RequireJS - An example of bad documentation

Series: javascript, documentation April 20, 2014

I have a Django project that makes moderate use of JavaScript to tabulate output data and make AJAX calls. RequireJS is taken into consideration to organize JavaScript code and improve its load time. After reading the documentation for 2 days, I’m completely disappointed. It’s an example of how documentation is so poorly written. I have no intention of contributing to the project to improve it since I’m having troubles understanding myself. Besides, I don’t trust projects whose documentation is not properly invested in.

Here are some quick notes:

  • I tried first Homepage. Actually it has a good short description, immediately helping people understand what RequireJS is:

    RequireJS is a JavaScript file and module loader. It is optimized for in-browser use, but it can be used in other JavaScript environments, like Rhino and Node. Using a modular script loader like RequireJS will improve the speed and quality of your code.

  • Following the link to getting started page, a quick look points me to the jQuery tutorial:

    Note: If you are using jQuery, there is a targeted jQuery tutorial

    This is where things get ambiguous:

    jQuery registers itself as the global variables “$” and “jQuery”, even when it detects AMD/RequireJS

    What’s AMD? I was more or less aware of JavaScript asynchronous module definition but it’s not obvious it’s the AMD the documentation mentions.

    jQuery defines named AMD module ‘jquery’ (all lower case) when it detects AMD/RequireJS. To reduce confusion, we recommend using ‘jquery’ as the module name in your require.config.

    What’s require.config? They don’t even use monospace font for inline code?

        baseUrl: 'js/lib',
        paths: {
            // the left side is the module ID,
            // the right side is the path to
            // the jQuery file, relative to baseUrl.
            // Also, the path should NOT include
            // the '.js' file extension. This example
            // is using jQuery 1.9.0 located at
            // js/lib/jquery-1.9.0.js, relative to
            // the HTML page.
            jquery: 'jquery-1.9.0'

    Interesting, but

    • Where do I put this code? Do I need to read RequireJS’s original tutorial then come back?

    • What does require.config do?

    • The comments are detailed but poorly explain the concept. What’s that module ID and why do we need it? I guess jQuery is loaded and assigned to the variable jquery but the whole function still doesn’t make sense.

      If it’s about using about using jQuery as global variable so why not something like:

      jquery = require.config(...);
      // or
      $ = require.config(...);

      This RequireJS API sucks hard.

    Then, the documentation says the following snippet doesn’t work:

    define(['lib/jquery'], function ($) {...});

    I don’t even know what it does, not to mention how it should work and why it doesn’t…

    Example using shim config

    What on earth is this shim config? Why don’t they take a bit a of time and write a sentence or two to explain? Instead of making me go to the API reference, where things are even more ambiguous?

    Example loading jquery from a CDN

    Okay, perhaps this is what I need?

    This example requires all your jQuery plugins to call define() to properly express their dependencies. Shim config does not work after optimization builds with CDN resources.

    Again, effing up with their own jargon. I have no idea whatsoever what define does and I start to get the feeling that I no longer want to know.

    Anyway, let’s follow their example

    This example shows one way to load jQuery and jQuery plugins with require.js

    What is this project again? Is it RequireJS or require.js. Project structure isn’t even carefully formatted. Again I don’t know what r.js is. Source code is fragmented and overcomplicated.

    Back to the jQuery tutorial, the next 2 sections are worse. The code is formatted inconsistently compared to previous sections of the same page:

    require(['jquery'], function( $ ) {
      console.log( $ ) // OK
    define(['jquery'], function (jq) {
        return jq.noConflict( true );
  • Back to original tutorial again, I no longer expected I could find something useful. The code example is extremely brief and it explains nothing how I could leverage RequireJS (or require.js) for better (or worse).

  • I spent time tinkering around the website and reading the API reference. Same problems: jargon-y terms, useless examples, overcomplicated logic, illogical flow of reading, …

    I gave up.

Documentation is a way to communicate with people. Writing good documentation is hard, I understand, but it’s not an excuse for not even trying. Some rules of thumb: Give clear explanation, give lots of examples with detailed comments.

This entry was valid at this point it was written. After 2 and a half year (October 2016), I revisited the site and saw more or less the same crap. Awful design, sloppy writing, poor examples. My opinion stands.