Michal ZimmermannPieces of knowledge from the world of GIS.

Do You Really Need Gulp? Or Grunt? Or Bower? Or What?

Disclaimer: I’m an enthuastic developer, but I do not code for a living. I’m just the ordinary guy who keeps editing a wrong file wondering why the heck the changes are not being applied.

TL;DR: I do think npm might be the answer.

Wonderful world of JavaScript DevOps

When I first started using JavaScript on the server side with node.js, I felt overwhelmed by numerous options to automate tasks. There was npm taking care of backend dependencies. Then I would build a frontend and found out about bower for handling frontend dependencies. Then it would be great to have some kind of minification/obfuscation/uglification/you-name-it task. And the build task. And the build:prod task. And how about eslint task? And then I would end up spending hours doing nothing, just reading blogs about the tools being used by others who do code for a living.

Intermezzo: I think my coding is slow. Definitely slower than yours. I’m getting better though.

Using the force

Looking back I find it a bit stressful - how the heck do I choose the right tools? Where’s Yoda to help me out? Anyway, next to adopt after npm was bower. And I liked it, even though some packages were missing - but who cares as long as there is no better way, right? Except there is… I guess.

Automation was next in the line to tackle. So I chose gulp without a bit of hesitation. It was a hype, a bigger than grunt back then. I even heard of yeoman, but until now I still don’t know what it actually does. And I’m happy with that.

A short summary so far:

So far, so good.

Is Bower going to die?

Then I stumbled upon this tweet and started panicking. Or rather started to feel cheated. It took me time to set all this up and now it’s useless? Or what?

Seeing it now, I’m glad I read this. And I really don’t know what happened to Bower, if anything at all.

Keeping it simple

So Bower’s dying, what are you going to do about that? You’ll use npm instead! And you’ll have a single source of truth called package.json. You’l resolve all the dependencies with a single npm install command and feel like a king. We’re down to two now - npm and gulp.

Gulp, Gulp everywhere!

When you get rid of Bower, next feeling you have is your gulpfile.js just got off the leash. It got really big and grew to ~160 lines of code and became a nightmare to manage.

So you split it into task files and a config file. What a relief. But you still realize a half of your package.json dependencies starts with gulp-. And you hate it.

Webpack for the win

For me, a non-developer, setting the webpack wasn’t easy. I didn’t find docs very helpful either. Reading the website for the first time, I didn’t even understand what it should be used for. I got it working eventually. And I got rid of gulp, gulp-connect, gulp-less, gulp-nodemon, gulp-rename, gulp-replace, gulp-task-listing and gutil. And the whole gulpfile.js. That was a big win for me.

But how do you run tasks?


npm run start-dev # which in turn calls the code below
npm run start-webpack & NODE_ENV=development nodemon server.js # where start-webpack does the following
node_modules/webpack-dev-server/bin/webpack-dev-server.js --quiet --inline --hot --watch

That’s it. If I need to build code, I run npm run build, which calls some other tasks from scripts section in the package.json.

That’s pretty much it. I don’t think it’s a silver bullet, but I feel like I finally found peace of mind for my future JavaScript development. At least for a month or so before some other guy comes to town.