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How to require stubborn modules

NotebooksLearn about notebooks vs. projects

In a rush? Confused? Try the module require debugger to get some instant answers.

Requiring modules in Observable is sometimes tricky: there are many ways to write and publish JavaScript modules. We use unpkg to load external modules when you call require(). Modules that include UMD or AMD bundled files work great with Observable.

If a module doesn't work—it says 'Invalid module'—you might be able to still get it to work. First, go to that module on GitHub: the simplest way to do this is to go to and find the GitHub repository on the right. Some modules won't have that link, and in that case, your best chance is to search GitHub for the module's name.

Now that you've found the repository, look through its code: does it have a UMD or AMD build somewhere in its package that you just need to require? You can also go to to look for the files in the published package.

If you do see that, for instance, the module's main entry point in its package.json is something like


And otherfile.js would work with Observable—it has a UMD or AMD header—then you can change the require call in your notebook to something like require('themodule/otherfile.js') and require that file directly.

For example, let's require Chart.js—a module that won't work off the bat but does with a little coaxing.

Trying to require Chart.js using


returns an error: RequireError: invalid module.

However, a visit to reveals a dist folder containing a .min.js file of Chart.js. When we instead require that file with

Chart = require("chart.js@2.7.1/dist/Chart.min.js")

the require is successful, and we are able to use Chart.js for data visualization.

Requiring modules from

Some modules won't have browser builds, but they're still usable by requiring them through, an API that runs browserify and rollup and returns bundles.

For instance, the obliterator module doesn't include a browser build, but it's written in vanilla JavaScript and uses normal require statements and nothing fancy, so simply requiring it through works great

Construct a URL using the following structure: (though we recommend that you specify a module version at the end instead of @latest).

For obliterator (version 1.2.1), that would look like this:

obliterator = require('')

Requiring stubborn add-ons

Let's take a look at some three.js 'add-ons'. These are not part of the main three.js codebase, but are super useful and often very fun, so we want access to them. OrbitControls is one of them: it lets you easily add mouse controls to a three.js scene such that dragging around on it moves the scene.

Checking out the code for OrbitControls on GitHub reveals that it doesn't require or import three, and it doesn't use an AMD or UMD module wrapper either. It just gloms on to the `THREE` variable, which it expects to be around.

To require OrbitControls, the trick is to:

  1. Require the module that an add-on wants to glom on to
  2. Then, require the add-on but ignore its inevitable error
  const THREE = (window.THREE = await require("three@0.132.2"));
  await require("three@0.132.2/examples/js/controls/OrbitControls.js").catch(
    () => {}
  return THREE;

Modules that want global configuration

Some libraries like to be configured in one place. For instance, when you include the bignumber.js module—for example in Project Euler notebook—it is often configured to print out lots and lots of numeric digits, instead of formatting them in scientific notation. That's all done by the .config() method off of the main module object.

In that case, the best practice is to combine requiring the module with configuring it to guarantee that you only have to configure it once and that all cells that use the module get it properly configured. In bignumber.js's case, that looks like:

BigNumber = {
  // require bignumber
  let bn = await require('bignumber.js');
  // Print out lots and lots of digits
  bn.config({ EXPONENTIAL_AT: 1e+9 });
  // return the configured object
  return bn;

Modules that assign a global variable but don't return it

A good example of this is hyperhtml: require fails to return an object, but the window gets hyperHTML attached. In this case, you can use .catch to catch the require failure and instead resolve to a value:

hyperHTML = require("hyperhtml").catch(() => window.hyperHTML)