Hi! My name is Tim Branyen & I am a skydiver, an open source developer at bocoup, and a maintainer of open-source projects.

Friday, Jan 13, 2012

AMD/RequireJS shim plugin for loading incompatible JavaScript

When Jeremy Ashkenas decided to remove AMD compatibility completely from the DocumentCloud projects, Underscore & Backbone I wasn't quite sure what to think. On one hand it would have been great for the community to have decided on an open standard to write and load modules. On the other hand, it seemed like a dark path for a library to head down if it wasn't completely on board.

This got me thinking about Backbone Boilerplate and what I could do to help provide the desired RequireJS/AMD interoperability. Creating a boilerplate that patches the source files of the libraries has been done to death and only puts a band-aid on the problem instead of solving it. On a more personal opinion, I'm never in favor of patching third-party JavaScript by hand, unless its an extreme circumstance (patching an exploit).

I thought about all the reasons why I wasn't currently using RequireJS in any of my projects. Here are a few of the immediate reasons:

  • Documentation seemed thorough, but I wasn't sure if I was using it correctly.
  • Using any kind of third-party JavaScript that was not designed to work with AMD, fell flat on its face. You need to somehow patch support in.
  • The build process never worked correctly for me, no matter what I tried.

So clearly I was a noob at the whole AMD/RequireJS experience and because of my constant failures, I felt angry towards the library as if it wasn't well written and caused more problems than just using no library at all.

The major pain point, after figuring out the build process and getting through the documentation, was dealing with the non AMD-compatible code to load in.

The following example shows how you can shim incompatible code without the use of a plugin:

define(["order!underscore", "order!jquery", "order!backbone"], function() {
  return window.Backbone;

define(["underscore"], function() {
  return window._;

You typically end up with individual files or your main script file full of these shims. One shim per file so they can remain anonymous modules (good practice), or in a single file where you name them (poor practice).

My solution is slightly different in that I not only didn't want to have to create any files, I also didn't want to create any defines either. I figured AMD is smart and flexible enough to do this programmatically. So I came up with this schema that gets passed to the configuration loader in addition to normal AMD options.

// Set the RequireJS configuration
  use: {
    backbone: {
      deps: ["use!underscore", "jquery"],
      attach: function() {
        // If you plan on loading any plugins for Backbone, do not use this
        // approach of removing it from the global scope.  They will be
        // unable to find Backbone.
        return window.Backbone.noConflict();

    underscore: {
      attach: "_"

This allows you to specify exactly what the file path is and provide the list of dependencies. I've shown two examples here, Backbone which is using the list of dependencies and a function as the attach (Note: this could have just as easily used attach: "Backbone"), underscore simply needs an attach property.

You can see the plugin being used as well inside the Backbone dependencies. Simply call the module with the plugin syntax use!module_name and it will look to the use property inside your configuration to resolve.

The code is on GitHub please check it out and let me know what you think.

I have also integrated this plugin into the Backbone Boilerplate in a special amd branch.

I'm hoping this integration will help solve the rest of the problems I outlined before for new users.

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