Getting started with Webpack Dev Server

Jon Preece

Follow on TwitterJon Preece
Dec 31, 2018 · 3 minute read

So far, our application writes out to the console, which is not terribly helpful. Let’s get something up and running in the browser before we configure our React code.

To get our website up and running, we will need Webpack Dev Server, which is a simple HTTP server. We will also need a couple of plugins to make everything work properly.

Start by creating an index.html file in src and add the following code;

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="UTF-8" />
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0" />
    <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="ie=edge" />
    <title>Webpack 4 - React From Scratch</title>
    <h1>Hello, World!</h1>
    <div id="root"></div>

Now we need to configure Webpack to inject the path to our JavaScript bundle directly into the HTML file for us, so we do not need to reference it directly. This is helpful because when running a production build, we do not know the name of the file that will be generated (remember, we used a random hash!).

To do this, we need to use html-webpack-plugin. Open webpack.config.js and add the following to the plugins section;

module.exports = {
  plugins: [
    new HtmlWebPackPlugin({
      template: './src/index.html',
      filename: './index.html'

And we need to use another plugin called html-loader, to deal with any file that has a .html file extension.

Run the following command to install both packages;

npm install --save-dev html-webpack-plugin html-loader

The last step is to tell Webpack that when it encounters HTML files, it should use the html-loader we just installed.

Open webpack.config.js and add the following to module > rules;

module.exports = {
  module: {
    rules: [
        test: /\.html$/,
        use: [
            loader: 'html-loader',
            options: { minimize: !isDevelopment }

Note: When running in production mode, the processed HTML will be automatically compressed (all whitespace removed) to make the file as small as possible to maximise transfer speed across the wire.

Go to your package.json file and add the following NPM script, so we can now start using Webpack Dev Server;

"start": "cross-env NODE_ENV=development webpack-dev-server --config webpack.config.js"

Run the command via the terminal and open your browser to http://localhost:8080 and observe the result as shown;

Webpack 4 Dev Server

You should now see the Hello World header text is visible, meaning our HTML is working, and in the console we see World output, so we know our JavaScript is being loaded and executed.


Configuring Webpack Dev Server is quick and easy. The only complication we encounter is getting the correct paths for our compiled assets (JavaScript in this case). This problem is easily solved using html-webpack-plugin and html-loader, which together take care of processing our HTML files and injecting <script> and <style> tags automatically at build time for us.

Time to wire up our React application next.


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Jon Preece

About the author

I am Jon Preece, an experienced full stack website and software developer from Warrington (UK) currently working in and around Manchester (UK).

Throughout my 10+ year professional career I have worked in many sectors, including; e-commerce, financial services, marketing, healthcare, travel and accountancy. Get in touch via Twitter.