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What is this JavaScript “require”?

I’m trying to get JavaScript to read/write to a PostgreSQL database. I found this project on GitHub. I was able to get the following sample code to run in Node.

var pg = require('pg'); //native libpq bindings = `var pg = require('pg').native`
var conString = "tcp://postgres:1234@localhost/postgres";

var client = new pg.Client(conString);
client.connect();

//queries are queued and executed one after another once the connection becomes available
client.query("CREATE TEMP TABLE beatles(name varchar(10), height integer, birthday timestamptz)");
client.query("INSERT INTO beatles(name, height, birthday) values($1, $2, $3)", ['Ringo', 67, new Date(1945, 11, 2)]);
client.query("INSERT INTO beatles(name, height, birthday) values($1, $2, $3)", ['John', 68, new Date(1944, 10, 13)]);

//queries can be executed either via text/parameter values passed as individual arguments
//or by passing an options object containing text, (optional) parameter values, and (optional) query name
client.query({
  name: 'insert beatle',
  text: "INSERT INTO beatles(name, height, birthday) values($1, $2, $3)",
  values: ['George', 70, new Date(1946, 02, 14)]
});

//subsequent queries with the same name will be executed without re-parsing the query plan by postgres
client.query({
  name: 'insert beatle',
  values: ['Paul', 63, new Date(1945, 04, 03)]
});
var query = client.query("SELECT * FROM beatles WHERE name = $1", ['John']);

//can stream row results back 1 at a time
query.on('row', function(row) {
  console.log(row);
  console.log("Beatle name: %s", row.name); //Beatle name: John
  console.log("Beatle birth year: %d", row.birthday.getYear()); //dates are returned as javascript dates
  console.log("Beatle height: %d' %d"", Math.floor(row.height/12), row.height%12); //integers are returned as javascript ints
});

//fired after last row is emitted
query.on('end', function() { 
  client.end();
});

Next I tried to make it run on a webpage, but nothing seemed to happen. I checked on the JavaScript console and it just says “require not defined”.

So what is this “require”? Why does it work in Node but not in a webpage?

Also, before I got it to work in Node, I had to do npm install pg. What’s that about? I looked in the directory and didn’t find a file pg. Where did it put it, and how does JavaScript find it?

Answer

So what is this “require?”

require() is not part of the standard JavaScript API. But in Node.js, it’s a built-in function with a special purpose: to load modules.

Modules are a way to split an application into separate files instead of having all of your application in one file. This concept is also present in other languages with minor differences in syntax and behavior, like C’s include, Python’s import, and so on.

One big difference between Node.js modules and browser JavaScript is how one script’s code is accessed from another script’s code.

  • In browser JavaScript, scripts are added via the <script> element. When they execute, they all have direct access to the global scope, a “shared space” among all scripts. Any script can freely define/modify/remove/call anything on the global scope.

  • In Node.js, each module has its own scope. A module cannot directly access things defined in another module unless it chooses to expose them. To expose things from a module, they must be assigned to exports or module.exports. For a module to access another module’s exports or module.exports, it must use require().

In your code, var pg = require('pg'); loads the pg module, a PostgreSQL client for Node.js. This allows your code to access functionality of the PostgreSQL client’s APIs via the pg variable.

Why does it work in node but not in a webpage?

require(), module.exports and exports are APIs of a module system that is specific to Node.js. Browsers do not implement this module system.

Also, before I got it to work in node, I had to do npm install pg. What’s that about?

NPM is a package repository service that hosts published JavaScript modules. npm install is a command that lets you download packages from their repository.

Where did it put it, and how does Javascript find it?

The npm cli puts all the downloaded modules in a node_modules directory where you ran npm install. Node.js has very detailed documentation on how modules find other modules which includes finding a node_modules directory.

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