Run TS from CLI
Run TS from CLI

Run TS from CLI

A blazing fast ts-node alternative
Published March 4, 2023
Ever need to run a TypeScript (TS) entry file from command line directly? There’re many tools for that, in fact, probably too many to find the one that just works.
The real problem is that the requirement varies case by case, it’s a no-brainer if you only have a single TS to run against, an IDE plugin is capable of doing the inline evaluation trick, but how about running against a TS file that meets the following conditions?
  1. It’s within a TS project (with tsconfig.json)
  1. It depends on a mix of ES modules (ESM) & CommonJS modules (CJS) (e.g. importing libraries / node_modules distributed in different format)
  1. It doesn’t use the modern ESM import specifier (i.e. with file extensions)


Transitioning from CJS to ESM is a pain in the ass, anyone who has done similar migration know what I mean (compare it to Python 2to3). Just to elaborate a bit
  • ESM is backward compatible with CJS, but not vice versa. That’s to use ESM in CJS files, you can only use dynamic import import() , which is impossible without significant refactoring
  • ESM has the thing called Mandatory file extension which isn’t compatible with how most existing TS codebase is written.
    • import ... from './foo' // ❌ how most apps were written import ... from './foo.js' // ✅
  • Existing tools have their own workarounds long before the standards arrival. Notably popular bundlers like Webpack 2+, Rollup etc are relying on non-official module field instead of type field in package.json to infer ESM during build phase.

Common Solution

The most common solution is ts-node per google’s search result, better illustrated by npm trend.
notion image
It solves condition #1 above, but left #2, #3 to me still. Because the incompatibility issue I mentioned above, I’ve tried to
  • set "type": "module" in package.json
  • rename file extension to .mjs
However, every change only leads to a new problem. To avoid going down the rabbit hole, I turned to other solutions.

Solid Alternatives

esbuild-kitUpdated Mar 4, 2023
npx tsx file.ts
After a bit digging around I came across tsx which nailed the problem. It’s a run time based on esbuild known for its build perf compare to other node-native build tools. It’s zero config, that’s you don’t even need a tsconfig.json to start using it. One of its biggest selling point to my use case is
It seamlessly adapts between CommonJS and ESM package types by detecting how modules are loaded (require() or import) to determine how to compile them. It even adds support for require()ing ESM modules from CommonJS so you don't have to worry about your dependencies as the ecosystem migrates to ESM.
That’s we don’t have do deal with the fragmented module system issue mentioned above, which is arguably the most painful thing to resolve if you simply want to run some scripts.
egoistUpdated Mar 2, 2023
node -r esbuild-register file.ts
Another tool worth mentioning is esbuild-register. Similar to tsx, it’s a thin wrapper around esbuild. Like babel-register that transpiles ES on the fly using babel, it transpiles TS on the fly using esbuild. Because of that, it shares the same gotcha as esbuild, but nevertheless a great option if your project has esbuild in place already. It’s not as out-of-box as tsx. But I’ve used it at work, and it easily scales to a Yarn Monorepo with 100+ Workspaces, which is fairly impressive and aligns well with the trend of front-end moving towards Rust / Go written build tools.
The author of the tsx package has done a more comprehensive comparison between various TS runners. I haven’t used most of them and may not need them for my use case, but they serve as options out there.
privatenumberUpdated Mar 4, 2023


To recap, if your use case is simple enough that can be generalized, go with ts-node thanks to its full fledged features due to wide usage, but if your use case is more advanced that involves dealing with a legacy codebase, tsx is a better option that addresses the need well and deserves more attention.
Last but not least, what if the code is written in JS instead of TS, but with the same issue of transitioning from CJS to ESM? Consider giving esm and babel-node a shot.


  • HN thread with some insightful discussions about CJS → ESM transition