Josh Goldberg
Screenshot of assorted small modules next to a large module in a Webpack Bundle Analyzer FoamTree visualization

Speeding Up Centered Part 3: Barrel Exports

Aug 7, 202315 minute read

Automating changes to module imports to overcome the build system not correctly tree shaking barrel exports.

This post is the third in a series of five performance improvements I made to the Centered app. See 81 <iframe> Embeds for more context.

  1. 81 <iframe> Embeds
  2. Hidden Embedded Images
  3. 👉 Barrel Exports
  4. Unused Code Bloat
  5. Emoji Processing

Issue 3: Barrel Exports

In the previous Centered performance post, Hidden Embedded Images, we saw one gigantic React component increase the client bundle size by multiple MB. But that component wasn’t even used by any runtime - why was it impacting performance? And if this “unused” file was previously getting loaded, how many other unused node files were also being loaded?

1. Identification

The GCallSuggestionModal component I’d deleted was only ever used once. It was exported from the index.ts of a shared components package, presumably with the intention that other packages could import it if needed.

Re-exporting many components from one file is a pattern called “barrel exports”1. Barrel exports are commonly used to help establish a single, easy-to-find place for many useful values and/or types.

In theory, barrel exports shouldn’t cause any performance issues. Modern bundlers generally “tree shake”2 away unused code. Unused files shouldn’t increase client bundle size.

However, I’ve previously seen issues with barrel exports and shared component packages. Bundlers don’t understand every variant of built output code well enough to tree shake away unused exports. It looked like Centered was suffering from that issue: barrel-exported values weren’t being tree-shaken out of client bundles.

2. Investigation

Looking back at the client bundle analysis, we can see some relatively huge barrel index.js files from within node_modules/@fortawesome:

I ran a search on from '@fortawesome/ to see which of those modules with large chunks were being imported from:

Seeing only 34 imports from '@fortawesome/pro-light-svg-icons' increased my confidence in my hypothesis that barrel imports weren’t being tree shaken. I’d used fortawesome packages before and knew their icons to all be small and lean for performance. It felt bizarre that the largest chunk by far was coming from only a few dozen fortawesome icons.

Testing the Hypothesis

I was more confident in my hypothesis that barrel exports weren’t being tree shaken, but still didn’t have any evidence. You’ve got to have real evidence before taking action on performance issues.

To test the hypothesis, I manually changed the 34 '@fortawesome/pro-light-svg-icons' imports to instead directly import from individual component paths:

- import { faAbacus, faBaby } from '@fortawesome/pro-light-svg-icons'
+ import { faAbacus } from '@fortawesome/pro-light-svg-icons/faAbacus'
+ import { faBaby } from '@fortawesome/pro-light-svg-icons/faBaby'

…then I ran another production build with the Webpack Bundle Analyzer:

Great! Although the total chunk size was roughly the same, the main app bundle no longer included the chunk containing node_modules/@fortawesome/pro-light-svg-icons. That meant the hypothesis was correct: the app’s build system wasn’t tree shaking barrel exports of large shared packages.

3. Implementation

There are generally two ways to fix missing tree shaking for barrel exports:

In theory I would have liked to fix the build system… But I was doing this for fun and didn’t want to spend too much time. Writing a small codemod to switch all @fortawesome/* barrel imports to importing from sub-paths was much more in my wheelhouse.

ESLint Codemods

My favorite way to write codemods is with custom ESLint rules. ESLint rules can both --fix existing complaints and prevent new complaints from popping up in the future. We certainly wouldn’t want someone adding a new import from a barrel-exporting package and causing multiple MB to be added to the main client bundle.

I wrote up a quick ESLint rule that:

  1. Finds all imports from sources starting with @fortawesome and ending with -svg-icons
  2. Reports an error on that import indicating you should import icons from their individual path
  3. Offers a fixer that replaces the import with those individual path imports

Here’s roughly that lint rule, with comments added:

module.exports = {
	create: function (context) {
		return {
			// This function will run on every import declaration that imports from
			// a module matching "@fortawesome" + anything + "-svg-icons"
			"ImportDeclaration[source.value=/^@fortawesome.*-svg-icons$/]"(node) {
				// We always complain about those nodes...{
					// ...and provide a fixer to correct them automatically
					fix(fixer) {
						const sourceCode = context.getSourceCode();
						// The node's new text contains a new line for each specifier (imported item)
						return fixer.replaceText(
								.map((specifier) => {
									// Name a new package for the old one + "/" + the specified name
									const newImport = `${node.source.value}/${}`;

									// Import the same specified item from the new package name
									return `import { ${} } from '${newImport}'`;
					message: "Import fortawesome icons from their individual path.",
	meta: {
		fixable: "code",

I then configured ESLint to use that rule with eslint-plugin-local-rules: the ESLint plugin that allows referencing rules on your local file system. That allowed me to run npx eslint . --fix on the Centered repository to use my rule.

Webpack Bundle Analyzer’s visualization of this new version showed even more improvement to the main page bundle:

4. Confirmation

As nice as it was to see the main page bundle shrinking, no performance investigation is complete without measuring the final application. I ran a Lighthouse performance audit on the new production build:

What an interesting result! Although LCP was only slightly better, TBT was significantly improved. And the overall Performance score was finally orange (51) instead of red (36). I’ll take it!

In Conclusion

Modern bundlers should generally tree shake away most common import patterns, including barrel exports from shared packages. But when the bundler doesn’t detect them (and you don’t have the time to dive into transpilation settings), a codemod to switch to direct sub-path imports can be handy for reducing page bundle sizes.

Aside: Next.js 13.1

Next.js actually improved their default barrel import detection in Next.js 13.1! You can read more in the 1.31 Release Notes > SWC Import Resolution.

The changes I applied in I did in this investigation will be irrelevant once Centered upgrades to Next.js 13.1. At time of investigation, Centered was still on 13.0.

Coming Soon

This work area brought the Lighthouse Performance score up to orange instead of red, but there was still more work to be done. The next two investigations will show a couple more touchups I applied to remove unused code and script work.

  1. 81 <iframe> Embeds
  2. Hidden Embedded Images
  3. 👉 Barrel Exports
  4. Unused Code Bloat
  5. Emoji Processing


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