A Real-World Project: Typescript, Express and React

How I structure my Typescript + Express + React projects

Dirk Hoekstra
Dec 28, 2019 · 4 min read
Aquaduct Structure — Photo by Paul-Louis Pröve on Unsplash

In this article, I will show you how I set up and structure my Express — React projects.

Folder structure

When I set up a React Express app I always use the following folder structure.

  • The app directory will hold the Express backend application.
  • The build directory will hold the production build of the frontend and backend application
  • The frontend directory will hold the React frontend application.

Note that you are free to use any other folder structure that you like, this is simply my preferred way of doing things.

Creating the React app

Let’s begin with creating the React app. I’m going to use the create-react-app npm package for this.

You can run npm packages without installing them using the npx tool.

npx create-react-app frontend

The react app will be created in the frontend folder.

Let’s test if the installation went correctly.

cd frontend
yarn run start

The yarn run start command will run the React development server. Whenever you make changes to a file it will automatically recompile the react app and reload the browser! 🚀

The create-react-app package will also initialize a git repository in the frontend directory. However, I want to have a single git repository in the project root directory.

To remove the git repository in the frontend directory I simply remove the .git directory.

rm -rf .git

Creating the Express app

We now have a working frontend application, now it’s time to set up the backend Typescript Express app.

I start by creating a new package in the project root directory.

Then I add the Express and Typescript dependencies and finally, I create the app directory.

yarn init
yarn add express @types/express typescript
mkdir app

Next, I create a pretty standard tsconfig.json file. This file contains the settings for compiling Typescript to Javascript.

I only want to use Typescript in the backend — at least for now. That is why I exclude the frontend directory.

In the app directory I will create a Server.ts that will contain a Server class.

This class will receive the Express app in the constructor and initialize the application routes.

In the real world, I would probably create another class Router.ts that will hold all the application routes, but that is out of scope for this article.

To initialize this server I create a index.ts file in the application root directory. All this does is create a new Server class and start the server.

To start the backend server I add the following snippet to the package.json file. It will use the ts-node package to directly run Typescript code.

This way you won't have to worry about compiling the Typescript to Javascript as it is all done for you.

That why I can start the server running the following command.

yarn run start

As a bonus, you can use Nodemon to automatically restart ts-node when a file changes.

Building the React app

Let’s make a production build of the React app.

I will make a change to the frontend/package.json file. Because after building the React application I want to move the build files to the /build/frontend folder.

Find the "scripts" and update the "build" line.

Let’s run the yarn run build command and see if it works! 🙌

mkdir build 
cd frontend
yarn run build

If you navigate to the /build/frontend directory you will see the production-ready React app!

Building the Express app

Let’s add a new "build" script to the package.json file.

This will simply call the Typescript compiler package tsc to compile — or transpile if you prefer 💁‍♂— the Typescript to Javascript.

Run the build command to test if it works!

yarn run build

If all went correctly your build directory should look like this.


Connecting Express and React

We can develop the backend and frontend applications and build them. However, we should also connect Express to React.

For example, if I browse tolocalhost:8080/ I should get to see the React application.

If I browse to localhost:8080/api I should get to see the API message.

To do this I update the constructor of the Server class.

First I mark the build/frontend directory as a static asset directory. This means that Express will automatically serve the files in that directory.

Next, I add a wildcard * route and send those all to the index.html file. This is the file that holds the React frontend application.

Let’s rerun the backend application.

yarn run start

When navigation to localhost:8080 I get to see the React application 🎉

When navigating to localhost:8080/api I get to see the API message 🔥

That’s it! You can find the source code here on Github 🚀


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