Death by thousand config files

Today, a couple of hours ago Prettier released version 1.6.0 with support for .prettierrc & .prettierignore files. If you follow me on Twitter you might have noticed how much I love prettier. But at the same time, you might have noticed my growing pain of the endless stream for .*rc & .*ignore files.

One of the things that I really liked about prettier was the lack of config by any means, files, etc...

  • .babelrc - also will support .js
  • .eslintrc.js - supports .yaml & .js
  • .eslintignore
  • .npmrc - Just has save-exact = true
  • .nvmrc - to make sure everyone is using the same node version
  • .yarnrc - has exact "true" & save-prefix "". We use yarn
  • package.json - aside from the normal package.json stuff, it contains jest configuration which I could have already kept in a jest.config.js.
  • webpack.config.js - still a config-ish file, that depends on the loaders that you use can depend on the other .*rc files too. For example, babel-loader will pick up the config from .babelrc. If you have eslint-loader it will pick up .eslintrc, etc...

Here are a couple more that we might have in the next few days/weeks:

  • .flowconfig
  • .stylelintrc
  • .stylelintignore

And of course:

  • .prettierrc
  • .prettierignore

honorary mention:

  • .tsconfig.json - for typescript
  • .bsconfig.json - for bucklescript if you use ReasonML actually in ReasonML this might be the only config file you need next to webpack.config.js. Another reason to like it.

and more...

Not to mention that babel-env & autoprefixer now use the browserlist project, which allows you to pass which browsers you want to support so they can handle the polyfills & prefixes for you & guess what? It also has it's own files!

So that makes the total 14 files in our repo. Isn't this a bit too much for config files? Before everyone starts yelling at me that I can add most of these configs inside package.json - which I don't mind doing - and most probably will start doing. that's not the main issue.

The issue is

  • This loop will never end: tomorrow someone comes with a new great tool called X & they decide they need some config for it & boom we have .Xrc & .Xignore now. This loop will never end this way.
  • They are not separate. 90% of the time you will need to change a couple of them if you want to add a new tool because all of them relate/work with each other. Which makes it painful to deal with.

So I have a simple question here.

I know that not all of these .*rc files can be merged into one, but at least can we agree that many of them can? most of these configs are just JSON objects so why not store them all in one place?

Also, this way if a new tool comes out we just need to add a new key. It doesn't solve the whole problem but at least it keeps us a little bit saner.

What is wrong with this? And yes it must be a .js file:

  • Comments are easier than in .json files
  • You can change the config depends on the environment.
  • If you want, you can dynamically generate your config.
// use this to toggle on/off some configs or switch them completely
const isPROD = process.env.NODE_ENV === 'production'

module.exports = {
    jest: { ... },
    babel: { ... },
    prettier: { ... },
    stylelint: { ... }

Or even better!

So people might say & how is this better than having multiple files?

The answer is, it's not much better but at least we can have these:

  • Less cognitive load
  • One place to handle most of the logic (env switching, etc...)
  • Restoring some sanity?

I do like all of these projects, they are amazing projects made by smarter people than I am. I never felt JavaScript fatigue, but I started to feel Config/rc files fatigue.

You can tweet this post or reach out directly to me @ahmedelgabri.

© 2023 Ahmed El Gabri