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How to Dynamically Import ECMAScript Modules

Updated October 3, 2021

ECMAScript (aka ES2015, or ES) modules are a way to organize cohesive chunks of code in JavaScript.

The ES modules system has 2 actors:

  1. The importing module — the one that uses import { func } from './myModule.js'
  2. The imported module — the one which exports export const func = () => {} and is being imported.

The importing module uses import syntax to import a dependency:

javascript
// The importing module
import { concat } from './concatModule.js';
concat('a', 'b'); // => 'ab'

While the imported module exports its components using export syntax:

javascript
// The imported module exports components
export const concat = (paramA, paramB) => paramA + paramB;

import { concat } from './concatModule.js' way of using ES modules is static: meaning that the dependencies between modules are known at compile time. A static dependency is always included in the app's bundle.

Static importing works in most situations. But sometimes you'd like to save a bit of the client's bandwidth and load modules dynamically.

You can import modules dynamically if you use import as a function — import(pathToModule) — a feature available starting ES2020.

Let's see how dynamic import works, and when it's useful.

1. Dynamic import of modules

When the import keyword is used as a function:

javascript
const module = await import(path);

It returns a promise and starts an asynchronous task to load the module. If the module was loaded successfully, then the promise resolves to the module content, otherwise, the promise rejects.

path can be any expression that evaluates to a string denoting a path. Valid path expressions are:

javascript
// Classic string literals
const module1 = await import('./myModule.js');
// A variable
const path = './myOtherModule.js';
const module2 = await import(path);
// Function call
const getPath = (version) => `./myModule/versions/${version}.js`;
const moduleVersion1 = await import(getPath('v1.0'));
const moduleVersion2 = await import(getPath('v2.0'));

Because the import(path) returns a promise, it fits great with the async/await syntax. For example, let's load a module inside of an asynchronous function:

javascript
async function loadMyModule() {
const myModule = await import('./myModule.js');
// ... use myModule
}
loadMyModule();

Now, knowing how to load the module, let's extract components (default or named) from the imported module.

2. Importing components

2.1 Importing of named exports

Let's consider the following module, named namedConcat.js:

javascript
// namedConcat.js
export const concat = (paramA, paramB) => paramA + paramB;

namedConcat performs a named export of the concat function.

If you'd like to dynamically import namedConcat.js, and access the named export concat, then simply destructure the resolved module object by the named export:

javascript
async function loadMyModule() {
const { concat } = await import('./namedConcat.js');
concat('b', 'c'); // => 'bc'
}
loadMyModule();

2.2 Importing of default export

To dynamically import a default, just read the default property from the module object.

Let's say that defaultConcat.js exports the function as a default export:

javascript
// defaultConcat.js
export default (paramA, paramB) => paramA + paramB;

When importing defaultConcat.js dynamically, and specifically accessing the default export, what you need is simply to read the default property.

But there's a nuance. default is a keyword in JavaScript, so it cannot be used as a variable name. What you do is use destructuring with aliasing:

javascript
async function loadMyModule() {
const { default: defaultFunc } = await import('./defaultConcat.js');
defaultFunc('b', 'c'); // => 'bc'
}
loadMyModule();

2.3 Importing mixed content

If the imported module exports default and multiple named exports, then you can access all these components using a single destructuring:

javascript
async function loadMyModule() {
const {
default: defaultImport,
namedExport1,
namedExport2
} = await import('./mixedExportModule.js');
// ...
}
loadMyModule();

3. When to use dynamic import

I recommend using dynamic import when importing big modules conditionally.

E.g. you might use the module from time to time, depending on runtime conditions. Or you might want to load different versions of a big module, also depending on runtime conditions.

javascript
async function execBigModule(condition) {
if (condition) {
const { funcA } = await import('./bigModuleA.js');
funcA();
} else {
const { funcB } = await import('./bigModuleB.js');
funcB();
}
}
execBigModule(true);

For small modules (like namedConcat.js or defaultConcat.js from the previous example), that have a few dozens of lines of code, the dynamic import doesn't worth the hassle.

4. Conclusion

To load dynamically a module call import(path) as a function with an argument indicating the specifier (aka path) to a module.

const module = await import(path) returns a promise that resolves to an object containing the components of the imported module.

In that object, the default property contains the default export, and the named exports are contained in the corresponding properties:

javascript
const {
default: defaultComponent,
namedExport1,
namedExport2
} = await import(path);

The dynamic import is supported by both Node.js (version 13.2 and above) and most modern browsers.

What other interesting use cases of the dynamic import do you know? Share your idea in a comment below!

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Dmitri Pavlutin

About Dmitri Pavlutin

Tech writer and coach. My daily routine consists of (but not limited to) drinking coffee, coding, writing, coaching, overcoming boredom 😉.
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