Gulp vs Grunt vs Webpack: Comparison of Build Tools / Task Runners

Only a few years ago, usage of JavaScript build tools would sound ridiculous, due to the fact that JS is interpreted by a browser and it isn’t compiled. However, projects’ complexity tends to increase exponentially with the scope and concerns regarding performance, maintenance and security have received wide publicity. Lately, the boom of single page applications (SPAs) has just added to the problem.

Currently, starting the next JavaScript project, build system setup is among the top priority tasks. Though such variety of options often stands in the way of developing the app itself. To address the above-mentioned challenges, as well as automate tasks like static code analysis, test cases execution, etc. – task runners are used. Gulp vs Grunt is the most popular dilemma. They both automate tasks, use Node.js, and they are both powerful and efficient.

On the other hand, Webpack is a bundler and it comes in handy when you need to pack multiple assets (images, fonts, etc.) together into a dependency graph. So how can Gulp vs Grunt vs Webpack be compared? Gulp and Webpack are commonly used together, but currently, there is a rising tendency to use the latter instead of gulp build tool, in particular among the Reactjs community. This is done for several reasons: this powerful tool can fulfil nearly all tasks that you’d perform through a task runner; it comes with minification options and bundle source maps; it can serve as middleware via the custom server, namely webpack-dev-server, which supports both hot and live reloading.

But let’s get a better look.

What is Grunt?

Grunt build tool

GruntJS is a command-line tool for front-end developers to run predefined repetitive tasks. Whereas, tasks are defined declaratively with configuration objects, which are handled by plugins to keep the core package at a sufficient size. It is used to automate JavaScript workflows like concatenating and minifying JS files, carrying out tests, refreshing browser to upload script changes and so on.

Pros:

  • Huge ecosystem of plugins to perform various tasks at the same time (over 6010 items in Grunt plugin registry)

Cons:

  • Can become complicated as the configuration grows
  • Lack of flexibility with uncommon tasks
  • Tend to outdating

What is Gulp?

Gulp build tool

Eighteen months later after Grunt, GulpJS was released. It is another toolkit for defining and running time-consuming tasks, but it takes a different approach. Comparing Grunt vs Gulp, the core difference is that where GruntJS uses configuration objects to define tasks declaratively, Gulp defines them as JavaScript functions. It builds on top of the piping concepts (sources, filters, sinks), similar to Unix operating systems.

Pros:

  • Greater clarity of current processes and more control over the flow
  • Large ecosystem of Gulp plugins, while each of them can accomplish a particular task (over 2770 various plugins for different purposes)
  • Faster performance due to the stream usage and in-memory operations
  • Requires less amount of code, comparing to Grunt

Cons:

  • Initially streams and promises are hard to understand

Gulp.js vs Grunt.js: Code vs Configuration

This is one of the major differences in Gulp vs Grunt comparison; however, the dilemma may be less about configuration and coding, but about how comfortable your team is with node streams. Gulp is more about coding and usage of single-purpose plugins, while Grunt relies on configuration and multi-purpose plugins.

If you are familiar with Node, then with gulpfile you will feel more comfortable. Due to the fact that it follows the CommonJS spec, it may seem easier to read, though users often state that Grunt is easier to write. The choice mainly depends on your team’s skill sets and working experience.

What is Webpack?

Webpack build tool

Initially, Webpack is a module bundler, though it is quite often used instead of Gulp or Grunt task runners. This advanced tool provides developers with control over how it splits the modules, allowing them to adjust builds to particular situations and workaround solutions that don’t function properly out of the box.

Comparing Webpack vs Grunt, the first of those offers more flexibility and advanced functionality for modern front-end projects. It comes with a functional core and can be extended using particular loaders and plugins. Essentially it is used for bundling JavaScript modules with dependencies into files, but for complex JavaScript applications with lots of non-code assets (images, fonts, CSS, etc.) it can provide great benefits.

Talking about Webpack vs Gulp vs Grunt performance, the two latter look into a defined path for files that match your configuration, while the Webpack analyzes the whole project. It looks through all the dependencies, processes them with loaders and produces a bundled JS file.

Pros:

  • The idea of dependency graph in Webpack ensures easier splitting of code, control over assets processing, and elimination of dead assets
  • Multiple options and features right out of the box
  • Webpack-dev-server supports hot and live reloading

Cons:

  • Initially it is difficult to configure

Webpack vs Gulp vs Grunt Comparison

 

Webpack

Gulp

Grunt

Definition

Module bundler Task runnerTask runner
Written inJavaScriptNode.jsNode.js
Initial releaseMar 2012Jul 2013 Jan 2012
LicenseMITMITMIT
GitHub rating25.53425.56111.331
GitHub links webpack / webpackgulpjs / gulpgruntjs / grunt
Monthly downloads4,582,9412,796,3201,895,345
Used by9GAG, Pinterest, Soundcloud, Flipboard, Airbnb, Udemy, 99 Designs, Assembly, etc.Netflix, FashionUnited, Myntra, MakerBot, AdRoll, Ekimetrics, Trigger, CrowdFlower, etc.Twitter, Adobe, jQuery, Mozilla, Bootstrap, Cloudant, Bitovi, Opera, LiveChat, Walmart, etc.

Popularity of Webpack, Gulp and Grunt worldwide

Webpack, Gulp, Grunt popularity in 2017Popularity over the last 12 months according to Google Trends

Webpack vs Grunt vs Gulp 2017: what & when to use?

There is no the only right or wrong answer when it comes to the selection of build tools for your next projects. Your choice will mainly depend on the size of your project, your skill set and whether you are more interested in coding (Gulp task runner) or configuring (Grunt build tool & Webpack). Moreover, personal preferences have a great bearing on your choice as well, like performance speed, project deadlines, types of plugins available, and so on.

Moreover, the selection isn’t limited to these JavaScript build tools and there are lots of other alternatives, like Browserify, JSPM or Brunch, just to name a few. 

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