Grunt vs Gulp

Grunt and Gulp are task runners that allow front-end developers to quickly build web apps and automate repetitive processes, such as file concatenation (joining), image, CSS and JavaScript compression. Let’s find out what is the difference between these two popular tools.

Gulp is the youngest of these two task runners and naturally its developers tried to eliminate the flaws of Grunt:

  1. In Grunt tasks work with files instead of data streams. To start a new task the old one should write its own results into a file. In contrast, Gulp works with data stream and talks to file system only when starting or ending tasks.
  2. Gulp doesn’t require watch plugin since it has in-build features for watching file changes. Those are core functions that should be available in any task runner without adding extra plugins.
  3. Grunt configuration files are similar to JSON objects. But Gulp uses JavaScript code which is relatively simple and easier to understand when working on big projects.

Nonetheless, let’s try to find pros and cons of both task runners by comparing their learning threshold, speed, performance and plugins.

Grunt vs Gulp: learning threshold

When comparing this tasks runners by their learning complexity, it’s clear that Grunt is easier to work with for beginners. But it’s a double-edged sword — Grunt configurations are harder to read on big projects. Gulp is more balanced in this regard: once you’ve learned the ropes, it’s easy both to write and read tasks. On the other hand, if you had enough practice with Grunt, you won’t notice much difference between working on big and small projects.

Here’s an example of Grunt file for minimizing HTML:

require('load-grunt-tasks')(grunt); // npm install --save-dev load-grunt-tasks 
 
grunt.initConfig({
    minifyHtml: {
        options: {
            cdata: true
        },
        dist: {
            files: {
                'dist/index.html': 'src/index.html'
            }
        }
    }
});
 
grunt.registerTask('default', ['minifyHtml']);

Here’s an example of Gulp file for minimizing HTML:

// including plugins
var gulp = require('gulp')
, minifyHtml = require("gulp-minify-html");
 
// task
gulp.task('minify-html', function () {
    gulp.src('./Html/*.html') // path to your files
    .pipe(minifyHtml())
    .pipe(gulp.dest('path/to/destination'));
});

In Grunt tasks are configured in the configuration object inside the Grunt file while in Gulp they are written using Node-like syntax.

Grunt vs Gulp: performance

Gulp uses stream concept. Files go through a “pipe”. In different parts of it various actions are performed:

Gulp flow

For example, using this concept you can insert all JavaScript files into the pipe of scripts that:

  1. Joines all files together.
  2. Deletes console and debugger.
  3. Minimizes code.
  4. Saves the resulting code into the predefined directory.

For performing these actions Grunt uses wrapper function. For multithreading and file caching you need to install additional plugins called grunt-concurrent and grunt-newer:

npm install grunt-concurrent --save-dev
npm install grunt-newer --save-dev

In Grunt files are processed as follows: task runs, temporary file is created, task with this temporary file is executed. For doing the same job Gulp doesn’t create unnecessary intermediate files and uses one stream for input/output operations. Besides, Gulp allows you to run several synchronous tasks by using one of the following (but you should keep in mind task dependencies):

  1. Passing callback.
  2. Returning stream.
  3. Returning promise.

In other words, if you are working with a lot of files, Gulp will help improve the overall performance since no time would be wasted on reading/writing files between building tasks.

Plugins

Gulp has less plugins than Grunt (1886 and 5246 correspondingly). But this difference is probably caused by the fact that Gulp is younger. Here’re some Grunt plugins that help frontend developers to optimize their workflow:

grunt-contrib-watch — runs tasks when watched files are changed.

grunt-contrib-jshint — validates JavaScript files.

grunt-mocha — is used for testing with Mocha framework.

grunt-notify — automatically shows message in case of a task error.

grunt-contrib-uglify — minimizes files with UglifyJS.

All of them are available for Gulp as well. Gulp also has gulp-grunt plugin for running Grunt files. Instead of creating a stream it is called out as an argument:

var gulp = require('gulp');
require('gulp-grunt')(gulp); // add all the gruntfile tasks to gulp 
 
// continue defining tasks... 
gulp.task('do-this', function() {
  ...
});
 
// run them like any other task 
gulp.task('default', [
  // run complete grunt tasks 
  'grunt-minify',
  'grunt-test',
  // or run specific targets 
  'grunt-sass:dist',
  'grunt-browserify:dev'
]);

So, considering the abovementioned differences, which task runner to choose: Grunt or Gulp? First of all, we won’t recommend you switching to Gulp from Grunt or vice versa simply because somebody is trying to convince you that one of them has some big advantages over the other. Grunt vs Gulp difference isn’t that big.

Secondly, when deciding on Grunt JS vs Gulp JS you should take into account your own needs. Grunt is easy to use and with it you don’t need to delve into a complex pipe system. Simple tasks are also easy to understand. On the other hand, Grunt is a fully-fledged product with a lot of plugins. At the same time it has its drawbacks, for example too complex configuration files that are hard to read. It also slows down when working with a big amount of files due to constant input/output operations.

Gulp is very flexible and already has all major plugins that are available for Grunt. You can run synchronous tasks with it — very handy when working with a lot of files. But if you’re new to NodeJS, you might encounter some difficulties while using streams.

As you can see, choosing between Grunt and Gulp is a question of personal preferences. But if you have never worked with JavaScript task runners before, look at the comparison above once more — it will help you to choose your tool.

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About author

Front End Developer
Anatoliy was responsible for font-end part of studio projects.

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