Separating CSS

webpack-plugin-serve - A Development Server in a webpack Plugin - Interview with Andrew Powell

Even though there is a nice build set up now, where did all the CSS go? As per configuration, it has been inlined to JavaScript! Even though this can be convenient during development, it doesn't sound ideal.

The current solution doesn't allow cache CSS. You can also get a Flash of Unstyled Content (FOUC). FOUC happens because the browser takes a while to load JavaScript and the styles would be applied only then. Separating CSS to a file of its own avoids the problem by letting the browser to manage it separately.

Webpack provides a means to generate a separate CSS bundles using mini-css-extract-plugin (MCEP). It can aggregate multiple CSS files into one. For this reason, it comes with a loader that handles the extraction process. The plugin then picks up the result aggregated by the loader and emits a separate file.

Due to this process, MiniCssExtractPlugin comes with overhead during the compilation phase. It doesn't work with Hot Module Replacement (HMR) yet. Given the plugin is used only for production, that is not a problem.

It can be potentially dangerous to use inline styles within JavaScript in production as it represents an attack vector. Critical path rendering embraces the idea and inlines the critical CSS to the initial HTML payload improving the perceived performance of the site. In limited contexts inlining a small amount of CSS can be a viable option to speed up the initial load (fewer requests).

Setting Up MiniCssExtractPlugin#

Install the plugin first:

npm install mini-css-extract-plugin --save-dev

MiniCssExtractPlugin includes a loader, MiniCssExtractPlugin.loader that marks the assets to be extracted. Then a plugin performs its work based on this annotation.

Add the configuration below to the beginning of your configuration:

webpack.parts.js

const MiniCssExtractPlugin = require("mini-css-extract-plugin");

exports.extractCSS = ({ include, exclude, use = [] }) => {
  // Output extracted CSS to a file
  const plugin = new MiniCssExtractPlugin({
    filename: "[name].css",
  });

  return {
    module: {
      rules: [
        {
          test: /\.css$/,
          include,
          exclude,

          use: [
            MiniCssExtractPlugin.loader,
          ].concat(use),
        },
      ],
    },
    plugins: [plugin],
  };
};

That [name] placeholder uses the name of the entry where the CSS is referred. Placeholders and hashing are discussed in detail in the Adding Hashes to Filenames chapter.

If you wanted to output the resulting file to a specific directory, you could do it by passing a path. Example: filename: "styles/[name].css".

Connecting with Configuration#

Connect the function with the configuration as below:

webpack.config.js

const commonConfig = merge([
  ...
parts.loadCSS(),
]);
const productionConfig = merge([]);
const productionConfig = merge([ parts.extractCSS({ use: "css-loader", }), ]);
const developmentConfig = merge([ ...
parts.loadCSS(),
]);

Using this setup, you can still benefit from the HMR during development. For a production build, it's possible to generate a separate CSS, though. HtmlWebpackPlugin picks it up automatically and injects it into index.html.

If you are using CSS Modules, remember to tweak use accordingly as discussed in the Loading Styles chapter. You can maintain separate setups for standard CSS and CSS Modules so that they get loaded through discrete logic.

After running npm run build, you should see output similar to the following:

Hash: 45a5e26cc963eb12db02
Version: webpack 4.1.1
Time: 752ms
Built at: 3/16/2018 4:24:40 PM
     Asset       Size  Chunks             Chunk Names
   main.js  700 bytes       0  [emitted]  main
  main.css   33 bytes       0  [emitted]  main
index.html  220 bytes          [emitted]
Entrypoint main = main.js main.css
   [0] ./src/index.js + 1 modules 247 bytes {0} [built]
       | ./src/index.js 99 bytes [built]
       | ./src/component.js 143 bytes [built]
   [1] ./src/main.css 41 bytes {0} [built]
...

Now styling has been pushed to a separate CSS file. Thus, the JavaScript bundle has become slightly smaller. You also avoid the FOUC problem. The browser doesn't have to wait for JavaScript to load to get styling information. Instead, it can process the CSS separately, avoiding the flash.

If you are getting Module build failed: CssSyntaxError: or Module build failed: Unknown word error, make sure your common configuration doesn't have a CSS-related section set up.

Managing Styles Outside of JavaScript#

Even though referring to styling through JavaScript and then bundling is the recommended option, it's possible to achieve the same result through an entry and globbing the CSS files through an entry:

...
const glob = require("glob");

...

const commonConfig = merge([
  {
    entry: {
      ...
      style: glob.sync("./src/**/*.css"),
    },
    ...
  },
  ...
]);

After this type of change, you would not have to refer to styling from your application code. It also means that CSS Modules stop working. You have to be careful with CSS ordering as well.

As a result, you should get both style.css and style.js. The latter file contains content like webpackJsonp([1,3],[function(n,c){}]); and it doesn't do anything as discussed in the webpack issue 1967.

If you want strict control over the ordering, you can set up a single CSS entry and then use @import to bring the rest to the project through it. Another option would be to set up a JavaScript entry and go through import to get the same effect.

css-entry-webpack-plugin has been designed to help with this usage pattern. The plugin can extract a CSS bundle from entry without MCEP.

Conclusion#

The current setup separates styling from JavaScript neatly. Even though the technique is most valuable with CSS, it can be used to extract HTML templates or any other files types you consume. The hard part about MiniCssExtractPlugin has to do with its setup, but the complexity can be hidden behind an abstraction.

To recap:

  • Using MiniCssExtractPlugin with styling solves the problem of Flash of Unstyled Content (FOUC). Separating CSS from JavaScript also improves caching behavior and removes a potential attack vector.
  • If you don't prefer to maintain references to styling through JavaScript, an alternative is to handle them through an entry. You have to be careful with style ordering in this case, though.

In the next chapter, you'll learn to eliminate unused CSS from the project.

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Loading Styles

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