A few more housekeeping items before we see this in action.

When you ran

elm make
some Elm packages were downloaded and an elm-package.json file was created. All is good, except elm doesn't know where to look for your elm files. Update the elm-package.json source-directories to point to the location of your elm files.
"source-directories": [
    "src/elm"
],

Run

electron main.js
and you'll see "Hello Electron. I'm Elm."

This setup is all you need to build electron apps in Elm. However, you'll be missing out on some of the latest and greatest web dev tools like hot reloading and automatic compilation. That's where webpack comes in.

Webpack

Webpack is hard to wrap your head around, but it's awesome so let's try to understand it.

What is webpack? The modern web stack is made up of many different parts. You could be using coffeescript or elm or clojurescript, sass or less, jade, etc. And they all depend on each other. A coffee file might be importing another coffee file, which is being used by a jade file. The dependency graph can get wild. Webpack takes all your files and automatically transforms them in to static assets - a clean set of javascript and css files.

In our case, webpack is going to take all of our Elm, javascript, css (or sass if that's how you roll) files and turn them in to static modules. Note that webpack can only consume javascript, so we need to use loaders that convert our elm code into javascript.

Let's get our Elm file working using webpack rather than reading the output of

elm make
.

Install webpack

You can use webpack from the command line, but to do anything serious (like converting Elm to js) you need a config file. We already created one: webpack.config.js. Let's create a directory for the webpack output file so things don't get messy in the root of our project. While we're at it, let's create an index.js file because as I mentioned earlier, webpack can only consume js. It can't import our index.html file unless we convert that to js with a loader.

$ mkdir dist
$ touch src/static/index.js
$ rm src/static/bundle.js

I removed the bundle.js file we created earlier. That will no longer be used because we are going to use the one that webpack makes in /dist/bundle.js.

And now edit the webpack.config.js file.

module.exports = {
    entry: './src/static/index.js',
    output: {
        path: './dist',
        filename: 'bundle.js'
    }
}

That seems scary, but it's not so bad. Every time you run the webpack command, webpack will check this file to see what it should do. We are saying that webpack should look for the index.js file, do its magic, and then export a file named bundle.js to the /dist directory.

Our index.js file is empty right now. It should include the javascript we used to embed Elm into the div. Remove that js from the html file and put it in index.js like so.

var Elm = require('../elm/Main');
var container = document.getElementById('container');
var app = Elm.Main.embed(container);

This code is mostly the same except you need to require the Main.elm file directly. Run webpack and see what happens. Error: cannot resolve ... elm/Main ... or something like that. What it's saying is that webpack doesn't know how to consume an Elm file. We need a loader to convert the Elm file to a js file.

$ npm install --save elm-webpack-loader 

And now configure webpack to use the loader.

module.exports = {
    entry: './src/static/index.js',
    output: {
        path: '__dirname'+'/dist',
        filename: 'bundle.js'
    },
    module: {
        loaders: [
            {
                test:    /\.elm$/,
                exclude: [/elm-stuff/, /node_modules/],
                loader:  'elm-webpack-loader?verbose=true&warn=true',
            }
        ]
    },
    resolve: {
        extensions: ['.js', '.elm']
    }
}

The elm loader is going to compile the .elm files into .js before webpack does its bundling magic. Under the hood webpack uses elm make just like we did above. We could skip using the loader if we wanted to manually make the elm files every time, but webpack automates it for us now.

If you run webpack now, you'll see the bundle file get created in /dist, but when you run electron you won't see the "Hello Electron. I'm Elm." text. The reason is because the html file that electron is running is not importing the new bundle.js file. In fact, it's not importing anything. Let's change that.

   This title shows at the top



<div id="container"></div>
<script src="../../dist/bundle.js"></script>

Try running

electron main.js
now and you'll see the message!

Here's an overview: - Elm files go to webpack loader and get turned into js - New js files are consumed by webpack and turned into one file, bundle.js - Electron opens our index.html file, which imports the new bundle.js

Webpack dev server

That's a solid workflow, but things can get even cooler. Instead of running webpack and electron every time there's a change, what if changes could be automatically injected into your electron window (which is really just a chrome browser window) every time you save your code?

Install

$ npm install webpack-dev-server

Webpack-dev-server helps us do just that. It creates a node.js express server, and that allows us to watch for files changes and serve. Edit the webpack.config.js file:

module.exports = {
    entry: './src/static/index.js',
    output: {
        path: './dist',
        publicPath: '/assets/',
        filename: 'bundle.js'
    },
    module: {
        loaders: [
            {
                test:    /\.elm$/,
                exclude: [/elm-stuff/, /node_modules/],
                loader:  'elm-webpack?verbose=true&warn=true',
            }
        ]
    },
    resolve: {
        extensions: ['', '.js', '.elm']
    }
}

All I did here was add

publicPath: '/assets/'
. That tells webpack-dev-server to make bundle.js available at
http://localhost:8080/assets/bundle.js
instead of in your /dist directory. Let's see if that is indeed the case. First we need to update our html file to search for the bundle file on the server rather than in /dist.
   This title shows at the top



<div id="container"></div>
<!--<script src='../../dist/bundle.js'></script>-->
<script src="http://localhost:8080/assets/bundle.js"></script>

Now run webpack-dev-server

$ webpack-dev-server --content-base /dist

This is just telling webpack-dev-server to watch the files in /dist. Open electron again and you will see the same text from the .elm file as we saw before. If you change that text you'll see a lot of output in your terminal. That is webpack at work recreating your bundle.js. Reload the electron browser to see things updated.

That's really cool! But the browser should automatically refresh on save, right? Right.

Simply add

devServer: { inline: true }
to your webpack.config.js file.
module.exports = {
    entry: './src/static/index.js',
    output: {
        path: './dist',
        publicPath: '/assets/',
        filename: 'bundle.js'
    },
    module: {
        loaders: [
            {
                test:    /\.elm$/,
                exclude: [/elm-stuff/, /node_modules/],
                loader:  'elm-webpack?verbose=true&warn=true',
            }
        ]
    },
    resolve: {
        extensions: ['', '.js', '.elm']
    },
    devServer: { inline: true }
}

And run

webpack-dev-server --content-base /dist
again. Now when you make changes in Main.elm webpack will recompile everything and refresh the browser.

This is a very good development setup. You may want to explore hot module replacement so only the components you change are refreshed, not the entire page. I'll leave that to you... for now.

About me

I'm John Omar. I really like Elm, so I decided to make some beginner friendly tutorials to get more people using it. Hit me up on twitter if you need help.

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