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Monorepo: Learn by Example

May 10, 2020

Monorepos are becoming more and more popular if you do not know what a monorepo is…think of it as simply have all your code for a particular project in the same repository, this includes backend, frontend and even infra code if needed. The term monorepo means different things to different people and you will find many definitions around the web but in the simplest terms if is having the code in one place. They are used in some very known / popular projects:

create-react-app

reach-ui

Companies such as Facebook and Google have also been very public about using monorepos. Facebook practically take this to the extreme of having one repo for the entire company, this means all developers check in their code to the same repo, they then heavily use tooling to automate a lot of CICD workflows.

Advantages of monorepos

  • All the code is together, meaning if your working on FE you can easily see the backend code you may be calling.
  • If you make a change to the backend service that requires a FE change you can open a PR that does both. This gives reviewers a clear view of what is getting updated.
  • Library changes / updates can be rolled out to entire repo at once. Imagine you have a common library that is used in all your applications, when these applications are in separate repos managed by separate teams it can be hard to find all the code that is using it but when they are in the same monorepo you can see exactly where the library is being used, allowing you to update all of the instances.

Disadvantages of monorepos

  • Monorepo complicate the deployment process, when you have separate repos you can easily control / tune them but when you are in a monorepo that is not always entirely possible. This is why huge monorepos heavily use automation or scripts to handle this process.
  • Onboarding developers to a monorepo can be overwhelming if they have not used it before. There is a lot of code, processes and automation around a big monorepo that leads to a difficult learning curve when onboarding.

These are many other advantages and disadvantages but today I want to focus on getting started with a javascript based monorepo with the help of yarn workspaces.

Monorepos in practice

There are many tools to help you manage your monorepo, two of the most popular (at the time of writing this) are yarn workspaces and lerna, they both do very similar things. Lerna came before yarn workspaces, they both provide the same core functionality which is to manage dependencies between multiple packages/projects. Lerna can use yarn workspaces under the hood to manage to dependencies but what Lerna provides that workspaces don’t is much more power of managing publishing packages to npm and automating the update of the packages within your monorepo.

When to use workspaces and when to use Lerna?

My suggestion is, start off with yarn workspaces and only when you need to worry about publishing to npm start looking at Lerna. The great thing with this approach is, you won’t need to make any changes to make Lerna work with yarn workspaces you just need to add a simple property to the Lerna config file.

This post is going to focus on yarn workspaces, I will write another post on expanding this with Lerna.

Yarn workspaces

Before we get started all the code for this post will be available here.

Steps:

  1. Create a package.json file in the root of your directory

    {
    "private": true,
    "workspaces": [
    "packages/*"
    ]
    }
  2. private: true is required for yarn workspaces, this setting will avoid us accidentally publishing the root repository, since we want each package/project to handle their own publishing this is required.
  3. workspaces: [ "packages/*" ] - This tells yarn we want to use workspaces and this points out which folders should be considered a workspace. This package.json specifies everything in the packages folder should be considered workspace. The way I have specified it here is not required but it seems to have emerged as a standard and most projects that use yarn workspaces have this.

That is actually all that is required to start with yarn workspaces, I am going to create two packages in the upcoming steps, one front-end application and one component library. If you have your own packages you can mostly stop here or skip to the next section.

  1. Create a FE application using create-react-app inside the packages folder.

    cd packages/
    npx create-react-app fe1 --template typescript
  2. Create a component library for our packages to use Imagine this as being a common component library that may be used in multiple frontends in your monorepo. We are going to use a boiler-plate generator to create a library template (Saves us time).

    cd packages/
    npx create-react-library react-lib

If you do not want to use a boiler-plate generator for your library you can see a very simple example of this here

  1. Edit package.json in react-lib

    {
    "name": "@monorepo/react-lib",
    "version": "1.0.0",
    ....
    }

A common approach is to add a package scope to your monorepo packages e.g in this case it is @monorepo. This means when using something from our react-lib we can do something like this: ìmport { ... } from '@monorepo/react-lib-v2' which is really cool.

Inside src/index.tsx you will see an ExampleComponent we are going to import this inside our front-end application we built earlier. Before we do that we need to compile the library to JS, this is not strictly required but it is good practice and it means projects in your monorepo do not have to use typescript to consume your library.

  1. Run yarn build inside the packages/react-lib folder.

This will compile and generate a dist folder, there are then entires in package.json (main, module) which will look for files in that folder and fetch the necessary packages.

  1. Inside packages/fe1/src/App.tsx import the ExampleComponent.

    import { ExampleComponent } from '@monorepo/react-lib';
  2. Run yarn build inside packages/fe1 to generate your production build.

This is where the power of yarn comes in, yarn will see all the imports and dependencies you are using and neatly bundle them all up for you as you generate your production build. You can then take this bundle and deploy or serve your production build wherever you want

Using yarn workspaces commands to make things easier.

You may have noticed that above we are constantly cd packages/[package_name] to run commands and this gets more annoying the more packages you have…this is why yarn has a command to avoid use doing that. In the root package.json file lets add a scripts section to help us.

{
    ...
    "scripts": {
        "start:fe1": "yarn workspace fe1 start",
        "start:react-lib": "yarn workspace @monorepo/react-lib start",
        "build:component-lib": "yarn workspace @monorepo/react-lib build",
    }
}

Yarn provides the yarn workspace command to allow you to run npm scripts in varies packages within your monorepo e.g yarn start:fe1 will go into the packages/fe1 folder and run the npm start script. This is very useful because you don’t have to constantly change directory, this is also very useful for CI workflows.

Resources

While this was a short post on monorepos, I wanted to provide some extra resources:

Ben Awad yarn-workspaces-example - Video Tutorial

Lerna-yarn-workspaces-example

Alternative way to create a react library

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on an introduction to monorepo, I know it was a simple example but this should have given you the basic building blocks to start your monorepo journey. I will write more about monorepos in the short-term future as in my job we are moving to this approach Stay tuned and until next time, stay safe and stay curious.

Jason


Personal Blog by Jason Lloyd.
I talk about programming, life, self-development and everything in-between.