How to fix “__dirname is not defined in ES module scope”

Updated Sep 22, 2023 ⤳ 2 min read

The error “__dirname is not defined in ES module scope” occurs if you refer to the __dirname global variable in an ES (ECMAScript) module.

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Here’s what the error message looks like:

 return __dirname

ReferenceError: __dirname is not defined in ES module scope
This file is being treated as an ES module because it has a '.js' file extension and '/home/dwd/sandbox/package.json' contains type: module. To treat it as a CommonJS script, rename it to use the '.cjs' file extension.

This global variable contains the path to the current module's directory.

The __dirname and __filename variables only exist in CommonJS modules and aren't available in ES modules.

So if you've enabled ES modules in Node.js (via "type": "module" in package.json) or using ES modules through a module bundler like Webpack, you'll no longer have access to these global variables.

This ES module scope error is one of the most common errors developers face when switching from CommonJS modules to ES modules.

The workaround is quite easy, though.

To get a module's directory path in the ES module system:

  • First, get the module file URL from the import.meta object.
  • Then, convert the URL to a path by the fileUrlToPath() function.
  • Finally, get the module's directory by using the path.dirname() method.

import { fileURLToPath } from 'url';
import path from 'path';

const __filename = fileURLToPath(import.meta.url);
const __dirname = path.dirname(__filename);

The import.meta object exposes context-specific metadata to a JavaScript module, including the module's URL.

Whenever you need the __dirname value, you'll have to repeat the above instructions. It's better to create a helper function.

Create a helper function to emulate __dirname functionality in your app

You can create a helper function, which you can call anytime you need the __dirname value.

import path from 'path'
import { fileURLToPath } from 'url'

const getDirName = function (moduleUrl) {
    const filename = fileURLToPath(moduleUrl)
    return path.dirname(filename)

export {

And use it like so:

// ModuleA.js
import { getDirName } from './libs/utils'

// Getting the dirname of moduleA.js
const dirName = getDirName(import.meta.url)

// output: /home/dwd/sandbox/modules

Please note you'll have to provide the import.meta.url whenever calling the function; If you refer to it from inside the lib.js module, it'll return the utils.js directory name (/home/dwd/sandbox/libs) instead.

I hope this quick guide was helpful.

Thanks for reading.

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