RequireJS Migration Guide

This page is a guide to upgrading legacy code in HQ to use RequireJS. For information on how to work within existing code, see Managing Dependencies. Both that page and Historical Background on Module Patterns are useful background for this guide.

Background: modules and pages

The RequireJS migration deals with both pages (HTML) and modules (JavaScript). Any individual page is either migrated or not. Individual modules are also migrated or not, but a “migrated” module may be used on both RequireJS and non-RequireJS pages.

Logic in hqModules.js determines whether or not we’re in a RequireJS environment and changes the behavior of hqDefine accordingly. In a RequireJS environment, hqDefine just passes through to RequireJS’s define. Once all pages have been migrated, we’ll be able to delete hqModules.js altogether and switch all of the hqDefine calls to define.

These docs walk through the process of migrating a single page to RequireJS.

Basic Migration Process

Prerequisites: Before a page can be migrated, all of its dependencies must already be in external JavaScript files and must be using hqDefine. This is already true for the vast majority of code in HQ. Pages that are not descendants of hqwebapp/base.html, which are rare, cannot yet be migrated.

Once these conditions are met, migrating to RequireJS is essentially the process of explicitly adding each module’s dependencies to the module’s definition, and also updating each HTML page to reference a single “main” module rather than including a bunch of <script> tags:

  1. Add requirejs_main tag and remove <script> tags

  2. Add dependencies

  3. Test

Sample PRs:

  • RequireJS migration: dashboard is an example of an easy migration, where all dependencies are already migrated

  • RequireJS proof of concept migrates a few pages (lookup tables, data dictionary) and many of our commonly-used modules (analytics, hq.helpers.js, etc.). This also contains the changes to hqModules.js that make hqDefine support both migrated and unmigrated pages.

Add requirejs_main tag and remove <script> tags

The requirejs_main tag is what indicates that a page should use RequireJS. The page should have one “main” module. Most of our pages are already set up like this: they might include a bunch of scripts, but there’s one in particular that handles the event handlers, bindings, etc. that are specific to that page.

Considerations when choosing or creating a main module

  • Most often, there’s already a single script that’s only included on the page you’re migrating, which you can use as the main module.

  • It’s fine for multiple pages to use the same main module - this may make sense for closely related pages.

  • Sometimes a page will have some dependencies but no page-specific logic, so you can make a main module with an empty body, as in invoice_main.js.

  • Sometimes you can add a dependency or two to an existing module and then use it as your main module. This can work fine, but be cautious of adding bloat or creating dependencies between django apps. There’s a loose hierarchy:

  • There’s a growing convention of using the suffix _main for main modules - more specifically, for any module that runs logic in a document ready handler.

  • HTML files that are only used as the base for other templates don’t need to have a main module or a requirejs_main tag.

Add {% requirejs_main 'myApp/js/myModule' %} near the top of the template: it can go after load and extends but should appear before content blocks. Note that it’s a module name, not a file name, so it doesn’t include .js.

Remove other <script> tags from the file. You’ll be adding these as dependencies to the main module.

Add dependencies

In your main module, add any dependent modules. Pre-RequireJS, a module definition looks like this:

hqDefine("app/js/utils", function() {
   var $this = $("#thing");

The migrated module will have its dependencies passed as an array to hqDefine, and those dependencies will become parameters to the module’s encompassing function:

hqDefine("app/js/utils", [
], function(
) {
   var $this = $("#thing");

To declare dependencies:

  • Check if the module uses jQuery, underscore, or knockout, and if so add them (their module names are all lowercase: ‘jquery’, ‘knockout’, ‘underscore’).

  • Search the module for hqImport calls. Add any imported modules do the dependency list and parameter list, and replace calls to hqImport(...) with the new parameter name.

  • If you removed any <script> tags from the template and haven’t yet added them to the dependency list, do that.

  • Check the template’s parent template:

    • If the parent has a requirejs_main module, the template you’re migrating should include a dependency on that module.

    • If the parent still has <script> tags, the template you’re migrating should include those as dependencies. It’s usually convenient to migrate the parent and any “sibling” templates at the same time so you can remove the <script> tags altogether. If that isn’t possible, make the parent check before including script tags: {% if requirejs_main %}<script ...></script>{% endif %}

    • Also check the parent’s parent template, etc. Stop once you get to hqwebapp/base.html, hqwebapp/two_column.html, or hqwebapp/base_section.html, which already support requirejs.

  • Check the view for any hqwebapp decorators like use_jquery_ui which are used to include many common yet not global third-party libraries. Note that you typically should not remove the decorator, because these decorators often control both css and js, but you do need to add any js scripts controlled by the decorator to your js module.

  • If the module uses any globals from third parties, add the script as a dependency and also add the global to thirdPartyGlobals in hqModules.js which prevents errors on pages that use your module but are not yet migrated to requirejs.

Dependencies that aren’t directly referenced as modules don’t need to be added as function parameters, but they do need to be in the dependency list, so just put them at the end of the list. This tends to happen for custom knockout bindings, which are referenced only in the HTML, or jQuery plugins, which are referenced via the jQuery object rather than by the module’s name.


It’s often prohibitively time-consuming to test every JavaScript interaction on a page. However, it’s always important to at least load the page to check for major errors. Beyond that, test for weak spots based on the changes you made:

  • If you replaced any hqImport calls that were inside of event handlers or other callbacks, verify that those areas still work correctly. When a migrated module is used on an unmigrated page, its dependencies need to be available at the time the module is defined. This is a change from previous behavior, where the dependencies didn’t need to be defined until hqImport first called them. We do not currently have a construct to require dependencies after a module is defined.

  • The most likely missing dependencies are the invisible ones: knockout bindings and jquery plugins like select2. These often don’t error but will look substantially different on the page if they haven’t been initialized.

  • If your page depends on any third-party modules that might not yet be used on any RequireJS pages, test them. Third-party modules sometimes need to be upgraded to be compatible with RequireJS.

  • If your page touched any javascript modules that are used by pages that haven’t yet been migrated, test at least one of those non-migrated pages.

  • Check if your base template has any descendants that should also be migrated.


Troubleshooting migration issues

When debugging RequireJS issues, the first question is whether or not the page you’re on has been migrated. You can find out by checking the value of window.USE_REQUIREJS in the browser console.

Common issues on RequireJS pages:

  • JS error like $(...).something is not a function: this indicates there’s a missing dependency. Typically “something” is either select2 or a jQuery UI widget like datepicker. To fix, add the missing dependency to the module that’s erroring.

  • Missing functionality, but no error: this usually indicates a missing knockout binding. To fix, add the file containing the binding to the module that applies that binding, which usually means adding hqwebapp/js/knockout_bindings.ko to the page’s main module.

  • JS error like something is not defined where something is one of the parameters in the module’s main function: this can indicate a circular dependency. This is rare in HQ. Track down the circular dependency and see if it makes sense to eliminate it by reorganizing code. If it doesn’t, you can use hqRequire to require the necessary module at the point where it’s used rather than at the top of the module using it.

  • JS error like x is not defined where x is a third-party module, which is the dependency of another third party module y and both of them are non RequireJs modules. You may get this intermittent error when you want to use y in the migrated module and x and y does not support AMD. You can fix this using shim or hqRequire. Example of this could be d3 and nvd3

Common issues on non-RequireJS pages:

  • JS error like something is not defined where something is a third-party module: this can happen if a non-RequireJS page uses a RequireJS module which uses a third party module based on a global variable. There’s some code that mimicks RequireJS in this situation, but it needs to know about all of the third party libraries. To fix, add the third party module’s global to thirdPartyMap in hqModules.js.

  • JS error like something is not defined where something is an HQ module: this can happen when script tags are ordered so that a module appears before one of its dependencies. This can happen to migrated modules because one of the effects of the migration is to typically import all of a module’s dependencies at the time the module is defined, which in a non-RequireJS context means all of the dependencies’ script tags must appear before the script tags that depend on them. Previously, dependencies were not imported until hqImport was called, which could be later on, possibly in an event handler or some other code that would never execute until the entire page was loaded. To fix, try reordering the script tags. If you find there’s a circular dependency, use hqRequire as described above.

Troubleshooting the RequireJS build process

Tactics that can help track down problems with the RequireJS build process, which usually manifest as errors that happen on staging but not locally:

  • To turn off minification, you can run build_requirejs with the --no_optimize option. This also makes the script run much faster.

  • To stop using the CDN, comment out resource_versions.js in hqwebapp/base.html. Note that this will still fetch a few files, such as hqModules.js and requirejs_config.js, from the CDN. To turn off the CDN entirely, comment out all of the code that manipulates resource_versions in build_requirejs.

  • To mimic the entire build process locally:

    • Collect static files: collectstatic --noinput This is necessary if you’ve made any changes to requirejs.yaml or requirejs_config.js, since the build script pulls these files from staticfiles, not corehq.

    • Compile translation files: compilejsi18n

    • Run the build script: build_requirejs --local

      • This will overwrite your local versions of requirejs_config.js and resource_versions.js, so be cautious running it if you have uncommitted changes.

      • This will also copy the generated bundle files from staticfiles back into corehq.

      • If you don’t need to test locally but just want to see the results of dependency tracing, leave off the --local. A list of each bundle’s contents will be written to staticfiles/build.txt, but no files will be added to or overwritten in corehq.