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How to use aurelia-cli to develop Aurelia plugin

This guide has been updated to match aurelia-cli version 1.0.0-beta.2 (or above).

The current way skeleton-plugin to develop Aurelia plugin bothered me.

  1. need to maintain jspm config.
  2. testing is hard, requires many mocks on quite a few Aurelia internal objects which I am not familiar with.
  3. dev flow is not smooth, need to use npm link in another dev app in order to try my plugin.

We love using au run and au test in app dev, if only there is a way to use cli to develop plugin...

Well, here is how to.

cli is already capable for developing plugin

This might surprise you, but cli is all ready for the job.

What you need is a small adjustment of your mindset:

Your src/ folder, is not necessary the source folder. Imagining src/ is just the dev env, the real source folder is src/resources (or src/plugin-name).

See the light? src/resources/index.js defines a configure function, exactly like the entry file of a plugin.

Here is a flow I have been using on our private plugins since August 2017. It's based on cli+requirejs setup, plus small adding in task files.

1. update tasks

cli+requirejs already did most job for us, it provided tasks transpile, process-css and process-markup for js/css/html files. By default, task build writes bundles to scripts/.

What we want to do here is to extend the 3 tasks. Instead of pipe to cli bundler, we pipe to folder dist/ directly.

first, (optional) write source and output folder into aurelia.json.

  // add plugin section
  "plugin": {
    "source": {
      "js": "src/resources/**/*.js", // this will be different if you use TypeScript
      "html": "src/resources/**/*.html",
      "css": "src/resources/**/*.css" // this will be different if you use scss/less
    "output": "dist"

append following to aurelia_project/tasks/transpile.js task file

Note, different from skeleton-plugin setup which transpiles into multiple formats (dist/amd, dist/commonjs, ...), our setup transpiles directly to dist/ in just commonjs format.

webpack/jspm/cli+requirejs all can handle commonjs format. Other formats are unnecessary.

For ESNext project:

// build plugin js files
// this will be slightly different if you use TypeScript
export function transpilePlugin() {
  return gulp.src(project.plugin.source.js)
    .pipe(plumber({errorHandler: notify.onError('Error: <%= error.message %>')}))
    // .pipe(sourcemaps.init())
      plugins: [['@babel/plugin-transform-modules-commonjs', {loose: true}]] // note we use commonjs format
    // .pipe(gulpUglify())
    // .pipe(sourcemaps.write())

For TypeScript project

export function transpilePlugin() {
  const typescriptCompiler = ts.createProject('tsconfig.json', {
    typescript: require('typescript'),
    allowJs: false, declaration: true // write d.ts files
    'module': 'commonjs' // note we use commonjs format

  let dts = gulp.src(project.transpiler.dtsSource);
  let src = gulp.src(project.plugin.source.js);

  return eventStream.merge(dts, src)
    .pipe(plumber({ errorHandler: notify.onError('Error: <%= error.message %>') }))
    // .pipe(sourcemaps.init())
    // .pipe(sourcemaps.write({ sourceRoot: 'src' }))

append following to aurelia_project/tasks/process-css.js task file

// build plugin css files
// you need bit more than this if you use scss
export function pluginCSS() {
  return gulp.src(project.plugin.source.css)

append following to aurelia_project/tasks/process-markup.js task file

// build plugin html files
// you need bit more than this if you use htmlmin
export function pluginMarkup() {
  return gulp.src(project.plugin.source.html)

2. create task build-plugin

First, use del (npm i --save-dev del) to clean up dist/ folder everytime we build.

Create new file aurelia_project/tasks/build-plugin.js

import gulp from 'gulp';
import {pluginMarkup} from './process-markup';
import {pluginCSS} from './process-css';
import {transpilePlugin} from './transpile';
import del from 'del';
import project from '../aurelia.json';

function clean() {
  return del(project.plugin.output);

export default gulp.series(

With these little code, we already got au build-plugin to do what we want!

In addition, there are few housekeeping things.

3. (recommended) ignore /scripts and /dist in .gitignore

If you want your repo to be both the source repo and github pages repo, you should commit /scripts files instead of ignoring it. Why not, all your src/ files can be both dev playground and live doc.

Remember to turn on rev: "prod" (to avoid cache issue on github pages site) in aurelia.json and au build --env prod when release new github pages.

For /dist, I will explain in npm publish shortly.

4. important! in package.json, move all dependencies to devDependencies, then craft dependencies or peerDependencies carefully

Remember we are using cli as dev tool, your product (the plugin) does not depend on aurelia-bootstrapper, aurelia-animator-css, requirejs, etc.

Now carefully exam all your plugin files in src/resources folder, put the real dependencies into either dependencies or peerDependencies.

I recommend using peerDependencies for core aurelia libs. Because for your plugin users, they likely already got all the Aurelia libs. Only use dependencies for additional dependencies like lodash or jquery.

Write dependency as permissive as possible, use "aurelia-binding": "^2.0.0", not "aurelia-binding": "^2.1.5".

5. important! control distributed npm package content

I recommend to add following to package.json.

  // ...
  "main": "dist/index.js",
  "files": [ "dist" ],
  // ...

This only publish the dist/ files, not src/ or test/ files.

The "files" is a white-list. Alternatively, you can use .npmignore to define a black-list.

6. (recommended) npm scripts to support publishing

For instance, for bare minimum, you can add following to package.json.

  // ...
  "scripts": {
    "test": "au test",
    "preversion": "npm test",
    "version": "standard-changelog && git add", // if you want to use npm i --save-dev standard-changelog
    "prepare": "au build-plugin",
    "postversion": "git push && git push --tags && npm publish" // auto publish after npm version patch/minor/major

The above scripts are designed to auto publish npm package, after you run npm version patch (or minor/major).

If your plugin is not public, you can remove && npm publish from "postversion" line.

Remember I recommended ignoring dist/ files in .gitignore. For private plugin, if you install from git repo directly, npm will use npm prepare to prepare the package (build all dist/ files).

Currently, yarn has bug that bypasses npm prepare when installing github hosted repo. So if you want to npm install private github repo, don't use yarn, or don't ignore dist/ files.

That's it!

Now you can enjoy au run and au test to build your plugin just like building a normal app. The best part for me, is now I can test my plugin using aurelia-testing instead of scratching my head on how to mock up Aurelia internals.

Want an example?