Understanding JavaScript - Require Module

April 25,2020☕️☕️ 7 min read

Modularity is a first class concept in Node JS and fully understanding how it works will help us to use it to our advanatage.

There are two core modules involved in Node JS Modularity,

  • The require function, which is available on the global object, but each module gets its own require function
  • The Module module, also available on the global object and this module used to manage all the modules we require with the require function.

We will require a module using require keyword, for example

const someModule = require("something");

Requiring a module in node is a very simple concept.

Each time, when the require is being called/used, NodeJS goes through the following steps:

  • Resolving - to find the absolute file path of a module
  • Loading - the content of the file at the resolved path
  • Wrapping - every module in it’s private scope which makes require local to every module
  • Evaluating - what the VM eventually does with the code
  • Caching - so that when we require this module again, we don’t go over all the steps again

Module Object

I’m using Node JS version 14.0.0, during creating this article. Module API may change depend based on your local node version but underlying principle will remain the same.

// console.log(module)
  id: '.',
  path: '/home/arun/Documents/Arun/authentication/',
  exports: {},
  parent: null,
  filename: '/home/arun/Documents/Arun/authentication/sample.js',
  loaded: false,
  children: [],
  paths: [

Each and every time we are using require, the module it will have an id to identify it. The full path to the module file is usually used here, except for this root module, a . is used instead.

The path to the filename can be accessed with the path property.

Node Modules have a one-to-one relation with files on the file-system. We require a module by loading the content of a file into memory. However before we can load the content of a file into the memory, we need to find the location of a file.

const findMyModule = require("find-me");

For example, if we require a find-me module from the index module, Node will look for find-me. js in the paths mentioned inside paths property from module object.

Which start from the current directory and go up all the way to the root directory.

If it can’t find find-me. js in any of these paths, it will throw a cannot find module error.

To be exact, Node will actually look for the find-me. js in more folders, but those are supported for mostly historic reasons and using them is no longer recommended.

But core node modules like fs, utils, etc.., are an exception. The resolve step returns immediately for core modules.

Let’s see how Node actually resolve a non-core module. So the first path it will look into is the node_modules directory under the current directory.

Now We will create one file manually and call it as a find-me.js.

Now let’s also add a console.log statement in this new file to identify it and we will do the same for index.js. When we now execute the index file, node will find a path to find-me.js and it will load it from local node_modules folder.

console.log("from Find Me");

So the output will be like this

//from Find Me

If we want to only resolve the module and not execute it, we can use require.resolve method. This behaves exactly the same as require, but does not load the file. It will still throw an error if the file does not exist.

This can be used to check whether an optional package is installed or not.

If we have an another find-me.js file in any of the other paths, for example, if we have a node module’s directory under the home directory and if we have a differnet find-me.js file in there and execute the current index.js file, the module new route nodemodules directory or under home directory will not be loaded, because node already resolved find-me.js to the local file found under the local nodemodules directly.

But if remove the local file and execute again, Node will actually just pick the next closest find-me. js and that would be the one under the home directory node_modules directory.

Modules don’t have to be files.

We can also create a find-me folder under nodemodules and place an index.js file in there and we will a console.log line here also to identify it. And now when we execute node index.js, it will actually load the index file under nodemodules.

index.js is the default fileName, but we can control what fileName to start with under the folder using the main property in package.json. For example, to make the require('find-me') line resolve to this start.js file instead of index.js, we just need to add this package.json file, which says when the find-me folder gets required, start.js is the file that should be loaded.

Other than resolving modules from within the node_modules folder, we can also place the module anywhere we want and require it with either relative paths,. / and .. /, or with absolute paths, starting with /.

For example, find-me was under a lib folder instead of a node_modules folder, we can still require it this way.


The id for the find-me module is it’s full path. We will also see that our main index.js module is now listed as the parent of our find-me module. However, the find-me module was not listed as a child of the index module instead, we have this Circular reference, because current module has parent and parent has reference to current file and it goes without any end.

If Node prints the find-me module object here, it will go into an infinite loop.

To understand it better, let’s first understand a few other concepts on the module object. First, let’s talk about exports. In any module, exports is a special object.

Anything we put on the exports object we will see inside module.exports property in module object.

What happens when module1 requires module2, and module2 requires module1?

So ideally we have a circular reference.

Node will partially load content from module1 here. At this point of the lifecycle of module2, the module1 module is not ready yet, but Node was able to share a partial exports object from module1 to module2.

So, Node JS by default will handle the circular dependency.

We can also define and require JSON files and C++ Addon files with the node require function, without any additional configuration. The first thing Node will try to resolve is a .js file. If it can’t find a .js file, it will try a .json file and it will parse the file if found as a JSON text file. After that, it will try to find a binary .node file.

We can see the available methods using console.log(require)

[Function: require] {
  resolve: [Function: resolve] { paths: [Function: paths] },
  main: undefined,
  extensions: [Object: null prototype] {
    '.js': [Function (anonymous)],
    '.json': [Function (anonymous)],
    '.node': [Function (anonymous)]
  cache: [Object: null prototype] {}

We can see the supported extensions in require module are .js, .json and .node.

You can go through the following references, if you like to do a deep dive on require module working in JavaScript.