What is the difference between __dirname and ./ in node.js?

Problem

When programming in Node.js and referencing files that are located somewhere in relation to your current directory, is there any reason to use the __dirname variable instead of just a regular ./? I've been using ./ thus far in my code and just discovered the existence of __dirname, and essentially want to know whether it would be smart to convert my ./'s to that, and if so, why that would be a smart idea.

Problem courtesy of: thisissami

Solution

The gist

In Node.js, __dirname is always the directory in which the currently executing script resides (see this). So if you typed __dirname into /d1/d2/myscript.js, the value would be /d1/d2.

By contrast, . gives you the directory from which you ran the node command in your terminal window (i.e. your working directory).

The exception is when you use . with require(). The path inside require is always relative to the file containing the call to require.

For example...

Let's say your directory structure is

/dir1
  /dir2
    pathtest.js

and pathtest.js contains

var path = require("path");
console.log(". = %s", path.resolve("."));
console.log("__dirname = %s", path.resolve(__dirname));

and you do

cd /dir1/dir2
node pathtest.js

you get

. = /dir1/dir2
__dirname = /dir1/dir2

Your working directory is /dir1/dir2 so that's what . resolves to. Since pathtest.js is located in /dir1/dir2 that's what __dirname resolves to as well.

However, if you run the script from /dir1

cd /dir1
node dir2/pathtest.js

you get

. = /dir1
__dirname = /dir1/dir2

In that case, your working directory was /dir1 so that's what . resolved to, but __dirname still resolves to /dir1/dir2.

Using . inside require...

If inside dir2/pathtest.js you have a require call into include a file inside dir1 you would always do

require('../thefile')

because the path inside require is always relative to the file in which you are calling it. It has nothing to do with your working directory.

Solution courtesy of: d512

Discussion

./ refers to the current working directory, except in the require() function. When using require(), it translates ./ to the directory of the current file called. __dirname is always the directory of the current file.

For example, with the following file structure

/home/user/dir/files/config.json

{
  "hello": "world"
}

/home/user/dir/files/somefile.txt

text file

/home/user/dir/dir.js

var fs = require('fs');

console.log(require('./files/config.json'));
console.log(fs.readFileSync('./files/somefile.txt', 'utf8'));

If I cd into /home/user/dir and run node dir.js I will get

{ hello: 'world' }
text file

But when I run the same script from /home/user/ I get

{ hello: 'world' }

Error: ENOENT, no such file or directory './files/somefile.txt'
    at Object.openSync (fs.js:228:18)
    at Object.readFileSync (fs.js:119:15)
    at Object.<anonymous> (/home/user/dir/dir.js:4:16)
    at Module._compile (module.js:432:26)
    at Object..js (module.js:450:10)
    at Module.load (module.js:351:31)
    at Function._load (module.js:310:12)
    at Array.0 (module.js:470:10)
    at EventEmitter._tickCallback (node.js:192:40)

Using ./ worked with require but not for fs.readFileSync. That's because for fs.readFileSync, ./ translates into the cwd (in this case /home/user/). And /home/user/files/somefile.txt does not exist.

Discussion courtesy of: fent

This recipe can be found in it's original form on Stack Over Flow.