How Does the Development Mode Work?


5th June 2020  |  Arsalan Khan

If your JavaScript codebase is even moderately complex, you probably have a way to bundle and run different code in development and production.

Bundling and running different code in development and production is powerful. In development mode, React includes many warnings that help you find problems before they lead to bugs. However, the code necessary to detect such mistakes often increases the bundle size and makes the app run slower.

The slowdown is acceptable in development. In fact, running the code slower in development might even be beneficial because it partially compensates for the discrepancy between fast developer machines and an average consumer device.

In production we don’t want to pay any of that cost. Hence, we omit these checks in production. How does that work? Let’s take a look.


The exact way to run different code in development depends on your JavaScript build pipeline (and whether you have one). At Facebook it looks like this:

if (__DEV__) {
  doSomethingDev();
} else {
  doSomethingProd();
}

Here, __DEV__ isn’t a real variable. It’s a constant that gets substituted when the modules are stitched together for the browser. The result looks like this :

// In development:
if (true) {
  doSomethingDev(); // 👈
} else {
  doSomethingProd();
}

// In production:
if (false) {
  doSomethingDev();
} else {
  doSomethingProd(); // 👈
}

(Note that there are significant limits on how effective dead code elimination can be with mainstream JavaScript tools, but that’s a separate topic.)

In production, you’d also run a minifier (for example, terser) on the code. Most JavaScript minifiers do a limited form of dead code elimination, such as removing if (false) branches. So in production you’d only see :

Separating development and production modes is a very useful technique. I recommend using it in your libraries and the application code for the kinds of checks that are too expensive to do in production, but are valuable (and often critical!) to do in development.

As with any powerful feature, there are some ways you can misuse it. This will be the topic of my next post!