React.js Hot-Module-Replacement with Browserify

4 minute read

For my latest project I decided to try and get Hot-Module-Replacement (HMR) working with React.js, but using Browserify.

Most React HMR setups use Webpack because that’s what the community seems to have standardized around but I prefer Browserify and how it operates, especially since I find it’s integration into gulp scripts more intuitive than that of Webpack’s. Your mileage may vary.

In order to get things working with Browserify the key component is the livereactload plugin for Browserify by @milankinen. The instructions on the livereactload homepage worked for me. In this post I’ll outline additional steps (such as the gulp script) I took to get the whole setup going.

1. Babel setup

Let’s get Babel setup to compile our ES6 code (and React JSX) into browser-friendly output, and with the livereactload hot-loading code included.

Install the dependencies:

$ npm i --save-dev babel-plugin-react-transform babel-preset-es2015 babel-preset-react react-proxy livereactload

Now configure .babelrc:

  "presets": [
  "env": {
    "development": {
      "plugins": [
        ["react-transform", {
          "transforms": [{
            "transform": "livereactload/babel-transform",
            "imports": ["react"]

2. Gulp + Browserify + Watchify

Note: I’m going to run Browserify from within a gulp script. If you’re not using gulp then the instructions on the livereactload homepage will show you how to run things straight from the command-line.

Let’s install the dependencies:

$ npm i --save-dev browserify babelify watchify vinyl-source-stream2 gulp-util gulp

Create gulpfile.js:

"use strict";

const browserify = require('browserify'),
  source = require('vinyl-source-stream2'),
  watchify = require('watchify'),
  livereactload = require('livereactload'),
  gulp = require('gulp'),
  gutil = require('gulp-util');

gulp.task('js', () => {
  const b = browserify({
    entries: "./src/app.js",
    cache: {},
    packageCache: {},
    plugin: [watchify, livereactload],

  // processing method
  let _build = () => {
    return b.bundle()
      .on('error', (err) => {
  // on change
  b.on('update', () => {
    gutil.log('Rerunning browserify...');
    const updateStart =;
    _build().on('end', () => {
      gutil.log(`...Done ${ - updateStart} ms`);          

  // kick-off
  return _build();

Finally, edit package.json and add babelify as a transform:

  browserify: {
    transform: ['babelify']

Now, if you run gulp you should see something like the following:

[15:38:47] Starting 'js'...
[07:38:47.989] LiveReactload :: Reload server up and listening in port 4474...

The build/bundle.js file should exist and contain all the transpiled JS output. If you now change src/app.js or one of the modules it includes you should see something like:

[15:39:49] Rerunning browserify...
[15:39:50] ...Done (959ms)

3. Testing in the browser

We want to get things showing in the browser. Let’s assume build/index.html is our HTML page which includes and runs build/bundle.js (built as shown above).

Here is how it might look:

  <main id="react-root" />
  <script type="text/javascript", src="/bundle.js" />

We can use gulp-server-livereload plugin to serve up the build/ folder to the browser. Let’s install it:

$ npm i --save-dev gulp-server-livereload

And add it to the gulpfile:

const livereload = require('gulp-server-livereload');

gulp.task('js', ...);

gulp.task('server', ['js'], function() {
  return gulp.src('./build')
    host: '',
    port: 8080

The above configuration will run a HTTP server at http://localhost:8080. Let’s run it:

$ node_modules/.bin/gulp server
[15:38:47] Starting 'js'...
[07:38:47.989] LiveReactload :: Reload server up and listening in port 4474...
[15:38:50] Starting 'server'...
[15:38:50] Finished 'server' after 0.1s
[15:52:19] Webserver started at

Now browse to http://localhost:8080 and you should see the index.html page and your React app should be loaded and working. If you change one of your src/ files the page should instantly update to reflect the new UI. To verify that livereactload is working correctly you should see the following in the browser console:

LiveReactload :: LiveReactLoad transform detected. Ready to rock!
ReactDOM.js:77 Download the React DevTools for a better development experience:
app.js:389 LiveReactload :: WebSocket client listening for changes...

4. Hot-load CSS and other assets

Thanks to livereactload we now have hot-loading enabled for our React Javascript code. But if we have other assets like CSS files which could also benefit from a a hot-loading experience?

Thankfully gulp-server-livereload is actually a livereload server. Update the gulp configuration as follows:

  host: '',
  port: 8080,
  livereload: {
    enable: true,
    /* ignore changes to bundle.js */
    filter: (filePath, cb) => cb(!(/bundle\.js/.test(filePath)))

Now, when we run gulp server it will not only serve up files from the build/ folder but also auto-inject HTML files with script code to auto-reload the browser page if any of the files within the build/ folder get modified at runtime. If the modified file is a CSS file then it will hot-load the changes without reloading the entire page..yay!

Notice in the above configuration that we’re telling it to ignore changes made to the bundle.js file - since livereactload is already taking care of hot-loading that one for us. Check out gulp-server-livereload homepage for more information on the available configuration options and what else it can do.

And that’s it as far as getting hot-module-replacement working with browserify is concerned. If you have any questions please do get in touch. You can find me @hiddentao.

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