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Dynamic Loading

Even though you can get far with webpack’s code splitting features covered in the Code Splitting chapter, there’s more to it. Webpack provides more dynamic ways to deal with code through require.context.

Dynamic loading with require.context

require.contextβ†— provides a general form of code splitting. Let’s say you are writing a static site generator on top of webpack. You could model your site contents within a directory structure by having a ./pages/ directory which would contain the Markdown files.

Each of these files would have a YAML frontmatter for their metadata. The url of each page could be determined based on the filename and mapped as a site. To model the idea using require.context, you could end up with the code as below:

// Process pages through `yaml-frontmatter-loader` and `json-loader`.
// The first one extracts the front matter and the body and the latter
// converts it into a JSON structure to use later. Markdown
// hasn't been processed yet.
const req = require.context(
  true, // Load files recursively. Pass false to skip recursion.
  /^\.\/.*\.md$/ // Match files ending with .md.

The loader definition could be pushed to webpack configuration. The inline form is used to keep the example minimal.

require.context returns a function to require against. It also knows its module id and it provides a keys() method for figuring out the contents of the context. To give you a better example, consider the code below:

req.keys(); // ["./", "./"]; // 42

// {title: "Demo", body: "# Demo page\nDemo content\n\n"}
const demoPage = req("./");

The technique can be valuable for other purposes, such as testing or adding files for webpack to watch. In that case, you would set up a require.context within a file which you then point to through a webpack entry.

If you are using TypeScript, make sure you have installed @types/webpack-env↗ for require.context to work.

Dynamic paths with a dynamic import

The same idea works with dynamic import. Instead of passing a complete path, you can pass a partial one. Webpack sets up a context internally. Here’s a brief example:

// Set up a target or derive this somehow
const target = "fi";

// Elsewhere in code

The same idea works with require as webpack can then perform static analysis. For example, require(assets/modals/${imageSrc}.js); would generate a context and resolve against an image based on the imageSrc that was passed to the require.

When using dynamic imports, specify file extension in the path as that keeps the context smaller and helps with performance.

There’s a full implementation of the idea in the Internationalization chapter.

Combining multiple require.contexts

Multiple separate require.contexts can be combined into one by wrapping them behind a function:

const { concat, uniq } = require("lodash");

const combineContexts = (...contexts) => {
  function webpackContext(req) {
    // Find the first match and execute
    const matches = contexts
      .map((context) => context.keys().indexOf(req) >= 0 && context)
      .filter((a) => a);

    return matches[0] && matches[0](req);
  webpackContext.keys = () =>
        null, => context.keys())
  return webpackContext;

Dealing with dynamic paths

Given the approaches discussed here rely on static analysis and webpack has to find the files in question, it doesn’t work for every possible case. If the files you need are on another server or have to be accessed through a particular end-point, then webpack isn’t enough.

Consider using browser-side loaders like $script.js↗ or little-loader↗ on top of webpack in this case.


Even though require.context is a niche feature, it’s good to be aware of it. It becomes valuable if you have to perform lookups against multiple files available within the file system. If your lookup is more complicated than that, you have to resort to other alternatives that allow you to perform loading runtime.

To recap:

  • require.context is an advanced feature that’s often hidden behind the scenes. Use it if you have to perform a lookup against a large number of files.
  • A dynamic import written in a certain form generates a require.context call. The code reads slightly better in this case.
  • The techniques work only against the file system. If you have to operate against urls, you should look into client-side solutions.

The next chapter shows how to use web workers with webpack.