Setting up a Quick Dev Environment for React, ES2015, Babel, and Webpack

November 01, 2015

This is going to be short and sweet. I couldn’t find a tutorial that spelled out a way to get a barebones environment setup for React using webpack and ES2015 without something being missing. This is due in part to the fact that Babel has recently integrated JSX into its core, split things out into more packages, etc. So here are a list of steps and brief explanations I found from a number of tutorials, namely this one from Thoughtbot, this one from Twilio, and finally by just reading Babel and React documentation.


You are running on OSX or Linux with node + npm installed, with node at at least version 0.12.x - I’m running 4.2.1.

Create a new project

Create new directory newapp with a subdirectory named app

mkdir -p newapp/app
cd newapp
npm init

When you run npm init it will prompt you to fill out information about your project. You can just feed it nonsense for now if you’d like to just get through it for test purposes.

Install dependencies


npm install babel-cli babel-core babel-preset-es2015 babel-preset-react --save-dev
echo '{\n  "presets": ["es2015", "react"]\n}' > .babelrc

Lots of Babel packages! Let’s run through these quickly:

I also include a snippet there to create a .babelrc file to load up the es2015 and react plugins. This could also just be done in the webpack config, but then it wouldn’t be available from the CLI so I prefer this method.


Run this next installation command

npm install webpack babel-loader file-loader webpack-dev-server --save-dev

This will install Webpack along with its Babel integration. Next file-loader is a basic file loader for loading static assets into the dist directory so everything is one relative location. Finally I loaded up the webpack-dev-server just to make things simple to play with. You can really use any web server to serve from your dist directory, but to get up and running quickly go ahead and use this.

Next create webpack.config.js in the root path next to package.json, and edit your config to look like this.

module.exports = {
  context: __dirname + "/app",
  entry: {
    javascript: "./app.js",
    html: "./index.html",
  output: {
    filename: "app.js",
    path: __dirname + "/dist"
  module: {
    loaders: [
        test: /\.jsx?$/,
        exclude: /node_modules/,
        loaders: ["babel-loader"]
          test: /\.html$/,
          loader: "file?name=[name].[ext]",

This makes the assumption you want to store your JS in app and want it to compile to dist. If you’d like to change this, feel free. We’ve also told it to move .html files into the dist folder, and for babel-loader to be responsible for loading up and js or jsx files.

We’ll create the related files in a moment, but we have one more dependency installation step left.


npm install react react-dom --save

As specified by the React Documentation, we need both the react and react-dom packages in order to utilize React, since React.render, amongst other things were moved out to the react-dom package.


Okay now that dependencies are installed, we can give some test runs.

Create a new file app/index.html and copy/paste this HTML:

<!doctype html>
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <title>Webpack, Babel, and React!</title>
  <script src="app.js"></script>

Create a new file app/app.js and copy/paste the following:

import React from "react";
import ReactDOM from "react-dom";


Now to verify that we have everything needed to use Babel and React, we’re going to run

babel app/app.js --presets react

In the event babel can’t be found because something got weird with your path, you can also invoke this with

./node_modules/babel-cli/bin/babel.js app/app.js --presets react

If everything worked as expected, you’ll see a printout of the compiled file appear below the command in your shell.

Next we can move on to trying out the whole thing.

If you want to have the command available globally, you can install the webpack-dev-server globally by running npm install -g webpack-dev-server. Otherwise, open up package.json, locate the scripts object, and add "start": "webpack-dev-server --progress --colors" to it. It should look something like this when you’re done.

"scripts": {
  "start": "webpack-dev-server --progress --colors",
  "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1"

So if you’ve installed it globally, run webpack-dev-server --progress --colors, otherwise simply run npm start. This will start the dev server, compiling everything and launching the server at http://localhost:8080, where once you navigate to in your browser, you should see “Hello!” displayed correctly.

Go Have Fun!

Now you have the barebones setup to start working with React and Babel via Webpack, so have fun and experiment. Hopefully my morning of digging and trial-and-error can help you nail this on the first try.