Gulp vs. Grunt for JavaScript Task Automation

 

This post by our software development team will compare two of the most popular build tools for JavaScript —Gulp and Grunt, both of which hit the market within the past three years and run under Node.js. Build tools have many virtues, including their ability to compress images on the go; concatenate and minify CSS and JavaScript files; compile SASS, LESS and HTML template engines; run lint scripts (or, search for code errors); and deploy a live version to a server.

For developers looking to improve their workflow and save time by eliminating redundant tasks, deciding to use a build tool to automate tasks can be an easy choice.

To provide some initial context, here is breakdown of Gulp and Grunt, by the numbers. Grunt has the largest market share, at just over 70 percent. Gulp, however, has a solid niche of its own, with a nearly 30 percent share.

grunt_vs_gulp_chart

 

Grunt.js

A task-based command line build tool for javascript projects, Grunt runs on two basic files: package.json and gruntfile.js. Package.json defines all the third-party dependencies and plugins most builders will use, and Gruntfile.js controls how those packages are used.

At its essence, Grunt focuses on configuration over coding and is built around a set of common tasks. Grunt can be installed by using the Node Package Manager (npm) by running the following command:

    $ npm install -g grunt-cli

In Grunt, tasks are objects or arrays of different package configurations, each executed as part of a sequence. As an example, SCSS stylesheet can be compiled into CSS using Grunt as follows:


grunt.initConfig({
  sass: {
    dist: {
      files: [{
        cwd: 'app/styles',
        src: '**/*.scss',
        dest: '../.tmp/styles',
        expand: true,
        ext: '.css'
      }]
    }
  },
  autoprefixer: {
    options: ['last 1 version'],
      dist: {
        files: [{
          expand: true,
          cwd: '.tmp/styles',
          src: '{,*/}*.css',
          dest: 'dist/styles'
        }]
      }
  },
  watch: {
    styles: {
      files: ['app/styles/{,*/}*.scss'],
      tasks: ['sass:dist', 'autoprefixer:dist']
    }
  }
});
grunt.registerTask('default', ['styles', 'watch']);


 

Gulp.js

As described on its website, Gulp is a “streaming build system” – in other words, a sequence of streaming tasks and pipes that help you automate your workflow. It can be installed using npm with the following command:

  $ npm install -g gulp 

Designed to rely heavily on code, as opposed to a configuration file, Gulp stands out for its ability to simplify tasks and make them more manageable. Gulp’s approach also implements node streams—a configuration that shortens build time and makes complex tasks more manageable. With its streamlined design, Gulp is a good point of entry for novice developers, who often appreciate minimal API surface maintenance and want to avoid unexpected plugin troubleshooting. In contrast to Grunt, Gulp relies on coding over configuration, with the goal of making things simpler as the configuration gets more complex. As a result, Gulp code usually looks cleaner.

For example, the task above would look like this:


gulp.task('sass', function() {
  gulp.src('app/styles/**/*.scss')
    .pipe(sass())
    .pipe(autoprefixer('last 1 version'))
    .pipe(gulp.dest('dist/styles'));
});
gulp.task('default', function() {
  gulp.run('sass');
  gulp.watch('app/styles/**/*.scss', function() {
    gulp.run('sass');
  });
});

Notice how the same task, producing the same result, requires shorter code.

Each tool offers a unique set of benefits for the user, with differences that include the following:

Grunt

Gulp

Tasks are stored in a temporary folder Tasks are stored in memory without the need of temporary files or folders
Execution speed is a little slower while opening and closing temp files Execution speed tends to increase, nearly doubling
Grunt has been around for longer time, and has a larger more robust community Gulp is relatively newer but has a small community that is growing larger every day
Configuration over coding Coding over configuration (stream-based)
Tasks run sequentially Gulp is asynchronous, tasks might run in parallel
Simpler, no need to understand how piping works Knowledge of pipe system is required
More packages and plugins available Growing in number of packages but still not equal to what Grunt has available
Straightforward tasks Offers more flexibility while building your tasks
Used in bigger production sites Less common in big sites, files tend to be shorter

 

In conclusion, which is better?

Grunt and Gulp are both solid automation systems with large user bases and a growing community of support. Choosing the right one for you really depends on your particular set of projects and needs. Although I have worked with both systems in various settings, I prefer Gulp to Grunt. Gulp provides simplicity and faster execution, which is less of a concern with smaller projects. Gulp is the strongest contender if you are beginning to work with JavaScript-based build systems and have a strong understanding of streaming and JavaScript. It provides simplicity and faster execution, which is less of a concern with smaller projects. If, however, you are looking for a bigger, more robust community and a large number of packages, Grunt might be a better choice.

Which Builder is Right for Your Team?






Danny Goncalves

Senior software developer, focused on Frontend technologies.