Gulp vs Grunt: Which tool to use in 2019?

  • Monday, January 28, 2019
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In JavaScript land, things move pretty fast and technology advances at a crazy pace. Most of the modern applications are built using technologies like Vue.js and React, with the help of module bundlers like Webpack. It handles things like bundling, minification and source maps automatically (or through the use of plugins) making task runners like Grunt and Gulp redundant.

In reality, many projects don’t need a full-blown module bundler like Webpack but it still requires a way to compile its front-end assets. Webpack wasn’t designed to be a task runner and so it isn’t easy to configure it to build assets without any bundling modules. Hence task runners like Grunt and Gulp are required and we use both of them here at iWebServices as build tools.
In this article, we’re going to compare Grunt and Gulp to understand their differences and we will also look at the pros and cons of using each as a build tool for front-end assets.

How are Grunt and Gulp Different?

Before we start to explain how these build tools are different we should understand that both these tools are designed to do the same thing: automate tasks which you would otherwise have to do manually. Following are the tasks performed by both these tools:

  • Compiling Less/Sass to CSS
  • Concatenating and minifying CSS and JavaScript
  • Linting code
  • Optimizing images
  • Running tests
    210And many more…
    Both of these tools can help you automate the compiling of your front-end assets and which can make your builds more consistent and reliable. It is achieved mainly through the use of plugins contributed by the community.

Grunt is more intuitive of the two build tools as it works by defining tasks in a single configuration file called Gruntfile.js. You can mention the configuration for each task and It will run each task in a sequence which but it does go to show just how much faster Gulp is over Grunt.makes Grunt files easy to read and understand.

Gulp focuses on the “code over configuration” principle by making each task definition a JavaScript function. Therefore no configuration is involved up-front (although functions can normally take configuration values) and you can then chain functions together to create your own build script. The biggest advantage of doing this is that Gulp can make use of node streams, which means that it doesn’t have to write intermediary files to disk. The difference here is that Gulp is usually much faster than Grunt, Even though it can have a slightly steeper learning curve because of the use of streams and promises.

Build Scripts

One of the simplest ways to compare Grunt and Gulp is to create the same build script using each tool and then comparing the configuration files and performance. So we will do that.

We will create a Gruntfile.js and a Gulpfile.js and then implement the following steps:

Compile Sass to CSS
Concatenate and minifying CSS and JavaScript
Optimize images

First, Let’s make sure we have both the Grunt and Gulp CLIs installed on our system so we can run them:

Next, let’s install the required packages for both Grunt and Gulp which we have to run. You can do this manually either by running npm install {package} –save-dev or by copying package.json from the repo and then running npm install:

For Grunt, we have to create a Gruntfile.js in the root of our project. It looks like this:
You can see that the configuration of Grunt tasks isn’t very expressive and it is quite easy to understand. Since Grunt runs the tasks in a sequence, Hence we can make safe assumptions about things like files being available (For Example – dist-grunt/css/style.css has been compiled before running the concat task).
For Gulp we have to create a Gulpfile.js in the root of our project which looks like this:
Gulp file is much more expressive and it allows us to group things in a more logical manner (For Example- grouping all CSS/JS tasks).
Just because of Gulp’s streams implementation, each task can now run in parallel which thus makes it faster than Grunt.
However, you have to be careful with this since you have to make sure that you aren’t breaking any dependency chains. For example, If we require dist-gulp/css/style.css to exist in the css task, so we have to make sass a prerequisite of the css task to ensure it is running in the sequence.
Performance
Now we have both of these build scripts up-and-running, Let’s check how do they actually perform?
Grunt: 1.6 secs

Gulp: 0.59 secs

These results aren’t very surprising since we expected Gulp to be faster. but it showed us how much faster Gulp is over Grunt. It’s worth noting that while imagemin took a bigger percentage of process time for both scripts, it might run much slower on Grunt but with the better compression results.

Verdict

Now the question is which tool should you use Grunt or Gulp?
With all of these things, there isn’t really any “right” or “wrong” answer. It completely depends on the context and what you’re comfortable with.
Here are some pros and cons for each tool:

Grunt

Pros
• Easy to learn and configure
• Mature community with lots of plugins

Cons
• Can become brittle for larger projects
• Slower than Gulp

Gulp

Pros
• Much faster because of the use of streams
• More flexible due to expressive nature
Cons
• Steeper learning curve

I should mention that another upcoming alternative to task runners like Grunt and Gulp is using npm scripts with command line tools. Instead of wrapping tools in plugins to make them work in a Grunt/Gulp way, you can run the tools themselves and create a build chain using npm scripts.
Which task runner do you use to compile your front-end assets and why? Do you have any good build tool tips? Let us know in the comments.

Yatin

Yatin Malik, in his role as Business Consultant, has proved himself to be someone with a wealth of knowledge in Techno-Marketing function. Yatin enjoys writing about technology that simplifies its usage for any business. A vivid blogger by passion, Yatin enjoys contributing to various communities and groups. He can be reached at yatin [at] i-webservices.com.

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