Optimize and Build a Backbone.js JavaScript application with Require.JS using Packages

When a JavaScript application is too complex or large to build in a single file, grouping the application’s components into packages allows for script dependencies to download in parallel, and facilitates only loading packaged and other modular code as the site experience requires the specific set of dependencies.

Require.JS, the (JavaScript) module loading library, has an optimizer to build a JavaScript-based application and provides various options. A build profile is the recipe for your build, much like a build.xml file is used to build a project with ANT. The benefit of building with r.js not only results in speedy script loading with minified code, but also provides a way to package components of your application.

In a complex application, organizing code into packages is an attractive build strategy. The build profile in this article is based on an test application currently under development (files list below). The application framework is built with open source libraries. The main objective in this build profile is to optimize an application developed with Backbone.js using modular code, following the Asynchronous Module Definition (AMD) format. AMD and Require.JS provide the structure for writing modular code with dependencies. Backbone.js provides the code organization for developing models, views and collections and also interactions with a RESTful API.

Below is an outline of the application’s file organization, followed by the build profile to build modular (or packaged) layers a JavaScript driven application.

File organization

Assume the following directories and file organization, with app.build.js as the build profile (a sibling to both source and release directories). Note that the files in the list below named section can be any component of the application, e.g. header, login)

.-- app.build.js
|-- app-release
`-- app-src
    |-- collections
    |   |-- base.js
    |   |-- sections-segments.js
    |   `-- sections.js
    |-- docs
    |   `--docco.css
    |-- models
    |   |-- base.js
    |   |-- branding.js
    |   `-- section.js
    |-- packages
    |   |-- header
    |   |   |-- models
    |   |   |   |-- nav.js
    |   |   |   `-- link.js
    |   |   |-- templates
    |   |   |   |-- branding.js
    |   |   |   |-- nav.js
    |   |   |   `-- links.js
    |   |   `-- views
    |   |       |-- nav.js
    |   |       |-- branding.js
    |   |       `-- link.js
    |   |-- header.js
    |   `-- ... more packages here e.g. cart, checkout ...
    |-- syncs
    |   |-- rest
    |   |   `-- sections.js
    |   |-- factory.js
    |   `-- localstorage.js
    |-- test
    |   |-- fixtures
    |   |   `-- sections.json
    |   |-- header
    |   |   |-- index.html
    |   |   `-- spec.js
    |   |-- lib
    |   |   `-- Jasmine
    |   |-- models
    |   |-- utils
    |   |-- global-spec.js
    |-- utils
    |   |-- ajax.js
    |   |-- baselib.js
    |   |-- debug.js
    |   |-- localstorage.js
    |   `-- shims.js
    |-- vendor
    |-- |-- backbone-min.js
    |   |-- jquery-1.7.1.min.js
    |   |-- jquery.mobile-1.0.min.js
    |   |-- json2.js
    |   |-- modernizr-1.6.min.js
    |   |-- mustache.js
    |   |-- require.js
    |   |-- text.js
    |   `-- underscore.js
    |-- views
    |   |-- base.js
    |   `-- collection.js
    |-- application.js
    |-- collections.js
    |-- index.html
    |-- main.js
    |-- models.js
    |-- syncs.js
    |-- utils.js
    |-- vendor.js
    `-- views.js

Build profile to optimize modular dependencies with code organized in packages

The build profile can be organized to divide parallel downloads for various sections of the application.

This strategy demonstrated builds common or site-wide groups of (core) models, views, collections which are extended from a base.js constructor which extends the appropriate backbone method, e.g. Backbone.Model. The packages directory organizes code by section / responsibility, e.g. cart, checkout, etc. Notice that within the example header package the directory structure is similar to the app root directory file structure. A package (of modularized code) has dependencies from the common libraries in your application and also has specific code for the packages execution alone; other packages should not require another packages dependencies. A utils directory has shims, helpers, and common library code to support the application. A syncs directory to define persistence with your RESTful api and/or localStorage. The vendor libraries folder will not be built, there is no need to do so, you may decide to use a CDN (then set these paths to : empty:). And finally a test directory for Jasmine unit test specs, which may be ignored in the build as well if you choose.

Also notice the there are .js files named the same as the directories, these are the files listed in the paths. these are strategic to group sets of files to build, examples follow the build profile below.

    appDir: './app-src',
    baseUrl: './',
    dir: './app-build',
    optimize: 'uglify',
    paths: {
        // will not build 3rd party code, it's already built
        'text'         : 'vendor/text',
        'json2'        : 'vendor/json2.min',
        'modernizr'    : 'vendor/modernizr-1.6.min',
        'jquery'       : 'vendor/jquery-1.7.1',
        'jquerymobile' : 'vendor/jquery.mobile-1.0.min.js',
        'underscore'   : 'vendor/underscore',
        'mustache'     : 'vendor/mustache',
        'backbone'     : 'vendor/backbone',
        // files that define dependencies...
        // ignore vendor libraries, but need a group to do so
        'vendor'       : 'vendor',
        // application modules/packages these files define dependencies
        // and may also group modules into objects if needed to require
        // by groups rather than individual files
        'utils'        : 'utils',
        'models'       : 'models',
        'views'        : 'views',
        'collections'  : 'collections',
        // packages to build
        'header'       : 'packages/header'
        //... more packages
    modules: [
        // Common libraries, Utilities, Syncs, Models, Views, Collections
            name: 'utils',
            exclude: ['vendor']
            name: 'syncs',
            exclude: ['vendor', 'utils']
            name: 'models',
            exclude: ['vendor', 'utils', 'syncs']
            name: 'views',
            exclude: ['vendor', 'utils', 'syncs', 'models']
            name: 'collections',
            exclude: ['vendor', 'utils', 'syncs', 'models', 'views']
        // Packages
            name: 'header',
            exclude: ['vendor', 'utils', 'syncs', 'models', 'views', 'collections']
        // ... and so much more ...

The above build profile is designed for balancing scalability and performance.

Examples of the grouped sets of code dependencies

The contents of the vendor.js which is not built into a package may use some no conflict calls as well.

// List of vendor libraries, e.g. jQuery, Underscore, Backbone, etc. <br>
// this module is used with the r.js optimizer tool during build <br>
// @see &lt;http://requirejs.org/docs/faq-optimization.html&gt;
define([ "jquery", "underscore", "backbone", "modernizr", "mustache" ], 
function ($,        _,            Backbone,   Modernizr,   Mustache) {
    // call no conflicts so if needed you can use multiple versions of $

For your application common library code.

// List of utility libraries,
define([ "utils/ajax", "utils/baselib", "utils/localstorage", "utils/debug", "utils/shims" ], 
function (ajax,         baselib,         localstorage,         debug) {
    // do nothing here, the shim only extend JavaScript when needed, e.g. Object.create

An example where you intend to use require the common models in another package file.

// List of models <br>
// models in this directory are intended for site-wide usage <br>
// grouping site-wide models in this module (object)
// optimizes the performance and keeps dependencies organized
// when the (build) optimizer is run.
define([ "models/branding", "models/section" ], 
function (Branding,          Section) {
    return {
        'Branding' : Branding,
        'Section'  : Section

A quick note on code standards

Notice that in the above examples the parameters may begin with lower or upper case characters. The variable names uses in the parameters that begin with Uppercase are Constructors and the lowercase variable names are not, they may be instances created by a constructor, or perhaps an object or function that is not meant to used with new.

The convention recommended is to use Upper CamelCase for constructors and lower camelCase for others.

Common pitfall when organizing code in modules

Be careful not define circular dependencies. For example, in a common models package (models.js) dependencies are listed for the files in your models directory

define([ "models/branding", "models/section" ], function (branding, section)  
// ...  
return { "branding" : branding, "section", section }

Then when another packages requires a common model you can access the models objects returned from your common models.js file like so…

define([ "models", "utils" ], function (models, utils) {  
var branding = models.branding, debug = utils.debug;

Perhaps after using the model a few times you get into the habit of requiring “model”. Later you need add another common model with extends a model you already defined. So the pitfall begins, you add a new model inside your models directory and add a reference this same model in the model.js:

define([ "models/branding", "models/section", "models/section-b" ], function (branding, section)  
// ...  
return { "branding" : branding, "section", section, "section-b" : section-b }

However in your models/section-b.js file you define a dependency using the model.js which returns the models in an object like so…

define([ "models" ], function (models, utils) {  
var section = models.section;

Above is the mistake in models.js a dependency was added for models/section-b and in section-b a dependency is defined for model. The new models/section-b.js requires model and model.js requires models/section-b.js – a circular dependency. This should result in a load timeout error from require.js, but not tell you about the circular dependency.

For other common mistakes see the COMMON ERRORS page on the RequireJS site.

Executing the Build with r.js

If you intalled r.js with Node’s npm (package manager) like so…

> npm install requirejs

…you can execute the build on the command line:

> r.js -o app.build.js

5 Responses to “Optimize and Build a Backbone.js JavaScript application with Require.JS using Packages”

  1. Brian March 15, 2012 at 9:41 AM #

    I don’t suppose you have any source files I could look at. I am curious where you handle your routing in this setup.

    • Bill Heaton March 20, 2012 at 9:14 AM #

      Brian, yeah I have some code at : https://github.com/pixelhandler/app-boilerplate I sent this to jrburke of RequireJS and used it to test there was a bug in 1.0.6 so this example was helpful for testing bug fixes in the 1.0.7 release of RequireJS.

  2. Robert Pataki September 20, 2012 at 6:50 AM #

    This is a very interesting article. It would be very helpful to see your project files. Could you please make your app open source by any chance? I tried the link above, but the repository seems to be private/deleted at the moment.

    Many thanks,

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