Dmitri Pavlutin
Thoughts on Frontend development

The Module Import in JavaScript Has a Drawback

1. Named imports and autocomplete

Let’s say you write a simple JavaScript module:

// stringUtils.js
export function equalsIgnoreCase(string1, string2) {
  return string1.toLowerCase() === string2.toLowerCase();

This is a module stringUtils. The module has a named export equalsIgnoreCase, which is a function that compares 2 strings ignoring the case.

Everything looks good so far.

Now, let’s try to import equalsIgnoreCase function from stringUtils module inside of another JavaScript module app:

// app.js
import { equalsIgnoreCase } from './stringUtils';

equalsIgnoreCase('Hello', 'hello'); // => true

Most likely you would write the code the following way:

JavaScript Import Module Difficult Autocomplete

First, you have to write the import names import { }. At this step, the IDE cannot give any suggestions about the available names to import.

Then you continue writing from './stringUtils'. Then move back to curly brackets and expand autocomplete to select the names to import.

Despite all the good things about ES2015 modules, the import module syntax makes difficult to use autocomplete.

2. Modules in Python

Now let’s try to import named components in Python. Does it have the same problem?

Here’s the same module stringUtils and function equalsIgnoreCase implemented in Python:

def equalsIgnoreCase(string1, string2):
  return string1.lower() == string2.lower()

In Python, you don’t have to explicitly indicate the functions to export.

Now, inside of another Python module app, let’s try to import the function equalsIgnoreCase from stringUtils:

from stringUtils import equalsIgnoreCase

equalsIgnoreCase('Hello', 'hello') # => true

Most likely, you would write app module the following way:

Python Import Module Good Autocomplete

In Python, first, indicate the module you’re importing from: from stringUtils. Then you write what to import import ....

If you’d like to know the functions available for import, the editor already knows the module name and gives the necessary suggestions. Way better!

3. The solution

The only solution I could find to enable autocomplete on named imports in JavaScript is to call IDEs for help.

For example, in Visual Studio Code, you could install the JavaScript (ES6) code snippets plugin.

Having the plugin enabled, by using the imd snippet and hitting tab key, the cursor first jumps into the position where you write the module path. Then, after pressing the tab key, the cursor jumps back to the import position inside the curly brackets. Here’s how it works:

JavaScript Import Module Autocomplete With Plugin

4. Conclusion

In JavaScript, the import syntax forces you to indicate first the items (functions, classes, variables) you’d like to import, then the path to module. This approach is not autocomplete friendly.

In Python, on the opposite, you indicate first the module name, then the components you’d like to import: from stringUtils import equalsIgnoreCase. This syntax enables easy autocomplete of the imported items.

With the use of IDEs possibilities, like the ES6 code snippet plugin, you could mitigate the problem of named import autocomplete in JavaScript. Still better than nothing.

Do you find difficult to use autocomplete with ES modules? If so, what solution do you know?

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About Dmitri Pavlutin

I'm a passionate software developer, tech writer and coach. My daily routine consists of (but not limited to) drinking coffee, coding, writing, coaching, overcoming boredom 😉.