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Babel vs Webpack: What are the differences?

Babel and Webpack are both essential tools in modern web development, but they have distinct purposes and functionalities. Here are the key differences between Babel and Webpack.

  1. Functionality: Babel is specifically designed for JavaScript transpilation, transforming contemporary ECMAScript code into an older version to guarantee compatibility across different browsers. It is commonly integrated into broader build toolchains, making it essential for projects prioritizing cross-browser support. Webpack, on the other hand, acts as a comprehensive module bundler, excelling in managing and optimizing a diverse range of assets, including JavaScript, CSS, images, and more. It goes beyond Babel's scope by orchestrating an entire build process, making it vital for projects requiring efficient asset bundling and code optimization.

  2. Use Case: Babel is ideally suited for projects where the primary focus is on writing modern JavaScript code while ensuring compatibility with older browsers. It is often integrated into larger build toolchains as part of a workflow tailored for writing and maintaining contemporary JavaScript. Webpack is well-suited for managing the entire build process of web applications. It is indispensable for projects requiring meticulous asset management, code splitting, and optimization, offering a comprehensive solution beyond JavaScript bundling.

  3. Configuration: Babel's configuration is typically simpler, emphasizing the specification of input JavaScript code and desired output versions. It plays a specific role in a broader toolchain, and its configuration often involves minimal settings for JavaScript transpilation. Webpack's configuration can be more intricate, involving the definition of loaders, plugins, and settings for multiple asset types. It orchestrates the entire application build process, requiring a more detailed configuration to handle diverse assets and optimizations.

  4. Plugin and Loader Ecosystem: Babel boasts its ecosystem of plugins and presets, primarily focusing on JavaScript transformations. Developers can extend Babel's capabilities using these plugins, enhancing its functionality for specific use cases. Webpack showcases a vast ecosystem of loaders and plugins that cover a wide range of asset types and build optimizations. It provides extensive customization options for different facets of the build process, offering versatility beyond JavaScript bundling.

  5. Output: The primary output of Babel is transpiled JavaScript code, ready to be included in the final application bundle. It typically operates as part of a larger build process managed by tools like Webpack. Webpack produces a bundled JavaScript file (or files) as its primary output, alongside other optimized assets like CSS, images, and fonts. This creates a deployable package for the web server, showcasing its role as a holistic module bundler.

  6. Integration: Babel is typically integrated into a larger build process using tools like Webpack, Rollup, or Parcel to bundle and optimize the entire application. Its role is crucial for handling JavaScript transpilation within a broader workflow. Webpack can be used as a standalone build tool or integrated with other tools like Babel to create a comprehensive build and optimization workflow for web applications. Its flexibility allows seamless integration with various tools, showcasing interoperability within diverse development setups.

In summary, Babel focuses on transpiling JavaScript and supporting other languages, while Webpack excels in module bundling, asset optimization, and providing a powerful development server. Both tools have their own specific roles in the web development workflow, and they can be used together to optimize and streamline the development process.

Decisions about Babel and Webpack
Aleksandr Filatov
Contract Software Engineer - Microsoft · | 4 upvotes · 287.2K views
Why migrated?

I could define the next points why we have to migrate:

  • Decrease build time of our application. (It was the main cause).
  • Also jspm install takes much more time than npm install.
  • Many config files for SystemJS and JSPM. For Webpack you can use just one main config file, and you can use some separate config files for specific builds using inheritance and merge them.
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We mostly use rollup to publish package onto NPM. For most all other use cases, we use the Meteor build tool (probably 99% of the time) for publishing packages. If you're using Node on FHIR you probably won't need to know rollup, unless you are somehow working on helping us publish front end user interface components using FHIR. That being said, we have been migrating away from Atmosphere package manager towards NPM. As we continue to migrate away, we may publish other NPM packages using rollup.

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Pros of Babel
Pros of Webpack
  • 165
    Modern Javascript works with all browsers
  • 77
    Open source
  • 60
    Integration with lots of tools
  • 56
    Easy setup
  • 26
    Very active on github
  • 2
    JSX
  • 2
    Love
  • 2
    Source maps
  • 1
    Extensions
  • 309
    Most powerful bundler
  • 182
    Built-in dev server with livereload
  • 142
    Can handle all types of assets
  • 87
    Easy configuration
  • 22
    Laravel-mix
  • 4
    Overengineered, Underdeveloped
  • 2
    Makes it easy to bundle static assets
  • 2
    Webpack-Encore
  • 1
    Redundant
  • 1
    Better support in Browser Dev-Tools

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Cons of Babel
Cons of Webpack
    Be the first to leave a con
    • 15
      Hard to configure
    • 5
      No clear direction
    • 2
      Spaghetti-Code out of the box
    • 2
      SystemJS integration is quite lackluster
    • 2
      Loader architecture is quite a mess (unreliable/buggy)
    • 2
      Fire and Forget mentality of Core-Developers

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    What is Babel?

    Babel will turn your ES6+ code into ES5 friendly code, so you can start using it right now without waiting for browser support.

    What is Webpack?

    A bundler for javascript and friends. Packs many modules into a few bundled assets. Code Splitting allows to load parts for the application on demand. Through "loaders" modules can be CommonJs, AMD, ES6 modules, CSS, Images, JSON, Coffeescript, LESS, ... and your custom stuff.

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    What companies use Babel?
    What companies use Webpack?
    See which teams inside your own company are using Babel or Webpack.
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    What tools integrate with Babel?
    What tools integrate with Webpack?

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    What are some alternatives to Babel and Webpack?
    TypeScript
    TypeScript is a language for application-scale JavaScript development. It's a typed superset of JavaScript that compiles to plain JavaScript.
    CoffeeScript
    It adds syntactic sugar inspired by Ruby, Python and Haskell in an effort to enhance JavaScript's brevity and readability. Specific additional features include list comprehension and de-structuring assignment.
    ESLint
    A pluggable and configurable linter tool for identifying and reporting on patterns in JavaScript. Maintain your code quality with ease.
    rollup
    It is a module bundler for JavaScript which compiles small pieces of code into something larger and more complex, such as a library or application. It uses the new standardized format for code modules included in the ES6 revision of JavaScript, instead of previous idiosyncratic solutions such as CommonJS and AMD.
    JavaScript
    JavaScript is most known as the scripting language for Web pages, but used in many non-browser environments as well such as node.js or Apache CouchDB. It is a prototype-based, multi-paradigm scripting language that is dynamic,and supports object-oriented, imperative, and functional programming styles.
    See all alternatives