Electron

Due to the nature of Electron, building Electron applications as Flatpaks requires a few extra steps compared with other applications. Thankfully, several tools and resources are available which make this much easier.

This guide provides information on how building Electron applications differs from other applications. It also includes information on the tooling for building Electron applications and how to use it.

The guide walks through the manifest file of the sample Electron Flatpak application. Before you start, it is a good idea to take a look at this, either online or by downloading the application.

Building the sample application

While it isn’t strictly necessary, you might want to try building and running the sample application yourself.

To get setup for the build, download or clone the sample app from GitHub, and navigate to the /flatpak directory in the terminal. You must also install the Electron base app:

$ flatpak install flathub io.atom.electron.BaseApp//stable

Then you can run the build:

$ flatpak-builder build org.flathub.electron-sample-app.json --install

Finally, the application can be run with:

$ flatpak run org.flatpak.electron-sample-app

Basic configuration

The first part of the sample application’s manifest specifies the application’s ID. It also configures the runtime and SDK:

"app-id": "org.flathub.electron-sample-app",
"runtime": "org.freedesktop.Platform",
"runtime-version": "1.6",
"branch": "stable",
"sdk": "org.freedesktop.Sdk",

The Freedesktop runtime is generally the best runtime to use with Electron applications, since it is the most minimal runtime, and other dependencies will be specific to Electron itself.

The Electron base app

Next, the manifest specifies that the Electron base app should be used, by specifying the base and base-version properties in the application manifest:

"base": "io.atom.electron.BaseApp",
"base-version": "stable",

Base apps are described in building-basics. Using the Electron base app is much faster and more convenient than manually building Electron and its dependencies. It also has the advantage of reducing the amount of duplication on users’ machines, since it means that Electron is only saved once on disk.

Note that this base app is for projects using Electron 1.x.x, the most common version at the time of writing. Electron 2.x.x applications should use org.electronjs.Electron2.BaseApp instead.

Command

The command property indicates that a script called run.sh is to be executed to run the application. This will be explained in further detail later.

"command": "run.sh",

Sandbox permissions

The standard guidelines on sandbox permissions apply to Electron applications. However, Electron does not currently support Wayland, so for display access, only X11 should be used. The sample app also configures pulseaudio for sound and enables network access:

"finish-args": [
    "--share=ipc",
    "--socket=x11",
    "--socket=pulseaudio",
    "--share=network"
],

Build options

These build options aren’t strictly necessary, but can be useful if something goes wrong. env allows setting an array of environment variables, in this case we set NPM_CONFIG_LOGLEVEL to info so that npm gives us more detailed error messages.

"build-options" : {
    "cflags": "-O2 -g",
    "cxxflags": "-O2 -g",
    "env": {
        "NPM_CONFIG_LOGLEVEL": "info"
    }
},

Building Node.js

The next part of the manifest is the modules list. The Electron base app does not include Node.js, so it is necessary to build Node.js as a module. This tutorial builds Node.js 8.11.1, as this version works with most projects at the time of writing, but make sure to use whichever version is best for your project.

{
    "name": "nodejs",
    "cleanup": [
        "/include",
        "/share",
        "/app/lib/node_modules/npm/changelogs",
        "/app/lib/node_modules/npm/doc",
        "/app/lib/node_modules/npm/html",
        "/app/lib/node_modules/npm/man",
        "/app/lib/node_modules/npm/scripts"
    ],
    "sources": [
        {
            "type": "archive",
            "url": "https://nodejs.org/dist/v8.11.1/node-v8.11.1.tar.xz",
            "sha256": "40a6eb51ea37fafcf0cfb58786b15b99152bec672cccf861c14d1cca0ad4758a"
        }
    ]
}

Here, the cleanup step isn’t strictly necessary. However, removing documentation helps to reduce final disk size of the bundle.

The application module

The final section of the manifest defines how the application module should be built. This is where some of the additional logic for Electron and Node.js can be found.

"name": "electron-sample-app",
"build-options" : {
    "env": {
        "electron_config_cache": "/run/build/electron-sample-app/npm-cache"
    }
},

By default, flatpak-builder doesn’t allow build tools to access the network. This means that tools which rely on downloading sources will not work. Therefore, Node.js packages must be downloaded prior to running the build. Setting the electron_config_cache environment variable means that these will be found when it comes to the build.

The next part of the manifest describes how the application should be built. The simple buildsystem option is used, which allows a sequence of commands to be specified, which are used for the build. The download location and hash of the application are also specified.

"buildsystem": "simple",
"sources": [
  {
      "type": "archive",
      "url": "https://github.com/flathub/electron-sample-app/archive/1.0.1.tar.gz",
      "sha256": "a2feb3f1cf002a2e4e8900f718cc5c54db4ad174e48bfcfbddcd588c7b716d5b",
      "dest": "main"
  },

Bundling NPM packages

The next line is how NPM modules get bundled as part of Flatpaks:

"generated-sources.json",

Since even simple Node.js applications depend on dozens of packages, it would be impractical to specify all of them as part of a manifest file. A Python script has therefore been developed to download Node.js packages with NPM and include them in an application’s sources.

The Python NPM script requires a package-lock.json file. This contains information about the packages that an application depends on, and can be generated by running npm install --package-lock-only from an application’s root directory (the sample example contains a package-lock.json, for reference). The script is then run as follows:

$ python3 flatpak-npm-generator.py package-lock.json

This generates the manifest JSON needed to build the NPM packages for the application, which are outputted to a file called generated-sources.json. The content of this file can be copied to the application’s manifest but, because it is often very long, it is often best to link to it from the main manifest, which is done by adding generated-source.json as a line in the manifest section, as seen above.

Launching the app

The Electron app is run through a simple script. This can be given any name but must be specified in the manifest’s "command": property.

/* Wrapper to launch the app */
{
  "type": "script",
  "dest-filename": "run.sh",
  "commands": [ "npm start --prefix=/app/main" ]
}

Build commands

Last but not least, since the simple build option is being used, a list of build commands must be provided. As can be seen, npm is run with the --offline option, using packages that have already been cached. These are copied to /app/main/. Finally the run.sh script is installed to /app/bin/ so that it will be on $PATH:

"build-commands": [
    /* Install npm dependencies */
    "npm install --prefix=main --offline --cache=/run/build/electron-sample-app/npm-cache/",
    /* Bundle app and dependencies */
    "mkdir -p /app/main /app/bin",
    "cp -ra main/* /app/main/",
    /* Install app wrapper */
    "install run.sh /app/bin/"
]