Client and Server Hot Reloading with React and Docker


This guide is intended for projects that require an Express web server that serves a React client application and will be deployed in a Docker container.

For projects that only require a stand alone React client app, this guide is superfluous and the create-react-app started guide² should be followed.

1. Install the bootstrapping tools

Both Express and React provide bootstrapping tools to help kickstart a project. These tools provide much of the boiler plate required during set up.

npm install --global express-generator create-react-app
# OR
yarn global add express-generator create-react-app

2. Create an Express app

Use the Express bootstrap tool to create the Express server. This tool assumes you will be using Express to render the UI using a templating engine so that section of the app can be removed before replacing it with React.

express my-server
cd my-server
# Remove the files that will be replaced by React
rm -rf public/ views/
# Install all of the dependancies
npm install
# OR

3. Create a React app

Like the Express app, the bootstrapping tools can be used to create the React application.

create-react-app client

4. Create the docker images

Create a Dockerfile and copy the following gist.

touch Dockerfile

5. Create the docker-compose.yml

When building the containers locally, mount the development folders as read-only volumes to allow react-scripts/nodemon to detect code changes.

touch docker-compose.yml

6. Install hot reloading package

To enable hot reloading of the server, install nodemon to the dev dependancies.

npm install --save-dev nodemon

7. Add the start npm commands

Before the app can be built locally, npm needs a start command for the client and server. Add these commands to your package.json

"start:client": "(cd client && npm start)",
"start:server": "nodemon ./bin/www",

Finally, proxy the requests from the React application to the Express server. To do this, add the following to your package.json

"proxy": "http://server:3001"

8. Build it

To build the docker containers, run docker-compose up --build and your new application will be available at http://localhost:3000