Making a Progressive Web App

The production build has all the tools necessary to generate a first-class Progressive Web App, but the offline/cache-first behavior is opt-in only. By default, the build process will generate a service worker file, but it will not be registered, so it will not take control of your production web app.

In order to opt-in to the offline-first behavior, developers should look for the following in their src/index.js file:

// If you want your app to work offline and load faster, you can change
// unregister() to register() below. Note this comes with some pitfalls.
// Learn more about service workers: https://bit.ly/CRA-PWA
serviceWorker.unregister();

As the comment states, switching serviceWorker.unregister() to serviceWorker.register() will opt you in to using the service worker.

Why Opt-in?

Offline-first Progressive Web Apps are faster and more reliable than traditional web pages, and provide an engaging mobile experience:

  • All static site assets are cached so that your page loads fast on subsequent visits, regardless of network connectivity (such as 2G or 3G). Updates are downloaded in the background.
  • Your app will work regardless of network state, even if offline. This means your users will be able to use your app at 10,000 feet and on the subway.
  • On mobile devices, your app can be added directly to the user's home screen, app icon and all. This eliminates the need for the app store.

However, they can make debugging deployments more challenging so, starting with Create React App 2, service workers are opt-in.

The workbox-webpack-plugin is integrated into production configuration, and it will take care of generating a service worker file that will automatically precache all of your local assets and keep them up to date as you deploy updates. The service worker will use a cache-first strategy for handling all requests for local assets, including navigation requests for your HTML, ensuring that your web app is consistently fast, even on a slow or unreliable network.

Offline-First Considerations

If you do decide to opt-in to service worker registration, please take the following into account:

  1. After the initial caching is done, the service worker lifecycle controls when updated content ends up being shown to users. In order to guard against race conditions with lazy-loaded content, the default behavior is to conservatively keep the updated service worker in the "waiting" state. This means that users will end up seeing older content until they close (reloading is not enough) their existing, open tabs. See this blog post for more details about this behavior.

  2. Users aren't always familiar with offline-first web apps. It can be useful to let the user know when the service worker has finished populating your caches (showing a "This web app works offline!" message) and also let them know when the service worker has fetched the latest updates that will be available the next time they load the page (showing a "New content is available once existing tabs are closed." message). Showing these messages is currently left as an exercise to the developer, but as a starting point, you can make use of the logic included in src/serviceWorker.js, which demonstrates which service worker lifecycle events to listen for to detect each scenario, and which as a default, just logs appropriate messages to the JavaScript console.

  3. Service workers require HTTPS, although to facilitate local testing, that policy does not apply to localhost. If your production web server does not support HTTPS, then the service worker registration will fail, but the rest of your web app will remain functional.

  4. The service worker is only enabled in the production environment, e.g. the output of npm run build. It's recommended that you do not enable an offline-first service worker in a development environment, as it can lead to frustration when previously cached assets are used and do not include the latest changes you've made locally.

  5. If you need to test your offline-first service worker locally, build the application (using npm run build) and run a simple http server from your build directory. After running the build script, create-react-app will give instructions for one way to test your production build locally and the deployment instructions have instructions for using other methods. Be sure to always use an incognito window to avoid complications with your browser cache.

  6. By default, the generated service worker file will not intercept or cache any cross-origin traffic, like HTTP API requests, images, or embeds loaded from a different domain.

Progressive Web App Metadata

The default configuration includes a web app manifest located at public/manifest.json, that you can customize with details specific to your web application.

When a user adds a web app to their homescreen using Chrome or Firefox on Android, the metadata in manifest.json determines what icons, names, and branding colors to use when the web app is displayed. The Web App Manifest guide provides more context about what each field means, and how your customizations will affect your users' experience.

Progressive web apps that have been added to the homescreen will load faster and work offline when there's an active service worker. That being said, the metadata from the web app manifest will still be used regardless of whether or not you opt-in to service worker registration.

Last updated on 2/10/2019 by Ian Schmitz