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Webpack Tutorial How to configure Webpack 4 or 5 from scratch for a basic website

Anton Melnyk
・Updated on ・8 min read

🌼 Introduction

Hello, reader! 🐱

As you may know, configuring Webpack can be a frustrating task. Despite having good documentation, this bundler isn't a comfortable horse to ride for a few reasons.

Webpack team is working really hard and relatively quickly developing it, which is a good thing. However, it is overwhelming for a new developer to learn all stuff at once. Tutorials are getting old, some plugins break, found examples can be confusing. Sometimes you can be stuck at something trivial and google a lot to find some short message in GitHub issues that finally helps.

There is a lack of introductory articles about Webpack and how it works, people rush straight to tools like create-react-app or vue-cli, but one sometimes needs to write some simple plain JavaScript and SASS with no frameworks or any fancy stuff.

This guide will look at step-by-step Webpack configuration for ES6, SASS, and images/fonts without any framework. It should be enough to start using Webpack for most simple websites or use it as a platform for further learning. Although this guide requires some prior knowledge about web-development and JavaScript, it may be useful for someone. At least I would be happy to meet something like this when I started with Webpack!

🎈 Our goal

We will be using Webpack to bundle our JavaScript, styles, images, and fonts files together into one dist folder.

Webpack will produce 1 bundled JavaScript file and 1 bundled CSS file. You can simply add them in your HTML file like that (of course you should change path to dist folder if needed):

<link rel="stylesheet" href="dist/bundle.css">
<script src="dist/bundle.js"></script>
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And you are good to go 🍹

You can look at the finished example from this guide: 🔗link.

Note: I updated dependencies recently. This guide applies to the latest Webpack 5, but config keeps working for Webpack 4 in case you need it!

🔧 Get started

1. Install Webpack

We use npm: $ npm init command to create a package.json file in a project folder where we will put our JavaScript dependencies. Then we can install Webpack itself with $ npm i --save-dev webpack webpack-cli.

2. Create entry point file

Webpack starts its job from a single JavaScript file, which is called the entry point. Create index.js in the javascript folder. You can write some simple code here like console.log('Hi') to ensure it works.

3. Create webpack.config.js

... in the project folder. Here is where all ✨ magic happens.

// Webpack uses this to work with directories
const path = require('path');

// This is the main configuration object.
// Here, you write different options and tell Webpack what to do
module.exports = {

  // Path to your entry point. From this file Webpack will begin its work
  entry: './src/javascript/index.js',

  // Path and filename of your result bundle.
  // Webpack will bundle all JavaScript into this file
  output: {
    path: path.resolve(__dirname, 'dist'),
    publicPath: '',
    filename: 'bundle.js'
  },

  // Default mode for Webpack is production.
  // Depending on mode Webpack will apply different things
  // on the final bundle. For now, we don't need production's JavaScript 
  // minifying and other things, so let's set mode to development
  mode: 'development'
};
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4. Add npm script in package.json to run Webpack

To run Webpack, we have to use npm script with simple command webpack and our configuration file as config option. Our package.json should look like this for now:

{
  "scripts": {
    "build": "webpack --config webpack.config.js"
  },
  "devDependencies": {
    "webpack": "^4.29.6",
    "webpack-cli": "^3.2.3"
  }
}
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5. Run Webpack

With that basic setup, you can run $ npm run build command. Webpack will look up our entry file, resolve all import module dependencies inside it and bundle it into single .js file in dist folder. In the console, you should see something like this:

If you add <script src="dist/bundle.js"></script> into yout HTML file you should see Hi in a browser console!

🔬 Loaders

Great! We have standard JavaScript bundled. But what if we want to use all cool features from ES6 (and beyond) and preserve browser compatibility? How should we tell Webpack to transform (transpile) our ES6 code to browser-compatible code?

That is where Webpack loaders come into play. Loaders are one of the main features of Webpack. They apply certain transformations to our code.

Let's add to webpack.config.js file new option module.rules. In this option, we will say Webpack how exactly it should transform different types of files.

entry: /* ... */,
output: /* ... */,

module: {
  rules: [
  ]
}
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For JavaScript files, we will use:

1. babel-loader

Babel is currently the best JavaScript transpiler out there. We will tell Webpack to use it to transform our modern JavaScript code to browser-compatible JavaScript code before bundling it.

Babel-loader does exactly that. Let's install it:
$ npm i --save-dev babel-loader @babel/core @babel/preset-env

Now we are going to add rule about JavaScript files:

rules: [
    {
      test: /\.js$/,
      exclude: /(node_modules)/,
      use: {
        loader: 'babel-loader',
        options: {
          presets: ['@babel/preset-env']
        }
      }
    }
]

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  • test is a regular expression for file extension which we are going to transform. In our case, it's JavaScript files.
  • exclude is a regular expression that tells Webpack which path should be ignored when transforming modules. That means we won't convert imported vendor libraries from npm if we import them in the future.
  • use is the main rule's option. Here we set loader, which is going to be applied to files that correspond to test regexp (JavaScript files in this case)
  • options can vary depending on the loader. In this case, we set default presets for Babel to consider which ES6 features it should transform and which not. It is a separate topic on its own, and you can dive into it if you are interested, but it's safe to keep it like this for now.

Now you can place ES6 code inside your JavaScript modules safely!

2. sass-loader

Time to work with styles. Usually, we don't want to write plain CSS. Very often, we use SASS preprocessor. We transform SASS to CSS and then apply auto prefixing and minifying. It's a kind of "default" approach to CSS. Let's tell Webpack to do exactly that.

Let's say we import our main SASS file sass/styles.scss in our javascripts/index.js entry point.

import '../sass/styles.scss';
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But for now, Webpack has no idea how to handle .scss files or any files except .js. We need to add proper loaders so Webpack could resolve those files:
$ npm i --save-dev sass sass-loader postcss-loader css-loader

We can add a new rule for SASS files and tell Webpack what to do with them:

rules: [
    {
      test: /\.js$/,
      /* ... */
    },
    {
      // Apply rule for .sass, .scss or .css files
      test: /\.(sa|sc|c)ss$/,

      // Set loaders to transform files.
      // Loaders are applying from right to left(!)
      // The first loader will be applied after others
      use: [
             {
               // This loader resolves url() and @imports inside CSS
               loader: "css-loader",
             },
             {
               // Then we apply postCSS fixes like autoprefixer and minifying
               loader: "postcss-loader"
             },
             {
               // First we transform SASS to standard CSS
               loader: "sass-loader"
               options: {
                 implementation: require("sass")
               }
             }
           ]
    }
]

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Note important thing about Webpack here. It can chain multiple loaders; they will be applied one by one from last to the first in the use array.

Now when Webpack meets import 'file.scss'; in code, it knows what to do!

PostCSS

How should we tell to postcss-loader which transformations it must apply? We create a separate config file postcss.config.js and use postcss plugins that we need for our styles. You may found minifying and autoprefixing the most basic and useful plugins to make sure CSS is ready for your real web site.

First, install those postcss plugins: $ npm i --save-dev autoprefixer cssnano.

Second, add them to postcss.config.js file like that:

module.exports = {
    plugins: [
        require('autoprefixer'),
        require('cssnano'),
        // More postCSS modules here if needed
    ]
}

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You can dive into PostCSS deeper and find more plugins that suit your workflow or project requirement.

After all that CSS setup only one thing left. Webpack will resolve your .scss imports, transform them, and... What's next? It won't magically create a single .css file with your styles bundled; we have to tell Webpack to do that. But this task is out of loaders' capabilities. We have to use Webpack's plugin for that.

🔌 Plugins

Their purpose is to do anything else that loaders can't. If we need to extract all that transformed CSS into a separate "bundle" file, we have to use a plugin. And there is a special one for our case: MiniCssExtractPlugin:
$ npm i --save-dev mini-css-extract-plugin

We can import plugins separately right at the start of the webpack.config.js file:

const MiniCssExtractPlugin = require("mini-css-extract-plugin");
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After our module.rules array where we set loaders add new plugins code where we activate our plugins with options:

module: {
  rules: [
    /* ... */
  ]
},
plugins: [

  new MiniCssExtractPlugin({
    filename: "bundle.css"
  })

]
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Now we can chain this plugin into our CSS loaders:

{
      test: /\.(sa|sc|c)ss$/,
      use: [
             {
               // After all CSS loaders, we use a plugin to do its work.
               // It gets all transformed CSS and extracts it into separate
               // single bundled file
               loader: MiniCssExtractPlugin.loader
             }, 
             {
               loader: "css-loader",
             },
             /* ... Other loaders ... */
           ]
}
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Done! If you followed along, you could run $ npm run build command and find bundle.css file in your dist folder. General setup now should look like this:

Webpack has tons of plugins for different purposes. You can explore them at your need in official documentation.

🔬 More loaders: images and fonts

At this point, you should catch up on the basics of how Webpack works. But we are not done yet. Most websites need some assets: images and fonts that we set through our CSS. Webpack can resolve background-image: url(...) line thanks to css-loader, but it has no idea what to do if you set URL to .png or jpg file.

We need a new loader to handle files inside CSS or to be able to import them right in JavaScript. And here it is:

file-loader

Install it with $ npm i --save-dev file-loader and add a new rule to our webpack.config.js:

rules: [
    {
      test: /\.js$/,
      /* ... */
    },
    {
      test: /\.(sa|sc|c)ss$/,
      /* ... */
    },
    {
      // Now we apply rule for images
      test: /\.(png|jpe?g|gif|svg)$/,
      use: [
             {
               // Using file-loader for these files
               loader: "file-loader",

               // In options we can set different things like format
               // and directory to save
               options: {
                 outputPath: 'images'
               }
             }
           ]
    }
]
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Now if you use inside your CSS some image like this:

body {
  background-image: url('../images/cat.jpg');
}
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Webpack will resolve it successfully. You will find your image with a hashed name inside dist/images folder. And inside bundle.css you will find something like this:

body {
  background-image: url(images/e1d5874c81ec7d690e1de0cadb0d3b8b.jpg);
}
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As you can see, Webpack is very intelligent — it correctly resolves the path of your url relatively to the dist folder!

You can as well add a rule for fonts and resolve them similarly to images; change outputPath to fonts folder for consistency:

rules: [
    {
      test: /\.js$/,
      /* ... */
    },
    {
      test: /\.(sa|sc|c)ss$/,
      /* ... */
    },
    {
      test: /\.(png|jpe?g|gif|svg)$/,
      /* ... */
    },
    {
      // Apply rule for fonts files
      test: /\.(woff|woff2|ttf|otf|eot)$/,
      use: [
             {
               // Using file-loader too
               loader: "file-loader",
               options: {
                 outputPath: 'fonts'
               }
             }
           ]
    }
]
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🏆 Wrapping up

That's it! A simple Webpack configuration for a classic website. We covered the concepts of entry point, loaders, and plugins and how Webpack transforms and bundles your files.

Of course, this is quite a straightforward config aimed to understand a general idea about Webpack. There are many things to add if you need them: source mapping, hot reloading, setting up JavaScript framework, and all other stuff that Webpack can do, but I feel those things are out of the scope of this guide.

If you struggle or want to learn more, I encourage you to check Webpack official documentation. Happy bundling!

Discussion (42)

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robinnnnnn profile image
Robin

Hey Anton,

I am having one issue when I run build I am getting this error :

ERROR in ./src/sass/styles.scss (./node_modules/css-loader/dist/cjs.js!./node_modules/postcss-loader/src!./node_modules/sass-loader/dist/cjs.js??ref--5-3!./src/sass/styles.scss)
    Module build failed (from ./node_modules/sass-loader/dist/cjs.js):
    Error: Dart Sass version 1.25.1-test.1 is incompatible with ^1.3.0.
        at getSassImplementation (/Users/robinsmac/Desktop/OdinCode/Odin_ToDoList/node_modules/sass-loader/dist/getSassImplementation.js:40:13)
        at Object.loader (/Users/robinsmac/Desktop/OdinCode/Odin_ToDoList/node_modules/sass-loader/dist/index.js:40:61)

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Any ideas why this is happening?

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author • Edited

Hey Robin!

Well, it basically what it says, sass dependency probably was outdated for sass loader, since the article is 2 years old!

But no worries, I updated all dependencies in the repository (including Webpack, it works now for the latest Webpack 5!), and fixed some typos and wording in the article. You can try to check out the repo and run the code again if you still need it :)

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quazzzar profile image
quazZzar

Hi,
fix this one please:

{
      // Now we apply rule for images
      test: /\.(png|jpe?g|gif|svg)$/,
      use: [
             {
               // Using file-loader for these files
               loader: "file-loader",

               // In options we can set different things like format
               // and directory to save
               options: {
                 outputPath: 'fonts'
               }
             }
           ]
    }
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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author

Thanks, I just noticed what was wrong! Fixed.

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aga007 profile image
aga007

Hi Anton, thanks for this article, very helpful! however when I try it in the production mode I get "You did not set any plugins, parser, or stringifier. Right now, PostCSS does nothing. Pick plugins for your case on postcss.parts/ and use them in postcss.config.js.". I installed postcss-loader, created postcss.config.js file the same as you did but it's not working. Any idea what could be the issue?

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author • Edited

Hi!

It's because in postcss.config.js there is a check for process.env.NODE_ENV variable. Even if you set Webpack mode to production it won't automatically change Node environment variable.

The simplest way to configure this is to install cross-env package:

$ npm install --save-dev cross-env

Then just add another npm script in package.json for production mode:

"scripts": {
  "build": "webpack --config webpack.config.js",
  "build-production": "cross-env NODE_ENV=production webpack --config webpack.config.js"
}

Now when you run npm run build-production the process.env.NODE_ENV variable will be production and postcss.config.js check is going to work:

if(process.env.NODE_ENV === 'production') {
    module.exports = {
        plugins: [
            require('autoprefixer'),
            require('cssnano')
        ]
    }
}

From Webpack documentation:

Technically, NODE_ENV is a system environment variable that Node.js exposes into running scripts. It is used by convention to determine dev-vs-prod behavior by server tools, build scripts, and client-side libraries. Contrary to expectations, process.env.NODE_ENV is not set to "production" within the build script webpack.config.js. Thus, conditionals like process.env.NODE_ENV === 'production' ? '[name].[hash].bundle.js' : '[name].bundle.js' within webpack configurations do not work as expected.

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aga007 profile image
aga007

Many thanks! Now it works :)

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muratx10 profile image
Murat

@Anton, Big big thank you!!! You've saved my nerves 😊 I had a problem with paths where webpack puts assets after building project. Now you made it absolutely clear!!! THANK YOU BRO! Big plus to your karma 😉

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author

Thank you! Glad it helped! 😊👍

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alittlebyte profile image
Vlad

Loved this article, it's concise and up to date.
The most confusing part for me is Webpack using a .js file for an entry point, instead of an .html.
Speaking of which... there should be an HTML loader setup of some sort, so my .html content is packed into the bundle too, right?
Gonna go search the documentation for it. Cheers!

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author

Correct, there is a html plugin that will automatically create html from template and insert your JS bundle there.

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rajatsingh91 profile image
rajat singh • Edited

Hey Anton ,

I am very new to JS and everything written here is clearly understandable to me , thank you for this.
though i am getting exception in build for module not found for third party java script libraries .

dev-to-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/i/...

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author • Edited

Thanks, man.

It's hard to say what exactly is wrong with your build, as I can't see your gulp or Webpack config file and what you are actually doing there.

But the error message is pretty clear, you miss jquery and slick-carousel modules. Maybe you declare them globally like window.jQuery as it usual for WordPress websites, but Webpack doesn't know about them. You might need to install them via npm or expose them via expose-loader.

stackoverflow.com/questions/290801...

Check this, it might be your case

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rajatsingh91 profile image
rajat singh • Edited

Hi Anton,

i am using babel-loader..

this is my gulpfile

var gulp = require('gulp'),
settings = require('./settings'),
webpack = require('webpack'),
browserSync = require('browser-sync').create(),
postcss = require('gulp-postcss'),
rgba = require('postcss-hexrgba'),
autoprefixer = require('autoprefixer'),
cssvars = require('postcss-simple-vars'),
nested = require('postcss-nested'),
cssImport = require('postcss-import'),
mixins = require('postcss-mixins'),
colorFunctions = require('postcss-color-function');

gulp.task('styles', function() {
return gulp.src(settings.themeLocation + 'css/style.css')
.pipe(postcss([cssImport, mixins, cssvars, nested, rgba, colorFunctions, autoprefixer]))
.on('error', (error) => console.log(error.toString()))
.pipe(gulp.dest(settings.themeLocation));
});

gulp.task('scripts', function(callback) {
webpack(require('./webpack.config.js'), function(err, stats) {
if (err) {
console.log(err.toString());
}
console.log(stats.toString());
callback();
});
});

gulp.task('watch', function() {
browserSync.init({
notify: false,
proxy: settings.urlToPreview,
ghostMode: false
});

gulp.watch('..//*.php', function() {
browserSync.reload();
});
gulp.watch(settings.themeLocation + 'css/
/.css', gulp.parallel('waitForStyles'));
gulp.watch([settings.themeLocation + 'js/modules/
.js', settings.themeLocation + 'js/scripts.js'], gulp.parallel('waitForScripts'));
});

gulp.task('waitForStyles', gulp.series('styles', function() {
return gulp.src(settings.themeLocation + 'style.css')
.pipe(browserSync.stream());
}))

gulp.task('waitForScripts', gulp.series('scripts', function(cb) {
browserSync.reload();
cb()
}))


*and following is my webpack configuration *

const path = require('path'),
settings = require('./settings');

module.exports = {
entry: {
App: settings.themeLocation + "js/scripts.js"
},
output: {
path: path.resolve(__dirname, settings.themeLocation + "js"),
filename: "scripts-bundled.js"
},
module: {
rules: [
{
test: /.js$/,
exclude: /node_modules/,
use: {
loader: 'babel-loader',
options: {
presets: ['@babel/preset-env']
}
}
}
]
},
mode: 'development'
}

following is how i am importing the 3rd party libraries ..
import $ from 'jquery';
import slick from 'slick-carousel';

i tried to use the plugin configuration in webpack setting also but no luck.

Thread Thread
rajatsingh91 profile image
rajat singh • Edited

Hi Anton,

i added following line in my webpack configuration with absolute path of my node_modules and now its able to build..

resolve: {
modules: [
'__dirname','/Users/rajat.c.singhaccenture.com/Local\ Sites/cp-unique-convent-school/app/public/build-setup/node_modules'
]

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lauragyre profile image
Laura Gyre

Thank you, this is the only tutorial I have found that really helped me understand and get the basics of webpack working! However, in case any other beginners are reading, I want to mention that I would not have been able to get past the first section if I hadn't just come from another tutorial that told me to initialize with "npm init -y". When I tried without the -y, a bunch of confusing questions that I didn't know how to answer came up. With -y, everything worked perfectly.

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author • Edited

Yes, a good point! That's one way to do it.

You can just press Enter on each of those questions to accept defaults!

Glad you liked the guide :)

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mona_calibani_002e7a7e9cf profile image
Mons

Hi Anton,

I wrote the exact same code and I have an error that I can't fixe..

"Module build failed (from ./node_modules/mini-css-extract-plugin/dist/loader.js):
ModuleParseError: Module parse failed: Unexpected token (1:0)
You may need an appropriate loader to handle this file type, currently no loaders are configured to process this file. See webpack.js.org/concepts#loaders"

Do you have an idea of what's happened ?

Thank for your article !!

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herquiloidehele profile image
Herquiloide Hele

Good post. Thanks

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samayo profile image
samayo • Edited

Simply amazing guide Anton!! Really, very simple and understandable. I already followed you before I even finished reading.

Just one pro-tip. In English, if you are talking about objects (non-living things) use "it" instead of "he/she". Simply, use "it" when talking about everything except humans or animals. So, webpack == "it"

Cheers!

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author

Glad you enjoyed the guide!

Simply, use "it" when talking about everything except humans or animals.

Oh, sorry! Good to know! I'm not a native speaker, but I try to improve my English constantly, so thanks 😊

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andfinally profile image
And Finally • Edited

Great tutorial, thanks Anton! It would really help if you could let us see your full webpack.config.js though. I'm getting a weird error TypeError: this.getOptions is not a function from sass-loader. I'm pretty sure it's because something's in the wrong place in my config.

My problem was due to package versions. On npm install I was getting these warnings:

npm WARN postcss-loader@5.0.0 requires a peer of webpack@^5.0.0 but none is installed. You must install peer dependencies yourself.
npm WARN sass-loader@11.0.0 requires a peer of webpack@^5.0.0 but none is installed. You must install peer dependencies yourself.
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Installing webpack 5.0.0 made them go away and got the build running correctly.

 npm install --save-dev "webpack@^5.0.0"
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smallville1998 profile image
John Ifemezuo .A

this tutorial is super amazing, thanks for the help.

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chrisjskinner profile image
Chris Skinner

Very nice and well documented!

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tanyak1601 profile image
tanyak1601

Спасибо, это лучшее что я нашла по webpack для новичков

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raphiree profile image
raphiree

Incredibly helpful Anton, I really appreciate the step-by-step explanation of why we're adding lines.

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chrisachard profile image
Chris Achard

Thanks for the post - Webpack can be super tricky to setup, and this is a great step-by-step tutorial for it. Thanks!

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samtomashi profile image
Sam Tomashi

great stuff!

remember to install webpack globally and use webpack-dev-server too for more convenience using npm install webpack webpack-cli webpack-dev-server -g

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obrienk10 profile image
Karl O'Brien

This was great - very useful, thanks.

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muratx10 profile image
Murat • Edited

I haven't read the article yet, just title of it....but I guess today it will save my nerves for setting up Webpack 😊 I have troubles with images/fonts in dev/prod modes. Thanks a lot in advance!

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wptechprodigy profile image
Waheed Afolabi

Thanks Anton for the clear and lucid guide. You just saved my day.

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robinnnnnn profile image
Robin

Hey Anton,

I love the explanation, great work. I am having one issue though when I run the
$ npm run build,
the bundle.css file isn't created in my dist folder.

Any ideas?

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zugmaschine profile image
Pullmachine

Great Tutorial.
Ä° use the webpack-dev-server-plugin.
Please, can anyone Show, what I have to write, to config, that the dev-server-plugin serves a
phpfile(index. php) instead of Index. ktml?

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feliperybas profile image
Felipe Rybakovas

This was fabulous!

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ding profile image
Ting Ting

How to configure multi-page application with webpack4?

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elrond25 profile image
Carlos Araya

Single bundle solutions are harder to fit within a performance budget, particularly for large applications

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krzysztofwelc profile image
Krzysztof Welc

cool, but where should I place index.html file in project?

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author • Edited

Right in the root, where webpack.config.js is placed.

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rustfoot profile image
Kyle P

This was really useful in helping me wrap my head around a basic setup for webpack. Thanks so much for putting this article out!

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consciousness_dev profile image
Ario Setiawan

Love this tutorial! It so easy :D
I hope there is another tutorial Webpack 4 & Bootstrap setup XD

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wordsofdefiance profile image
David Accomazzo

Is there a way to set up webpack with a watcher, so that anytime you edit a scss or js file it automatically runs the sass/babel/postcss tasks?

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antonmelnyk profile image
Anton Melnyk Author • Edited

Of course there is, for example you can use webpack-dev-server for that. But that is way out of scope of this guide and this is more advanced stuff.

webpack.js.org/concepts/hot-module...