A breakdown of the most important JS dev tools in 2022, including their most relevant tradeoffs, and some opinionated advice sprinkled on top.
In the world of software engineering, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the tools at your disposal.
But the landscape of JS tooling is always changing at such a rapid pace.
And 2022 is no different.
So I decided to break down the most important dev tools that you should be aware of in 2022.
We’ll start with the lowest-level tools and work our way up to higher-level tools from there. Let’s get started 💪
The most important thing to understand about this space is that it’s in the middle of undergoing a massive shift from compilers like tsc and babel, which are written in higher-level interpreted languages, to compilers like swc and esbuild, which are written in much faster, compiled languages.
This shift results in 10-100x faster compilation times as shown in this esbuild demo.
If you’re updating your devtools stack or starting a new project in 2022, then you’ll want to consider using one of these next-gen compilers under the hood. They may not be as mature as the official typescript compiler or babel, but the benefits of having 100x faster builds cannot be understated.
Note that neither swc nor esbuild perform type checking. They simply transpile code into the desired output format as quickly and efficiently as possible. For the time being, if you’re working with TypeScript, you’ll almost always need to have the official TypeScript compiler as part of your toolchain to guarantee that you’re getting the most out of TypeScript’s static type checking. It’s also worth mentioning that the author of swc, kdy1dev is working on porting tsc to Go in order to remove the need for tsc in many cases, as it tends to be the bottleneck in most toolchains.
esbuild are both excellent, blazing fast, open source JS / TS compilers. They have comparable performance and are both used regularly in production by some of the world’s largest companies.
It’s likely that your choice between the two will be dictated more by the higher-level tools built on top of these compilers as opposed to choosing between them directly.
Notable projects using
Notable projects using
In software engineering, convenient statements such as “technology A is better than technology B” rarely hold much value. Rather, you should try to always keep context in mind. In this case, there are many scenarios where you’d be better off using
Becoming a better software engineer often boils down to thoroughly understanding the tradeoffs involved with these types of decisions, and balancing those tradeoffs against the particular constraints of your project, team, and business’ needs.
Bundlers are responsible for taking all of your input source files and bundling them together into an easy-to-consume output format. The two most common use cases for bundlers are bundling libraries and bundling resources for web applications.
rollup are the swiss-army knives of modern JS toolchains. They are both extremely extensible, with well-maintained plugins covering major use cases. It’s relatively straightforward, for example, to use any of the popular compilers listed above to transpile TS code with either webpack or rollup.
Parcel, on the other hand, provides a mostly zero-config approach to bundling. It focuses on simplicity as opposed to extensibility and uses
swc as a compiler under the hood.
esbuild both provide basic bundling capabilities as well, though compared with these alternatives, they’re not full-featured enough to be included on this list.
For a much more detailed comparison of these bundlers, check out tooling.report.
There’s a lot of history here, but the TL;DR is:
node_modules, and not being able to do so is a real disadvantage.
These tools are meant to help library authors bundle and publish modern NPM packages.
If you’re developing a new library in 2022, you’ll likely want to use one of these higher-level tools to simplify your workflow.
My personal preference will be to use tsup for TS packages, mainly because once you’ve experienced 100x faster builds, it’s really difficult to consider switching back to anything else.
Most of these tools don’t currently provide great support for TS monorepos which take advantage of composite project references. For the time being, my recommendation for this case is to use
tsc for type checking and generating
.d.ts typings (with
emitDeclarationOnly: true) and
tsup for compiling code in each of the sub-packages. For an example of this approach, check out the react-notion-x monorepo (one of my OSS projects).
Publishing modern NPM packages is a nuanced topic that goes well beyond the scope of this article. For more info on ESM, commonjs, dual-package publishing, exports, and more see:
These higher-level tools and frameworks are intended to help developers build modern web applications without worrying about all the details.
And last, but certainly not least, if you want something more light-weight, then give Parcel a try. 🤗
There seems to be a roughly equal number of projects building on top of
esbuild. The same observation goes for
Modern web development has evolved significantly over the past 10 years. Developers today are lucky to have such a wide range of amazing, well-maintained tools to choose from.
This is, however, by no means a comprehensive list of dev tools. If there’s something missing that you’d like to see added, let me know on twitter.
Hopefully this breakdown has helped you parse the most important aspects of the current JS / TS dev tools landscape, and hopefully it’ll help you to make more informed decisions going forwards.
If you found this article helpful, then consider following me on twitter for more @transitive_bs