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Reloading When JS/CSS Changes

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How does Turbo handle when a JavaScript or CSS file that's downloaded onto our page changes? When we navigate, it's smart enough to merge any new CSS or JS into our head element without duplicating anything that's already there.

But what about a CSS or JavaScript file whose contents just updated because we deployed? This is really a problem specific to production because locally, if we change a CSS or JS file in our editor, we just come back and trigger a full page reload manually. But how is this handled on production?

Well... if you do nothing, it's pretty simple: your users will continue to surf around with the old CSS and JavaScript... which is not something we want... especially since they will be getting the newest HTML from our site... which may only work with the newest CSS and JavaScript.

Activating Asset Versioning

But a slightly different thing happens if we enable versioning on our assets. Head to your editor and open up webpack.config.js. About halfway down this file... you'll find enableVersioning().

This tells Encore that, if we are doing a production build, each filename should contain a hash that's unique to its contents. It's a great strategy to make sure that when you deploy updates, each file gets a new file name... which forces users - in a non Turbo universe - to download the latest version.

To see what happens with Turbo, let's activate this for dev builds also by removing the Encore.isProduction() argument.

76 lines | webpack.config.js
// ... lines 1 - 44
// enables hashed filenames (e.g. app.abc123.css)
// ... lines 47 - 76

To make this take effect, find your terminal, go to the tab that's running Encore, hit Control+C and then rerun:

yarn watch

When that finishes... move over, refresh, and navigate around. If you check out the head tag, we have versioned filenames! The app.css file is now app.blahblah.css, and the app.js file also has a hash.

Let's go modify the app.js file - that's over at assets/app.js. At the bottom, console.log('new code').

17 lines | assets/app.js
// ... lines 1 - 14
console.log('new code!');

Now, without refreshing your browser, navigate to a new page.. and look at the console. Interesting... no log! And we have two app.js script tags on the page... which is probably not what we want.

First, the new file wasn't executed because Webpack was smart enough to realize that the app entry script has already been loaded. So even though the script tag was added... and downloaded, Webpack prevented it from running: it knows that something weird is going on.

And even if it did load, it would probably mean that we would have things like event listeners registered twice on the page... which is also not what we want.

What we see in the head tag at least does make sense based on what we know about Turbo. Because the app.js has a new filename, it looks like a new script file. And so, Turbo added it to the head.

Refreshing the Page with data-turbo-track="reload"

So... how do we fix this mess? Well, let's think. One of the huge benefits of Turbo is that your JavaScript and CSS are downloaded and executed just once on initial page load... and then are reused for every navigation after. It's a big reason why Turbo is so fast. But if one of these files changes... we sort of do need to hit the "reset" button. In other words, this is one case when the page should do a full page reload so that our browser can download everything new.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to do this: by adding a special data-turbo-track attribute to every CSS and JS tag. And, it turns out, adding that attribute is super easy!

Open config/packages/webpack_encore.yaml. The script_attributes key allows us to add an attribute to every script tag that Encore outputs. Add data-turbo-track and set it to reload. We'll talk about what this does in a second. Also uncomment link_attributes and set the same thing here.

33 lines | config/packages/webpack_encore.yaml
// ... lines 1 - 6
# Set attributes that will be rendered on all script and link tags
defer: true
'data-turbo-track': reload
'data-turbo-track': reload
// ... lines 13 - 33

With this simple change, every script and link tag that Encore renders will now have that data-turbo-track="reload" attribute on it.

So here's how this works... it's pretty simple. When we navigate, Turbo finds all of the elements with data-turbo-track on the current page and compares their filenames to the data-turbo-track elements on the new page. If the total collection of filenames on the old page does not exactly match the total collection of filenames on the new page, Turbo will trigger a full page reload.

Watch: if we click around, we see a lot of nice, boring Turbo-powered visits. But now go back to assets/app.js and remove that console.log().

Behind the scenes, a new app.js file with a new filename was just output. You can see it in the Encore terminal: before the filename was this, now the filename is different.

Back at our browser, let's visit a new page. Watch carefully. Yes! That was a full page reload! Turbo saw that the new page's "tracked" script and link tag filenames did not exactly match the old page's tracked filenames, and so, it triggered a normal, full-page-reload navigation. Problem solved!

Next: sometimes you may need to navigate to another page via custom JavaScript code. Like, maybe you have some custom JavaScript... where, after an Ajax call, you want to redirect to another URL. Could we use Turbo to do that visit instead of triggering a full page reload? Absolutely.