Rails has been going through a lot of changes throughout the years, especially the frontend. Where once Sprockets was “good” enough, we eventually needed a Javascript Runtime to compile our Javascript. Fast forward another few years and now we are back in a simpeler time: loading Javascript files directly from the server to the browser, no build required. It works and it is awesome!

However; importmap-rails is still young and documentation can sometimes be lacking. I’ve seen several questions about including JS from a gem to your rails app, but no guide on how to do this. Let’s change that right now!


This solution could not have been possible without an answer on StackOverflow by Alex. His explanation is the missing guide for importmap-rails and I strongly suggest anyone wanting to use the importmap-rails gem to read that post first. Alex not only explains how to use it, but how to think about importmaps and how to debug issue. Another great resource is another answer by Alex on how to configure your gem to add the importmap configuration to a rails app.

🙏Thank you Alex!


To get your JS to be importable in your application, we need to tackle two things:

  1. Your JS files need to be accessible in the asset pipeline. Assuming you do not need or require building, we can use propshaft in the rails application.
    • If you do need to build/compile your JS, you’ll have to configure that separately in your gem and configure your target directory to be in app/assets
  2. Configure the importmap so you have a name to reference the files. As a bonus, we will configure that in the gem which gets added to your local importmap configuration during initialization.

Note: I did not find a way to get pin_all_from to work. So we will add all files using single pins. Feel free to open a PR if you do know how to make it work. I’ll update this guide and acknowledge your work!

In this tutorial we will call refer to the gem that holds the JS as “MyGem” or “my_gem” and the Rails application is called “ExampleBlog” or “example_blog”. Change those names to your own gems name accordingly.

I added a gem and example Rails application on Github to showcase how an implementation works:

Clone both repositories, do a bundle install and run the server. You should see a “hi, i’m your engine” on the root page and “Hello world!” in your browser console, which are defined in my_gem/app/assets/javascripts/my_gem/index.js and my_gem/app/assets/javascripts/hello.js respectively.

Step 1: Making your JS files available in the Asset pipeline

First we make sure your gems’ JS is available in the asset pipeline of the rails application. I’m going to assume you are using Propshaft as it is the easiest, no-nonsense, and new way to include assets. If you need but a bundle/compile/build step you can replace it with jsbundling-rails.

  1. Put the js you want to be import-able in app/assets/javascripts/my_gem.
    • This is either the code you write OR the result from your buildstep. Or both 😄
    • It is not necessary to use a my_gem subdirectory, but it is always smart to keep it in a separate namespace to prevent clashes.
    • In the example gem, we will add a my_gem/index.js and exported class my_gem/hello.js
// my_gem/app/assets/javascripts/my_gem/index.js
import Hello from "my_gem/hello"


document.querySelector("h1").innerText = "hi, i'm your engine";
// my_gem/app/assets/javascripts/my_gem/hello.js
export default class Hello {
  static speak() {
    console.log("Hello world!")
export { Hello }
  1. Configure MyGem to add its JS files to the precompile step of ExampleBlog:
    # my_gem/lib/engine/engine.rb
    module MyGem
      class Engine < Rails::Engine
     initializer "my_gem assets precompile" do |app|
       app.config.assets.precompile += %w[my_gem/**/*.js]

If you haven’t already, add your gem to the Gemfile of your application and do a bundle install.

Because we are using Propshaft, we can verify if the new files are available:

$  cd example_blog/
$  bin/rails assets:reveal

🥳Succes! Now we have files we can link to using importmapping!

Step 2: Configuring the importmap

Now we can use importmap-rails to define names, used in the import "NAME" part in your application JS, that will link to our actual digested files, as explained by Alex.

  1. Configure importmap. Include all files you will eventually need.
    # example_blog/config/importmap.rb
    pin "my_gem_js", to: "my_gem/index.js"
    pin "my_gem/hello", to: "my_gem/hello.js"

    Note: I’ve created an index.js that will include all our Javascript files, but also contains custom code. It is mapped to my_gem_js just as an example, my_gem/index or my_gem would make more sense.

Note: Within ExampleBlog there is no import {Hello} from "my_gem/hello" code, but we do need to pin my_gem/hello. That is because index.js has that code. If we do not pin my_gem/hello, index.js would try to include hello.js and fail to find it.

  1. Add the import to ExampleBlog javascript
    // app/javascript/application.js
    import "my_gem_js"

Start your rails app and open it in the browser. Your h1 tag should have the content “hi, i’m your engine” and the browser console should display Hello world!.

Tip: Verifying the importmap

If the browser is not finding your files, you can run bin/importmap json to find all names mapped to files:

$  cd example_blog/
$  bin/importmap json
  "imports": {
    "my_gem_js": "/assets/my_gem/index-50e988041f565dfbf53ac38a0ccd6c1bf8b721c4.js",
    "my_gem/hello": "/assets/my_gem/hello-2fbe1d3bc2853188e5a9b67ce12261422b473f44.js",
    "application": "/assets/application-8549a06fc70d18edfd515853eaaf03cc8f7f9bda.js",
    "@hotwired/turbo-rails": "/assets/turbo.min-496b16c15ea6189e995b71b67a2a26b8d8e456ee.js",
    "@hotwired/stimulus": "/assets/stimulus.min-4b1e420eb07f8afa5ce3620fe38b5e2d411bc3ec.js",
    "@hotwired/stimulus-loading": "/assets/stimulus-loading-1fc53fe7a488db9281d2ff88509e8f45d6119ee4.js",
    "controllers/application": "/assets/controllers/application-3affb3895ffcb21cd10ed1f10e8b2588be20737e.js",
    "controllers": "/assets/controllers/index-c3f5d3c4338f2b176f827bf13076b107f0e7766a.js"

Way easier to verify than running a server 😊

Optional: Configuring the importmap from your gem

If you are only including a few files, or are in complete control of both gem and rails application, this should suffice. However, we can configure the gem to add the importmap configuration to the rails application. This is a cleaner solution: the gem is responsible for configuration and the rails application only has to import JS.

  1. Move the pins we made in example_blog/config/importmap.rb to my_gem/config/importmap.rb
    # my_gem/config/importmap.rb
    pin "my_gem_js", to: "my_gem/index.js"
    pin "my_gem/hello", to: "my_gem/hello.js"
  2. Include importmap-rails as a dependency of your gem
    # my_gem.gemspec
    Gem::Specification.new do |spec|
      # …
      spec.add_dependency "importmap-rails"
  3. Add another initializer to include MyGem’s importmap in the rails application
# my_gem/lib/engine/engine.rb
require "rails/engine"
require "importmap-rails"

module MyGem
  class Engine < Rails::Engine
    isolate_namespace MyGem

    initializer "my_gem.importmap", before: "importmap" do |app|
      # NOTE: this will add pins from this engine to the main app
      # https://github.com/rails/importmap-rails#composing-import-maps
      app.config.importmap.paths << root.join("config/importmap.rb")

      # NOTE: something about cache; I did not look into it.
      # https://github.com/rails/importmap-rails#sweeping-the-cache-in-development-and-test
      app.config.importmap.cache_sweepers << root.join("app/assets/javascripts")

    initializer "my_gem assets precompile" do |app|
      app.config.assets.precompile += %w[my_gem/**/*.js]

  Gem.loaded_specs["my_gem"].dependencies.each do |d|
    require d.name

That is it! Verify by running bin/importmap json in ExampleBlog or by re-starting the rails server, it all should work. Happy coding!