Reusing Code with React Native Packages at Shopify

Reusing Code with React Native Packages at Shopify

At Shopify, we develop a bunch of different React Native mobile apps: Shop, Inbox, Point of Sale, Shopify Mobile, and Local Delivery. These apps represent different business domains, but they often have shared pieces of functionality like login or foundational blocks they build upon. Wouldn’t it be great to leverage development speed and focus on important product features by reusing code other teams have already written? Sure, but it might be a big and time consuming effort that discourages teams. Usually, contributing to a new repo is more tedious and error prone in comparison to contributing to an existing repository. The developer needs to create a new repository, set up continuous integration (CI) and distribution pipelines, and add configs for Jest, ESint, and Babel. It might be unclear where to start and what to do.

My team, React Native Foundations, decided to invest in simplifying the process for developers at Shopify. In this post, I'll walk you through the process of extracting those shared elements, the setup we adopted, the challenges we encountered, and future lines of improvement.

Our Considerations: Monorepo vs Multi-Repo

When we set out to extract elements from the product repositories, we explored two approaches: multi-repo and monorepo. For us, it was important that the solution had low maintenance costs, allowing us to be consistent without much effort. Of the two, monorepo was the one that helped us achieve that.

Having one monorepo to support reduces maintenance costs. The team has one process that can be improved and optimized instead of maintaining and providing support for any number of packages and repositories. For example, imagine updating React Native and React versions across 10 repositories. I don’t even want to!

A monorepo decreases entrance barriers by offering everything you need to start building a package, including a package template to kick off building your package faster. Documentation and tooling provide the foundation to focusing on what’s important—the content of the package—instead of wasting time on configuring CI pipelines or thinking about the structure and configuration of the package. 

We want contributing to shared foundational code to be convenient and spark joy. Optimizing once, and for everyone, gives the team time and opportunity to improve the developer experience by offering features like generating automatic documentation and providing a fixture app to test changes during development. 

Our Setup Details

A repository consists of a set of npm packages that might contain native iOS and Android code, a fixture app that allows testing those packages in a real application, and an internal documentation website for users and contributors to learn how to use and contribute to the packages. This repository has an uncommon setup making it possible to hot-reload while editing the packages and references between packages and use them from the fixture app.

First, packages are developed in TypeScript but distributed as JavaScript and definition files. We use TypeScript project references so the TypeScript compiler resolves cross-package references. Since the IDE detects it's a TypeScript project, it resolves the imports on the UI. Dependencies between projects are defined in the tsconfig.json of each package.

When distributing the packages, we use Yarn. It’s language-agnostic and therefore doesn't translate dependencies between TypeScript projects to dependencies between packages. For that, we use Yarn Workspaces. That means besides defining dependencies for TypeScript, we have to define them in the package.json for Yarn and npm. Lerna, the publishing tool we use to push new versions of the packages to the registry, knows how to resolve the dependencies and build them in the right order.

We extract TypeScript, Babel, Jest, and ESLint configs to the root level to ensure consistent configuration across the packages. Consistency makes contributions easier because packages have a similar setup, and it also leads to a more reliable setup. 

The fixture app setup is the standard setup of any React Native app using Metro, Babel, CocoaPods, and Gradle. However, it has custom configuration to import and link the packages that live within the same repository:

  • babel.config.js uses module-resolver plugin to resolve project references. We wouldn't need this if Babel integrated with TypeScript's project references feature.
  • metro.config.js exposes the package directories to Metro so that hot reloading works when modifying the code of the packages.
  • Podfile has logic to locate and include the Pod of the local packages. It’s worth mentioning that we don’t use React Native autolinking for local packages, but install them manually.

Developers test features by running the fixture app locally. They also have the option to create Shipit Mobile internal builds (which we call Snapshot builds) that they can share internally. Shared builds can be installed via QR code by any person in the company, allowing them to play with available packages.

CI configuration is one of the things developers get for free when contributing to the monorepo. CI pipelines are auto-generated and therefore standardized across all the packages. Based on the content of the package we define the steps: 

  • build 
  • test 
  • type check 
  • lint TypeScript, Kotlin, and Swift code.
A CI pipeline run showing all the steps (build, test, run, type check, and lint) run for a package with updates.
A CI pipeline run showing all the steps (build, test, run, type check, and lint) run for a package with updates.

Another interesting thing about our setup is that we generate a dependency graph of the package to determine dependencies between packages. Also, the pipelines are triggered based on the file changes, so we only build the package with new changes and those that depend on it. 

Code Generation

Even with all the infrastructure in place, it might be confusing to start contributing. Documentation describing the process helped up to a point, but we could do better by involving automation and code generation to leverage bootstrapping new packages further.

The React Native packages monorepo offers a script built with PlopJS for adding a new package based on the package template similar to the React Native community one. We took this template but customized it for Shopify. 

A newly created package is a ready-to-use skeleton that extends the monorepo’s default configuration and has auto-generated CI pipelines in place. The script prompts for answers to some questions and generates the package and pipelines as a result.

Terminal window showing the script that prompts the user for answers to questions needed to create the packages and CI pipelines.
Terminal window showing the script that prompts the user for answers to questions needed to create the packages and CI pipelines

Code generation ensures consistency across packages since everything is predefined for contributors. For the React Native Foundations team, it means supporting and improving one workflow, which reduces maintenance costs.


Documentation is as important as the code we add to the repository, and having great documentation is crucial to provide a great developer experience. Therefore, it shouldn't be an afterthought. To make it easier for contributors not to overlook writing documentation, the monorepo offers auto-generated documentation available in a statically generated website built with Gatsby.

Screenshot of the package documentation website created by Gatsby. The left hand side shows the list of packages and the right hand side contains the details of the selected package.
Screenshot of the package documentation website created by Gatsby

Each package shows up in the sidebar of the documentation website, and its page contains the following information that’s pre-populated by reading metadata from the package.json file:

  • package name 
  • package dependencies
  • installation command (including peer dependencies)
  • dependency graph of the packages in there.

Since part of the documentation is auto-generated, it’s also consistent across the packages. Users see the same sections with as much generated content as possible.The website supports extending the documentation with manually written content by creating any of the following files under the documentation/ directory of the package:

  • installation.mdx: include extra installation steps
  • getting-started.mdx: document steps to get started with the package
  • troubleshooting.mdx: document issues developers might run into and how to tackle them.

Release Process

I’ve mentioned before that we use Lerna for releasing the packages. During a release, we version independently and only if a package has unreleased changes. Due to how Lerna approaches the release process, all unreleased changes need to be released at the same time. 

Our standard release workflow includes updating changelogs with the newest version and calling a release script that prompts you to update all the modules touched since the last change. 

When versioning locally, we run two additional npm lifecycle scripts:

  • preversion ensures that all the changelogs are updated correctly. It gets run before we upgrade the version.
  • version gets run after we've updated the versions but before we make the "Publish" commit. It generates an updated readme and runs pod install considering the bumped versions.

After that, we get a new release commit with release tags that we need to push to the main branch. Now, the only thing left is to press “Publish”, and the packages will be released to the internal package registry. 

The release process has a few manual steps and can be improved further. We keep the main branch always shippable but plan on introducing automating releases on every merge to reduce friction. To do that we might need to:

  • start using conventional commits in the repo
  • automate changelog generation
  • configure a GitHub action to prepare a release commit after every merge automatically. This step will generate the changelog automatically, trigger a Lerna release commit, and push that to main
  • schedule an automated release of the package right after.

The Future of Monorepos at Shopify

In hindsight, we achieve our goal. Extracting and reusing code is easy: you get tooling, infrastructure, and maintenance from the React Native Foundations team, plus other nice things for free. Developers can easily share those internal packages, and product teams have a developer-friendly workflow to contribute to Shopify's foundation. As a result, 17 React Native packages have been developed since June 2020, with 10 of them contributed by product teams.

Still, we got some lessons along the way.

We learned that the React Native tooling isn’t optimized for Shopify’s setup, but thanks to the flexibility of their APIs, we achieved a configuration we’re happy with. Still, the team keeps an eye on any occurring inconveniences and works on improving them.

Also, we came up with the idea of having multiple monorepos for thematically-related packages instead of one huge one. Based on the Web Foundation team’s experience and our impression, it makes sense to introduce a few monorepos for coupled packages. Recent talk from Microsoft at React Native EU 2021 conference also confirmed that having multiple monorepos is a natural evolutionary step for massive React Native codebases. Now, we have two monorepos: one main monorepo contains loosely coupled packages with utilities and Shopify-specific features and another contains a few performance related packages. Still, when we end up having a few monorepos, we’ll have to figure out how to reuse pieces across those monorepos to retain the benefits of monorepo.

Elvira Burchik is a Production Engineer on the React Native Foundations team. Her mission is to create an environment in which developers are highly productive at creating high-quality React Native applications. She lives in Berlin, Germany, and spends her time outside of work chasing the best kebabs and brewing coffee.

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