Getting the most out of Bower

Bower is great. I needed a package manager like that. But by itself it’s not extremely useful because after installing a component you still have to manually link it. This is tedious, especially when there are a lot of assets per component. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just run bower install --save <component> and have everything else just happen?

Example

For example, in order to install Bootstrap, you would first run:

$ bower install --save bootstrap

then you’d need to link it up in your index.html:

<!doctype html>
<html>
<head>
  <meta charset="utf-8">
  <title>Fun with Bower</title>
  <link rel="stylesheet" href="bower_components/bootstrap/dist/css/bootstrap.css">
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Fun with Bower</h1>
  <p>Having some fun with Bower.</p>
  <script src="bower_components/jquery/dist/jquery.js"></script>
  <script src="bower_components/bootstrap/dist/js/bootstrap.js"></script>
</body>
</html>

(jQuery was automatically installed as Bootstrap’s dependency.)

Doing this for every component is boring and even a bit error-prone, as you have to be careful to order the dependencies in the correct way. You are a smart person and this is insulting for your intellect, so let’s automate this.

Automatization

Most Bower components have, or should have, a proper bower.json file, which has a main property listing all assets needed to use that component. Wiredep is a tool that reads the main property from all dependencies and can output those files in any way we want, which is in this case linking them up in our index.html.

There are a couple of ways to use wiredep, as listed in the docs. We could use gulp, grunt or something else, but I’ll keep it simple by using wiredep’s own CLI, so you can just install it globally:

$ npm install --global wiredep

Before using it, you should insert comment blocks, which will tell wiredep where it should output links. The syntax for a wiredep block is really simple:

<!-- bower:<extension> -->
<!-- endbower -->

Links to assets with that extension will be injected between those two comments, and any content that was previously inside that block will get replaced.

In our index.html we can insert blocks for CSS and JS:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="utf-8">
  <title>Fun with Bower</title>
  <!-- bower:css -->
  <!-- endbower -->
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Fun with Bower</h1>
  <p>Having some fun with Bower.</p>
  <!-- bower:js -->
  <!-- endbower -->
</body>
</html>

Other file types are supported too. E.g. a Sass comment block could be included in your main.scss file:

// bower:scss
// endbower

And all .scss dependencies would be @imported here.

Now install a dependency, e.g. bower install --save bootstrap, and run:

$ wiredep --src index.html

See the magic happen in your index.html, your wiredep blocks should now contain links to Bootstrap’s assets:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="utf-8">
  <title>Fun with Bower</title>
  <!-- bower:css -->
  <link rel="stylesheet" href="bower_components/bootstrap/dist/css/bootstrap.css">
  <!-- endbower -->
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Fun with Bower</h1>
  <p>Having some fun with Bower.</p>
  <!-- bower:js -->
  <script src="bower_components/jquery/dist/jquery.js"></script>
  <script src="bower_components/bootstrap/dist/js/bootstrap.js"></script>
  <!-- endbower -->
</body>
</html>

Bower’s Hooks

Bower >= 1.3.1 has hooks that we can use to automatically run wiredep each time we install a component. First, update Bower to get the latest version:

$ npm install --global bower

Then create a .bowerrc file in your project with the following content:

{
  "scripts": {
    "postinstall": "wiredep -s index.html"
  }
}

Now try my favorite mother-of-all-examples, bower install --save isotope, and see your bower:js block get automatically updated. :sunglasses:

Note: you may have noticed that this will trigger wiredep only when a component is installed. It would be nice if the links get removed when we uninstall a component, but Bower is currently missing the postuninstall hook.

Customization

The CLI has additional features, like excluding unwanted components, but it doesn’t offer much flexibility. I was only using it for the sake of simplicity. When used via gulp or grunt you can customize it by modifying output links, adding callbacks, defining your own extensions etc.

Caveats

It would be nice if all Bower components had a (correct) main property in their bower.json, but many of them don’t, so wiredep doesn’t know which assets to link. Fortunately, you can simply override properties from other components in your bower.json.

Also, this technique obviously doesn’t work for binary assets, so you will have to do some extra work in those cases (main-bower-files can help). Sometimes the solution can be as simple as copying those files over to your project, but sometimes you’ll have to do some replacing :confused:

Matija Marohnić

Matija Marohnić

I’m a frontend developer currently using React. I realize that modern frontend is an overwhelming and scary place, but we’re in this together!

…right?