Introduction to Gulp.js 1: Intro and Setup

Stefan Imhoff

My website is running Jekyll now since the beginning of 2014. But I wasn’t quite happy with my build and development process. I started out with Rake tasks and chose later Grunt.js as my build system, but parts of the process where left in Ruby. I used Compass a lot and Jekyll Assets was handling my versioning. But Grunt.js and the Jekyll Asset Pipeline didn’t play well together. Then a new solution came along: Gulp.js.

Gulp.js Logo

What to expect from this Tutorial

This is the first part in a series of articles where I describe my whole development and build process step-by-step from start to finish. I am sick of all these Hello World tutorials spreading around the Internet, describing just the basics and don’t show a whole process, go deeper or share things learned during the process.

I’ll describe everything step-by-step and provide specific version numbers for modules, to make sure you’ll have no problem in getting it running on your computer. Whenever you have problems feel free to compare your code to the finished GitHub repository. Each tutorial builds on the stuff done before, so if you need some specific thing better look at the final code base. You’ll learn how I created my complete development and build process, which I use on this website and my Ninja & Ninjutsu website. Both websites sources can be found on my GitHub account.

It’s the first series of articles I write in English, which is not my native language. So if you find some spelling mistakes or false grammar, just send me a message.

When I started with Gulp.js, I fortunately stumbled upon a GitHub project called gulp-starter, that helped me a lot to structure my code and understand Gulp.js. So my process is partly derived from this fantastic project.

What is Gulp.js?

Gulp.js is the streaming build system and its main focus is speed, efficiency and simplicity. Where Grunt.js uses a lot of configuration with the actual process hidden in plugins, Gulp.js uses a simple and minimal API. You code your own build process by yourself and use JavaScript as the language. Of course you don’t have to program everything by yourself, there are nearly 800 plugins ready for Gulp.js. But even more Node.js modules can be used to build the perfect build and development process for your needs.

Why do I want this at all?

As a front-end developer or web designer you will most likely need a lot of things to build a modern website: a development server, a preprocessor for your Sass, Less or Stylus files, some automation to bundle your JavaScript, tools to optimize your code, to compress, compile or move things around. And if you change something, you want your files to update automatically, refresh the browser and so on. You don’t want to do this by hand, do you?

It’s 2014 and we don’t copy our files per drag-and-drop on a server via a FTP program, reload our browser by hitting continuously F5 or crunch our images for a smaller file size by hand. Right? We don’t!

Node.js

Gulp and all plugins are written in JavaScript and use the Node.js® platform. You don’t have to know Node.js (but it will help a lot), but basic JavaScript skills are required to follow along. To start with my tutorial you need to install Node.js on your computer. This can be done by installing the package on the Node.js website. Advanced users may install Node.js with their favorite package installer (Homebrew etc.).

Gulpfile

As with Grunt.js, all you need to start is a main file. In Gulp.js this file is called gulpfile.js. The first thing I learned from gulp-starter was to write my project in small parts and don’t use a large monolithic file with everything in it. This way I can easily share my Gulp.js files with other projects or just pass individual tasks around.

So my base gulpfile.js is very short:

var requireDir = require('require-dir');

// Require all tasks in gulp/tasks, including subfolders
requireDir('./gulp/tasks', { recurse: true });
gulpfile.js

All this task is doing is loading all tasks that live in ./gulp/tasks or in any subfolder.

First things first

The first thing to do is installing the required Node module require-dir. To reinstall all my node modules later, I will need to have a file where this information is saved.

You may use the installation helper by typing the command npm init. But I find it faster to create a new file package.json and fill it with these values:

{
  "name": "gulp-build",
  "version": "0.0.1",
  "description": "The build process of my website with Gulp.js",
  "private": true
}
package.json

Now I am able to install Node modules and save them to this file for later reinstallation. Go ahead and install require-dir:

$ npm install --save-dev require-dir@0.3.0

This will install our first Node module and place it into a folder with the name node_modules. So don’t delete this folder or you will have to reinstall all modules again. This can be done later with npm install. The command will install all modules in the package.json file.

My Jekyll website lives in a folder called app. All my tasks will be placed in folder with the name gulp. Go a head and create a folder and within a subfolder with the name tasks. After installing the first module the structure of our project will look like this:

.
├── app
│   ├── _assets
│   ├── _data
│   ├── _drafts
│   ├── _includes
│   ├── _layouts
│   ├── _plugins
│   ├── _posts
│   └── index.html
├── gulp
│   └── tasks
├── gulpfile.js
├── node_modules
│   └── require-dir
└── package.json

Jekyll

This tutorial uses Jekyll to build the HTML of the website. Creating a new Jekyll website is fast and easy:

$ gem install jekyll
$ jekyll new app
$ cd app
$ jekyll serve

But I actually don’t install Jekyll globally, but with Bundler. This way all my Gems will be installed with my project and I don’t have to be concerned about the correct version.

I install Bundler globally:

$ gem install bundler

Now I create an empty file in my projects folder with the name Gemfile and add these lines:

source "https://rubygems.org"

gem 'jekyll', '~> 2.5.2'
gem 'sass', '>= 3.3'

Now I install the Gems by typing:

$ bundle install

If you installed Jekyll with Bundler run inside of your project directory:

$ bundle exec jekyll new app

Did you install it globally? Then just drop the bundle exec from the command.

Source Code

Conclusion

This concludes the 1st part of my series Introduction to Gulp.js. We learned what Gulp.js is used for and created the basic folder structure for the project.

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