The three differences between require and import in Node.js

These differences apply to the import statement, not the import expression (see this page for more info on the latter, which can be used to import modules dynamically).

This is part one of a four part series about JavaScript modules.

  1. The three differences between require and import in Node.js
  2. Using ES modules with CommonJS modules in Node.js
  3. Using ES modules with CommonJS modules in the browser
  4. Using ES modules with CommonJS modules with webpack

Check out full code examples here: https://github.com/arcticmatt/javascript_modules/tree/master/import_vs_require.

  1. When using import ... from ..., the module path must be a string literal. When using require, the module path can be dynamic.

For example, this works:

const name = "module2";
const obj = require(`./${name}`);

But this will result in the error SyntaxError: Unexpected template string when run with node.

const name = "module2";
import { func } from `./${name}`;

Code like import { func } from ("./partial/path" + someVariable); will also result in a syntax error.

Why is this? See the next point.

2. Order of execution differs. require will be run inline, after the code above it has executed. import runs before the rest of the script.

Assuming module2.js has console.log("require module2"); at the top, then if we run this code:

console.log("require module1");const obj = require("./module2");
console.log(`module2 = ${obj.module2}`);

it results in the following:

require module1
require module2
module2 = require module2

With ES modules, on the other hand…

console.log("require module1");import module2 from "./module2.js";
console.log(`module2 = ${module2}`);

Running this results in the following:

require module2
require module1
module2 = require module2

ES modules: A cartoon deep-dive goes into this subject in much more depth.

3. You can leave out a .js extension when importing a local module with require, but cannot do the same when using import.

This is true by default in the browser and Node.js. For example, require("./module2") works, but the equivalent using import must be written as import module2 from "./module2.js". If you omit the extension in Node.js, you will get an error like: Error [ERR_MODULE_NOT_FOUND]: Cannot find module …

In Node.js, you can use the --experimental-specifier-resolution=node option to circumvent this behavior, i.e. this will allow you to omit .js extensions when using import.

Furthermore, webpack has an option that changes this behavior. Specifically, if resolve.enforceExtension is true, then extensions are required. This option is set to false by default, which explains why in many frameworks (like Next.js, which uses webpack behind the scenes) you can use import without specifying file extensions.

Software Engineer. Tweeting @pencilflip. Mediocre boulderer, amateur tennis player, terrible at Avalon. https://www.mattlim.me/

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