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This a script for a Full Stack Talk, given 3/13/14. Feel free to follow along at your own pace.
var gulp = require('gulp');
var coffee = require('gulp-coffee');
gulp.task('scripts', function () {
gulp.task('watch', function () {'src/*.coffee', ['scripts']);
gulp.task('default', ['scripts', 'watch']);

Setting up gulp

First, let's make sure we have node and npm installed:

$ node -v

$ npm -v

Now let's try to run gulp. If everything goes to plan, we should see our first error:

$ gulp
command not found: gulp

Perfect! Let's ask NPM for a fresh copy of gulp:

$ npm install gulp -g
... installing gulp ...

This installs gulp command-line utility and makes available globally. Now, let's try running gulp again:

$ gulp
[gulp] No gulpfile found

Nice, our first error!

gulp is telling us that it doesn't have a gulpfile with instructions for it to follow. We solve this by simply adding gulpfile.js to our directory root:

$ touch gulpfile.js

We haven't added any instructions but sipmly having having the file should give us a new error:

$ gulp
[gulp] Using gulpfile /Users/chan/code/talks/gulpfile.js
[gulp] Task 'default' was not defined in your gulpfile but you tried to run it.
[gulp] Please check the documentation for proper gulpfile formatting.

Boom! Now we're talking. gulp is running and it sees our gulpfile. We're on a roll!

It tells us that we don't have a default task. Every gulpfile needs a default task to run, when gulp is executed without arguments.

We find the syntax for creating a gulp task in their docs. Looks like it's gulp.task('taskName');. Let's try it:

$ echo "gulp.task('default');" >> gulpfile.js

... ReferenceError: gulp is not defined ...

Yuck! Now we have a really ugly error...

But don't lose heart. This error looks scarier than it is.

node is telling us that there is no reference to 'gulp' in our file. We simply need to add a reference to gulp in our gulpfile:

$ open gulpfile.js

[ add the following line to the very top of your gulpfile ]

// gulpfile.js

var gulp = require('gulp');

Now that we've told node what gulp means, in our script, lets try running gulp again:

$ gulp
[gulp] Using gulpfile /Users/chan/code/talks/gulpfile.js
[gulp] Starting 'default'...
[gulp] Finished 'default' after 71 μs

Hurray! We now have a working gulpfile that does nothing! Pat yourself on the back firmly.

Adding a process

Now, gulp just sits on top of node. So, we can do anything we could do node:

// gulpfile.js

// update our default task with a function
gulp.task('default', function () { console.log('Hello Gulp!') });

Run this and we'll see Hello Gulp! amidst the gulp output:

$ gulp
[gulp] Using gulpfile /Users/chan/code/talks/gulpfile.js
[gulp] Starting 'default'...
Hello Full Stack
[gulp] Finished 'default' after 137 μs

This is particularly unuseful. So, let's turn this into something that can compile CoffeeScript into JavaScript.

Let's start with a new task for this: gulp scripts.

We're going to mimic what we did with our default task. gulp gives great errors. It's easy to start with the process you want and respond to the errers until it works.

Let's try gulp scripts

$ gulp scripts
[gulp] Using gulpfile /Users/chan/code/talks/gulpfile.js
[gulp] Task 'scripts' was not defined in your gulpfile but you tried to run it.
[gulp] Please check the documentation for proper gulpfile formatting.

As I'm sure you expected, this fails. We haven't written a scripts task. Let's write it now.

[ add this to your gulpfile ]

// gulpfile.js
gulp.task('scripts', function () {

There's a lot of code we haven't covered here. So take a second to look it over. It may seem jarring at first but give it a second to sink it...

Now we can talk about what it's doing.

First, we've registered a new task named scripts. Much like our default task, it responds by running a function.

That function start by calling gulp.src() to collect the files in the path we specify. Here, we're using * to say "grab any and all files in the src directory.

We then use pipe() to funnel those files through another process, gulp.dest().

gulp.dest() places the files specified with a path. In example, we're using ./ to tell gulp that we want our finished files dumped into the root directory.

Notice how easily that reads? If you've been using JavaScript for a while, this should look painfully obvious.

Any ideas what will happen when we run this?

$ gulp scripts

[ this section requires some previous setup. Add file src/ for the examples to work ]

Gulp found our src/ file and processed it by creating a new file in the directory root.

Great! But this isn't exactly what we want. All we've done is duplicate our file in the directory root.

We need to process the CoffeScript file before placing it in the destination path.

We can accomplish this by chaining another pipe() right between gulp.src() and .pipe(gulp.dest(...)). This pipe will handle the actual processing of the file.

[ update the task to look like this ]

// gulpfile.js
gulp.task('scripts', function () {

Now, when we run this, you shold have a pretty good idea what's going to happen:

$ gulp scripts
[gulp] Using gulpfile /Users/chan/code/talks/gulpfile.js
[gulp] Starting 'scripts'...
[gulp] 'scripts' errored after 5.17 ms coffee is not defined

That's right. Another error!

You'll notice that gulp is getting smarter and our errors are less scary. gulp tells us that we have another reference error. We need a coffee processor. Let's add the reference to our gulpfile:

// gulpfile
var coffee = require('gulp-coffee');

Now it should work, right?!

$ gulp scripts

Error: Cannot find module 'gulp-coffee'

AHHH! Our error is getting uglier! We have our reference but node can't find gulp-coffee.

To add it. We turn back to our trusty package manager, NPM.

$ npm install gulp-coffee
... installing gulp-coffee ...

And now, running gulp scripts, we should get a fun.js file placed in our root directory:

$ gulp scripts
$ ls
fun.js gulpfile.js src

"And there was much reqoicing."

If there is time...

It's worth pointing out that this isn't any better than using the coffee cli. If we have to run the gulp command each time we change our file, howe does gulp help us?

We need a way to watch the file system. And helps us with exactly that.

Like gulp.task(), can take a path as it's first argument and a function as its second. But when we watch a directory, we may want to run a number of tasks!

gulp accounts for this by allowing you to send an array of task names as the second argument. Let's create a new task watch to play with this:

// gulpfile.js
gulp.task('watch', function () {'src/*.coffee', ['scripts']);

Now, running gulp watch will continuously watch our file system for changes:

$ gulp watch

[ make changes to src/ ]

Play around with src/ and see our watch task respond in the terminal.

console.log 'Hello Gulp!'

You can see that gulp is keeping an open process to re-run our task each time is changed. AWESOME!

Changing the default task

Sadly, we only have one task. It'd be nice to have that be our default wouldn't it? Running gulp without arguments would save us a lot of finger fatigue.

Let's update our default task to run scripts and watch when gulp is run without arguments.

// gulpfile.js
gulp.task('default', ['scripts', 'watch']);
$ gulp



As you can see, Gulp.js is insanely flexible, has very little configuration, and writes like application code.

I think you'll really like using it in your projects.

Who has questions?

vlkz commented Jul 26, 2014

Very informative read! Thanks for taking the time to explain everything.

I'm a front-end developer - could you give an example on a "build" task and that the final optimized product is copied into ./dist (including copying php,html, and specified subfolders into ./dist)?

tienwei commented May 31, 2015

Well written and clear doc. Cheers!


Thanks for the nice explanation for newbie!


Thanks for all, very informative read!


Thanks! Very helpful and nicely written

BruceZu commented Dec 17, 2015

good way to introduce gulp !


Great introduction course!!! Thank you

Helenja commented Nov 13, 2016

Thank you, chantastic! Your explanation of gulp is fantastic! It has helped me a lot.



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