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importAs() and HTML modules proof-of-concept
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importAs() and HTML Modules

This repo contains a proof-of-concept of the "import as" or "generic imports" proposal. See this comment thread for some background and context.

Live demo

View a live demo with real running code at Note this requires a browser with Modules support, dynamic import(), and import.meta. All the code is in this repo so you can see how it is implemented.


The intent of this proposal is to ultimately allow something like this:

import doc from './my-html-module.html' as HTMLModule;

This could act as a complete replacement of HTML imports, leveraging the JavaScript module system rather than having a parallel dependency system for imports. Additionally, this allows the entire implementation of HTML Modules to be written in a JavaScript library. This avoids the need to actually write a specification for HTML Modules, and is future-proof for other kinds of imports that may be invented later.

There are a few tricky aspects of supporting the above syntax. In particular import statements are designed to be statically analysable, but calling in to a library function like HTMLModule requires adding dynamic features to imports. To avoid having to solve this, the proof-of-concept is implemented only in the style of dynamic import(). To avoid conflicting with import(), the proof-of-concept uses a method named importAs(), but the intent is that these features could work with import() too, and ultimately static imports as well.

How it works

The feature is very simple. It starts with a call to:

importAs(url, Type);

This will call Type[Symbol.importer](url) which returns a Promise. There could be built-in importers for e.g. JSON (included in the example). However it is also fully extensible by JavaScript libraries, which can provide their own types with Symbol.importer. This provides a hook to implement HTML Modules entirely by a library.

importAs(url) with no type will fall back to import().

Use cases

You can use the import system to load static resources. This means the import system can be used to load all your resources, in whichever format you want them, rather than being limited to other JS modules only. Examples:

const str = await importAs("file.txt", String);
const json = await importAs("file.json", JSON);
const blob = await importAs("file.dat", Blob);
const arrayBuffer = await importAs("file.dat", ArrayBuffer);
const imageElem = await importAs("file.png", HTMLImageElement);
const imageBitmap = await importAs("file.png", ImageBitmap);
const imageData = await importAs("file.png", ImageData);

Many of these will work in a Worker too, but the DOM-based ones (e.g. HTMLImageElement) can't.

You can also load static documents to access other snippets of DOM. The library-implemented Selector and SelectorAll importers make this convenient to use.

const doc = await importAs("file.html", Document);
const templateElem = await importAs("file.html", Selector("#templateElem"));
const itemElems = await importAs("file.html", SelectorAll(".item"));

This is intended to take advantage of existing de-duplication mechanisms in the module system. In the above example, only one request to file.html ought to be made, since the subsequent requests will be de-duplicated and return the same resource. This makes it efficient to load a variety of elements from the same document with the Selector and SelectorAll importers.

A library-implemented MainDocumentStyle also allows applying main document styles, like HTML imports used to do. It shows how the feature can be easily adapted to cover styling too, which is also used in the HTML Modules implementation.

await importAs("file.css", MainDocumentStyle);

// style now applied

HTML Modules

This repo provides a proof-of-concept HTMLModule importer which allows:

const htmlModule = await importAs("file.html", HTMLModule);

htmlModule.document;    // document representing file.html, e.g. to get elements
htmlModule.exports;     // Map of tag -> default export for script modules in file.html

HTML Modules are implemented similarly to HTML imports. The implementation does the following:

  • loads "file.html" as a document
  • looks for <link rel="stylesheet"> elements and applies them to the main document style
  • looks for <script src="...">
    • classic scripts are simply loaded and executed
    • module scripts are loaded with import(), and their default export added to htmlModule.exports
  • provides a getCurrentHtmlModule() global function for scripts to identify their associated HTML module, allowing them to access DOM elements from its document, as well as looking up other script's exports
  • looks for a made-up <link rel="html-module"> which represents a sub-module, allowing for nested HTML module dependencies; nested module exports are merged in to htmlModule.exports
  • resolves the promise when all sub-resources have finished loading

HTML imports are an excellent way to modularise large web apps. JavaScript modules only cover script, but HTML imports can load style, markup and script, all of which are important in a web app. For more background see the blog post HTML imports are the best web component. HTML modules are designed to bring the same benefits with a library-based implementation. To demonstrate the benefit of this, the demo loads an import representing a dialog and shows it. Note how the dialog is implemented:

  • The dialog markup, style and script are all entirely self-contained, making it an independent module.
  • The dialog script is a module. It exports its dialog class as a default export, making it accessible to the caller via htmlModule.exports.
  • The script can access DOM content with getCurrentHtmlModule(), so it can find its <dialog> tag and call showModal() on it. There are many other use cases here, particularly loading a <template>.
  • The style is applied to the main document, so it affects the dialog when it is displayed. The style is of course global, but it is very easy to scope all its styles to the dialog by using its ID selector. This helps make CSS maintainable.
  • It includes a sub-dialog it depends on using <link rel="html-module" href="dialog2/dialog2.html">. Since order-of-execution is guaranteed, the first dialog can safely use Dialog2.Show(), defined in the sub-module.

The goal is to demonstrate how this forms the basis of a reliable and scalable way to architect large and complex web apps. The use of combined markup, style and script resources is an important advantage over JavaScript Modules alone. Additionally, hopefully the small API surface, simplicity of the code, and flexiblity of the feature add up to a compelling feature.

Missing features

  • No static import syntax
  • The HTMLModule implementation loads sequentially, since it's just a proof-of-concept. Obviously a production library would parallelise loading for maximum performance. Additionally real-world apps would likely concatenate HTML Modules down in to fewer resources, much as vulcanize does for HTML imports.

An alternative approach

The dialog could also be imported as a normal JS module, and load its DOM and style like this:

	importAs("dialog1.html", Selector("#dialog1")),
	importAs("dialog1.css", MainDocumentStyle)

or if the static import is supported:

import dialogElem from "./dialog1.html" as Selector("#dialog1");
import "./dialog1.css" as MainDocumentStyle;

This means the entire dependency tree stays in script modules, and each module pulls in the additional resources it needs. Basically it makes script fetch HTML and CSS, rather than having HTML fetch scripts, CSS and more HTML. Still, if this syntax is supported, it means HTML modules can be implemented entirely as a JS library. Then there's no need to come up with a specification for HTML modules. They can both be done under this same proposal and it's up to the developer what they do with it.

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