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Webpack vs Gulp vs Grunt


Introduction

With the increasing complexity of Javascript projects and the need to automate tasks, track app performances and execute some maintenance activities, it has become very salient to decide what type of build tool to adopt. Before build tools became a necessity, it was not clear how to handle routine tasks. This was not very necessary because Javascript did not particularly need to be compiled; however, with projects like single page applications, and the advent of build tools, tasks that reoccur are now automated. Seeing that it has become more than a necessity to use build tools, software developers in this present time are faced with the challenge of picking one which is perfect for their project.

In this article, we will be comparing Grunt, Gulp and Webpack in relation to the following features:

  • Ease of Use
  • Popularity
  • Reliability
  • Extensibility

Grunt and Gulp are task runners, while Webpack is a module bundler. Task runners are basically used to automate tasks in a development process. Some of these tasks include compressing JS files, compiling Sass files, watching out for file changes, minifying files and auto-prefixing. Module bundlers take several modules of the application that each have dependencies and bundle them into static assets. Module bundlers perform the task of task runners, and take several steps further. Hopefully at the end of the article, it will be clearer what build tool to use for your project.

Ease of Use

The more complex a tool is, the more difficult it is to use it. Being task runners, Gulp and Grunt offer features like code minification, CSS preprocessing, unit testing and a list of others.

Compared to Grunt or Webpack, Gulp is a lot easier to use. It is possible to start up a project using Gulp in a few minutes. Grunt, however, has less configuration hassle than Webpack.

To set Gulp up, the following steps are taken

  • Check that node, npm, and npx are installed
  • Install Gulp CLI using npm install --global gulp-cli
  • Create a package.json file for devDependencies
  • Install gulp package into the devDependencies using npm install --save-dev gulp@next
  • Create a gulp.js file where the tasks will be written function defaultTask(cb) { // place code for your default task here cb(); } exports.default = defaultTask

In order to use Grunt, you have to do the following:

  • Update your npm [ Node.js package manager] using npm update -g npm
  • Install Grunt CLI [Command line interface] using npm install -g grunt-cli
  • Setup your package.json file where your devDependencies are listed
  • Create a Gruntfile.js file where the tasks are written. The tasks are always written within this block: module.exports = function(grunt) { // Grunt tasks go here };

The processes for setting up Gulp and Grunt look similar. However, Gulp is more expressive; it allows you to write code that clearly states its function. Gulp is based on Node streams, allowing for pipelining. Grunt, on the other hand, relies on data configuring files where every source and destination file must be declared. As the project gets larger, Grunt becomes even more cumbersome to manage.

If, for instance you need to compile Sass, minify the resultant CSS file and Uglify your JS file using Grunt, the Gruntfile.js file will look like this

module.exports = function (grunt) {
    grunt.initConfig({
        sass: {
            dist: {
                files: {
                    'dist-grunt/css/style.css': 'assets/scss/style.scss'
                }
            }
        },
        cssmin: {
            dist: {
                files: {
                    'dist-grunt/css/styles.min.css': ['dist-grunt/css/styles.css']
                }
            }
        },
        uglify: {
            dist: {
                files: {
                    'dist-grunt/js/scripts.min.js': ['dist-grunt/js/scripts.js']
                }
            }
        },
        grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-sass');
        grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-cssmin');
        grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-uglify');
        grunt.registerTask('default', ['sass', 'cssmin', 'uglify']);
};

On the other hand, if the same process is to be done with Gulp, the gulp.js will look like this:

var gulp = require('gulp');
var sass = require('gulp-sass');
var cleanCSS = require('gulp-clean-css');
var uglify = require('gulp-uglify');

gulp.task('sass', function () {
    return gulp.src('assets/scss/**/*.scss')
        .pipe(sass().on('error', sass.logError))
        .pipe(gulp.dest('dist-gulp/css'));
});

gulp.task('css', ['sass'], function () {
    return gulp.src([
            'dist-gulp/css/style.css',
            'assets/css/test.css'
        ])
        .pipe(cleanCSS())
        .pipe(gulp.dest('dist-gulp/css'));
});
gulp.task('default', ['css']);

Gulp and Grunt are both easier to set up when compared to Webpack.

In order to use Webpack, you have to do the following:

  • Install Nodejs and Npm
  • In your terminal, create a Webpack folder using mkdir folder-name
  • Intialise the Nodejs project using npm init -y
  • Create the following files touch index.html webpack.config.js index.js
  • Install Webpack and Webpack dev server using npm i --save-dev webpack@latest webpack-dev-server@latest
  • Install Webpack globally npm i -g webpack@latest
  • Write Webpack’s configuration in the webpack.config.js file.

    const webpack = require('webpack');

    let config = { entry: './index.js', output: { filename: 'output.js' } } module.exports = config;

The set up above is the basic start off for Webpack. Webpack has various useful features and can do so much more. The plethora of possibilities uncovered with Webpack might justify its complexities. It takes more time to understand how Webpack works; it can also get cumbersome when managing several configurations for multiple environments.

Popularity

The metrics for measuring the popularity of each of these tools differ. Grunt has been in existence long before Gulp, and many developers have used it extensively. However, according to the State of JavaScript 2018 survey, Webpack ranks higher than Gulp and Grunt.

There is a growing interest in learning to use Webpack; this is justifiable seeing the wide range of possibilities made available through its use.

Also using Github stats, Webpack, Gulp and Grunt have above 41,000, 30,000 and 11,000 stars respectively.

Reliability

Gulp, Grunt and Webpack have a large dependence on plugins. All three tools have large communities where issues could be addressed and fixed. For Gulp and Grunt, there is a high dependence on the plugin author to maintain the plugins, and sometimes, there is little or no documentation to fall back on when an issue is being faced. The result is usually to wait for these authors to make updates or resolve to fix them yourself. However, most Webpack plugins are maintained by Webpack’s core team while the rest are managed by Webpack’s community; and this makes it more reliable.

Extensibility

Gulp, Grunt and Webpack have been improved upon over the past years. They all have more room for newer and even more efficient and standardised plugins.

Some Grunt users are beginning to adopt Gulp because it allows piping, and that explains why Grunt is said to soon have an update that also allows piping. Piping allows gulp users to attach the output of a task to another dependency, making the code shorter and to work faster.

Presently, Gulp seems more extensible than Grunt because when the project scales, it is not so difficult to manage the gulp file. Gulp uses plugins that each perform a single task as opposed to Grunt where one plugin can perform multiple tasks.

Webpack can be extended even beyond its core functionality with the aid of plugins and loaders, the only issue being the complications that may arise while configuring it. However, since Webpack bundles all the modules that have dependencies, it is not so painstaking to work on even large Webpack projects.

At the time of writing, Grunt has 6,459 plugins in its plugin registry, while Gulp has 3,672 plugins listed on its own plugin registry. With so many plugins for both, you are likely to find a plugin to do whatever you need. Webpack has its own set of official plugins listed here, and a list of other third-party plugins that could be found at awesome-webpack.

Conclusion

Webpack is similar to a combination of Gulp/Grunt and Browserify. Webpack is somewhat necessary for projects that have intentions of scaling. That is why it is often used with React or Angular.

Grunt and Gulp could be used when the project is moderate, or fairly large. If you are really comfortable writing JS functions, then Gulp is advisable, but, if you will rather write task configurations, then Grunt will suffice.

It is important to know that every one of the tools discussed here is created to solve specific problems, and hence, the choice of tool should be based on preference as well as the nature of the pending problem to be solved.

Webpack vs Gulp vs Grunt: What are the differences?

Gulp and Grunt are JavaScript task runners, while Webpack is a bundler. Gulp and Grunt are more direct competitors to one another than either is to Webpack, though the three tools can serve many of the same functions.

Webpack has been seeing more use in place of Gulp and Grunt; it appears in more overall stacks than either of the two task runners, and is mentioned in nearly twice the number of job posts. It’s also far more popular on GitHub.

Decisions about Grunt, gulp, and Webpack

Very simple to use and a great way to optimize repetitive tasks, like optimize PNG images, convert to WebP, create sprite images with CSS.

I didn't choose Grunt because of the fact it uses files and Gulp uses memory, making it faster for my use case since I need to work with 3000+ small images. And the fact Gulp has 32k+ stars on GitHub.

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Rob Murphy

The developer experience Webpack gave us was not delighting anyone. It works and is stable and consistent. It is also slow and frustrating. We decided to check out Vite as an alternative when moving to Vue 3 and have been amazed. It is very early in development and there are plenty of rough edges, but it has been a breath of fresh air not waiting for anything to update. It is so fast we have found ourselves using devtools in browser less because changing styles is just as fast in code. We felt confident using the tool because although it is early in its development, the production build is still provided by Rollup which is a mature tool. We also felt optimistic that as good as it is right now, it will only continue to get better, as it is being worked on very actively. So far we are really happy with the choice.

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Aleksandr Filatov
Contract Software Engineer - Microsoft · | 4 upvotes · 102K views
Why migrated?

I could define the next points why we have to migrate:

  • Decrease build time of our application. (It was the main cause).
  • Also jspm install takes much more time than npm install.
  • Many config files for SystemJS and JSPM. For Webpack you can use just one main config file, and you can use some separate config files for specific builds using inheritance and merge them.
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We mostly use rollup to publish package onto NPM. For most all other use cases, we use the Meteor build tool (probably 99% of the time) for publishing packages. If you're using Node on FHIR you probably won't need to know rollup, unless you are somehow working on helping us publish front end user interface components using FHIR. That being said, we have been migrating away from Atmosphere package manager towards NPM. As we continue to migrate away, we may publish other NPM packages using rollup.

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What are some alternatives to Grunt, gulp, and Webpack?
npm
npm is the command-line interface to the npm ecosystem. It is battle-tested, surprisingly flexible, and used by hundreds of thousands of JavaScript developers every day.
Yarn
Yarn caches every package it downloads so it never needs to again. It also parallelizes operations to maximize resource utilization so install times are faster than ever.
Gradle
Gradle is a build tool with a focus on build automation and support for multi-language development. If you are building, testing, publishing, and deploying software on any platform, Gradle offers a flexible model that can support the entire development lifecycle from compiling and packaging code to publishing web sites.
Apache Maven
Maven allows a project to build using its project object model (POM) and a set of plugins that are shared by all projects using Maven, providing a uniform build system. Once you familiarize yourself with how one Maven project builds you automatically know how all Maven projects build saving you immense amounts of time when trying to navigate many projects.
Bower
Bower is a package manager for the web. It offers a generic, unopinionated solution to the problem of front-end package management, while exposing the package dependency model via an API that can be consumed by a more opinionated build stack. There are no system wide dependencies, no dependencies are shared between different apps, and the dependency tree is flat.
See all alternatives