ECMAScript modules in browsers

ES modules are now available in browsers! They're in…

  • Safari 10.1.
  • Chrome 61.
  • Firefox 60.
  • Edge 16.
<script type="module">
  import { addTextToBody } from './utils.mjs';

  addTextToBody('Modules are pretty cool.');
// utils.mjs
export function addTextToBody(text) {
  const div = document.createElement('div');
  div.textContent = text;

Live demo.

All you need is type=module on the script element, and the browser will treat the inline or external script as an ECMAScript module.

There are already some great articles on modules, but I wanted to share a few browser-specific things I'd learned while testing & reading the spec:

"Bare" import specifiers aren't currently supported

// Supported:
import { foo } from '';
import { foo } from '/utils/bar.mjs';
import { foo } from './bar.mjs';
import { foo } from '../bar.mjs';

// Not supported:
import { foo } from 'bar.mjs';
import { foo } from 'utils/bar.mjs';

Valid module specifiers must match one of the following:

  • A full non-relative URL. As in, it doesn't throw an error when put through new URL(moduleSpecifier).
  • Starts with /.
  • Starts with ./.
  • Starts with ../.

Other specifiers are reserved for future-use, such as importing built-in modules.

nomodule for backwards compatibility

<script type="module" src="module.mjs"></script>
<script nomodule src="fallback.js"></script>

Live demo.

Browsers that understand type=module should ignore scripts with a nomodule attribute. This means you can serve a module tree to module-supporting browsers while providing a fall-back to other browsers.

Browser issues

  • Firefox doesn't support nomodule (issue). Fixed in Firefox nightly!
  • Edge doesn't support nomodule (issue). Fixed in Edge 16!
  • Safari 10.1 doesn't support nomodule. Fixed in Safari 11! For 10.1, there's a pretty smart workaround.

Defer by default

<!-- This script will execute after… -->
<script type="module" src="1.mjs"></script>

<!-- …this script… -->
<script src="2.js"></script>

<!-- …but before this script. -->
<script defer src="3.js"></script>

Live demo. The order should be 2.js, 1.mjs, 3.js.

The way scripts block the HTML parser during fetching is baaaad. With regular scripts you can use defer to prevent blocking, which also delays script execution until the document has finished parsing, and maintains execution order with other deferred scripts. Module scripts behave like defer by default – there's no way to make a module script block the HTML parser while it fetches.

Module scripts use the same execution queue as regular scripts using defer.

Inline scripts are also deferred

<!-- This script will execute after… -->
<script type="module">
  addTextToBody('Inline module executed');

<!-- …this script… -->
<script src="1.js"></script>

<!-- …and this script… -->
<script defer>
  addTextToBody('Inline script executed');

<!-- …but before this script. -->
<script defer src="2.js"></script>

Live demo. The order should be 1.js, inline script, inline module, 2.js.

Regular inline scripts ignore defer whereas inline module scripts are always deferred, whether they import anything or not.

Async works on external & inline modules

<!-- This executes as soon as its imports have fetched -->
<script async type="module">
  import { addTextToBody } from './utils.mjs';

  addTextToBody('Inline module executed.');

<!-- This executes as soon as it & its imports have fetched -->
<script async type="module" src="1.mjs"></script>

Live demo. The fast-downloading scripts should execute before the slow ones.

As with regular scripts, async causes the script to download without blocking the HTML parser and executes as soon as possible. Unlike regular scripts, async also works on inline modules.

As always with async, scripts may not execute in the order they appear in the DOM.

Browser issues

  • Firefox doesn't support async on inline module scripts (issue). Fixed in Firefox 59!

Modules only execute once

<!-- 1.mjs only executes once -->
<script type="module" src="1.mjs"></script>
<script type="module" src="1.mjs"></script>
<script type="module">
  import './1.mjs';

<!-- Whereas classic scripts execute multiple times -->
<script src="2.js"></script>
<script src="2.js"></script>

Live demo.

If you understand ES modules, you'll know you can import them multiple times but they'll only execute once. Well, the same applies to script modules in HTML – a module script of a particular URL will only execute once per page.

Browser issues

  • Edge executes modules multiple times (issue). Fixed in Edge 17!

Always CORS

<!-- This will not execute, as it fails a CORS check -->
<script type="module" src="https://…"></script>

<!-- This will not execute, as one of its imports fails a CORS check -->
<script type="module">
  import 'https://…';

  addTextToBody('This will not execute.');

<!-- This will execute as it passes CORS checks -->
<script type="module" src="https://…"></script>

Live demo.

Unlike regular scripts, module scripts (and their imports) are fetched with CORS. This means cross-origin module scripts must return valid CORS headers such as Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *.

Browser issues

  • Firefox fails to load the demo page (issue). Fixed in Firefox 59!
  • Edge loads module scripts without CORS headers (issue). Fixed in Edge 16!

Credentials by default

Live demo.

Most CORS-based APIs will send credentials (cookies etc) if the request is to the same origin, but for a while fetch() and module scripts were exceptions. However, that all changed, and now fetch() and module scripts behave the same as other CORS-based APIs.

However, that means you'll encounter three exciting varieties of browser support:

  • Old versions of browsers that, against the spec at the time, sent credentials by to same-origin URLs by default.
  • Browsers that followed the spec at the time, and did not send credentials to same-origin URLs by default.
  • New browsers that follow the new spec, and send credentials to same-origin URLs by default.

If you hit this issue, you can add the crossorigin attribute, which will add credentials to same-origin requests, but not cross-origin request, in any browser that follows the old spec. It doesn't do anything if the browser follows the new spec, so it's safe to use.

<!-- Fetched with credentials (cookies etc) -->
<script src="1.js"></script>

<!-- Fetched with credentials, except in old browsers that follow the old spec -->
<script type="module" src="1.mjs"></script>

<!-- Fetched with credentials, in browsers that follow the old & new spec -->
<script type="module" crossorigin src="1.mjs"></script>

<!-- Fetched without credentials -->
<script type="module" crossorigin src="https://other-origin/1.mjs"></script>

<!-- Fetched with credentials-->


Unlike regular scripts, modules scripts must be served with one of the valid JavaScript MIME types else they won't execute. The HTML Standard recommends text/javascript.

Live demo.

Browser issues

  • Edge executes scripts with invalid MIME types (issue).

And that's what I've learned so far. Needless to say I'm really excited about ES modules landing in browsers!

Performance recommendations, dynamic import & more!

Check out the article on Web Fundamentals for a deep-dive into module usage.

View this page on GitHub

Comments powered by Disqus

Jake Archibald in a garden with a black cat

Hello, I'm Jake and that's me there. The one that isn't a cat. I'm a developer of sorts.



Feel free to throw me an email, unless you're a recruiter, or someone trying to offer me 'sponsored content' for this site, in which case write your request on a piece of paper, and fling it out the window.