Running .tsx from the command-line

I know how to run a .jsx file using babel-node, but now want to add TypeScript to the mix.

Here’s a starter index.tsx file I’m going to use to generate HTML from the command-line.

// Use import statements:
import * as React from "react";
import { renderToStaticMarkup } from "react-dom/server";

// Use JSX (with a TypeScript annotation)
const App: React.FunctionComponent = () => <div>The app</div>;

// Use an API only available in node (and some more JSX):
process.stdout.write(renderToStaticMarkup(<App />));

First I install the dependencies used in import statements (and note that yarn will generate a package.json as a side-effect if it doesn’t already exist):

yarn add react react-dom

If I try using node index.tsx to run the script, I’ll get an error (because of the import):

(node:73369) Warning: To load an ES module, set "type": "module" in the package.json or use the .mjs extension.
(Use `node --trace-warnings ...` to show where the warning was created)
import * as React from 'react';

SyntaxError: Cannot use import statement outside a module

After renaming the file to index.mjs and running node index.mjs we can get a different error (because of the TypeScript annotation):

const App: React.FunctionComponent = () => <div>The app</div>;

      SyntaxError: Missing initializer in const declaration

Reverting the file name to index.tsx, adding "type": "module" to package.json and re-running with node index.tsx gives a different error:


TypeError [ERR_UNKNOWN_FILE_EXTENSION]: Unknown file extension ".tsx" for /.../index.tsx

This isn’t getting me anywhere, so it’s time to look for at alternative approaches:

  1. Use ts-node
  2. Use babel-node

Setup ts-node

# Install all libs needed to run ts-node on a file containing TypeScript + TSX:
yarn add -D ts-node typescript

Create a TypeScript config file (tsconfig.json) to tell TypeScript how to treat the import statements and JSX:

  "compilerOptions": {
    "module": "commonjs",
    "jsx": "react",
    "esModuleInterop": true

Run with npx ts-node index.tsx and we get an error:

⨯ Unable to compile TypeScript:
index.tsx:6:1 - error TS2580: Cannot find name 'process'. Do you need to install type definitions for node? Try `npm i --save-dev @types/node`.

We’re using yarn, so do yarn add -D @types/node to install the type definitions required for TypeScript to validate how we use the process global. After installing, we re-run with npx ts-node index.tsx again and see:

<div>The app</div>

It’s working. Great.

Setup babel-node

After noticing babel has a TypeScript preset, I thought I’d give that a go too.

Create babel.config.json:

  "presets": ["@babel/preset-env", "@babel/preset-react", "@babel/preset-typescript"]

Install everything we need to run babel-node with that config:

yarn add -D @babel/core @babel/node @babel/preset-env @babel/preset-react @babel/preset-typescript

Run our script with npx babel-node index.jsx, and … there’s an error:

(node:75993) Warning: To load an ES module, set "type": "module" in the package.json or use the .mjs extension.
(Use `node --trace-warnings ...` to show where the warning was created)
import * as React from "react";

SyntaxError: Cannot use import statement outside a module

It might not be crystal clear from the error message, but the problem here is babel’s not transpiling my .tsx file at all. I need to rerun with additional command-line options: npx babel-node -x '.tsx' index.tsx - which results in:

<div>The app</div>

Great: that’s a second option: transipling and running a .tsx file using babel-node, without having to create tsconfig.json, rename our files as .mjs or update package.json to add "type": "module".


I’m happy to use ts-node and babel-node to run random .tsx files and avoid the overhead of configuring a bundler. However, esbuild is a slightly different beast: it’s blazing fast, and I don’t think I’ll have to configure anything to make it run TypeScript files.

Install with yarn:

yarn add -D esbuild

Iterate our way towards bundling transpiled code appropriate to pipe into node:

esbuild index.tsx | node -

This transpiles the JSX, but leaves the import statements in, presenting a problem when piped into node:

import * as React from "react";

SyntaxError: Cannot use import statement outside a module

To flatten the imports, we’ll bundle the code

esbuild index.tsx --bundle | node -
 > node_modules/react/index.js: warning: Define "process.env.NODE_ENV" when bundling for the browser
     3 │ if (process.env.NODE_ENV === 'production') {
       ╵     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That’s a good error message; we should bundle for node:

npx esbuild index.tsx --bundle --platform=node | node -


<div>The app</div>

Excellent. That was an easy fix.

I’m aware I may want to run the development React build (with warnings) during development, and production builds for speed or if I want to ignore warnings for some reason. For completeness I want to note two ways to do this:

# 1. Use `esbuild --define`
npx esbuild index.tsx --bundle --define:process.env.NODE_ENV=\"production\" | node -
# 2. Set NODE_ENV environment variable for node:
npx esbuild index.tsx --bundle --platform=node | NODE_ENV=production node -

TypeScript is ignored

I had to make several attempts before stumbling on the right combination of options in tsconfig.json to make ts-node work, and wonder if there’s a reason it’s so much easier to setup babel-node and esbuild.

It turns out there is: @babel/preset-typescript and esbuild don’t do any type-checking; they simply ignore the TypeScript annotations.

Here’s a proof of the problem: invalid-typings.ts:

const myVariable: invalidType = 3;
console.log({ myVariable });

When run with ts-node, babel-node and esbuild, only ts-node shows the appropriate error:

invalid-typings.ts:1:19 - error TS2304: Cannot find name 'invalidType'.

1 const myVariable: invalidType = 3;

This is a signifcant difference, and important not to overlook when deciding which method to adopt to run TypeScript.