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using `npm run` to build and watch with less and browserify

The package.json above expects .less files to be in style/, browser code to be in browser/, and static files to be in static/.

To watch the less and js files for development, do:

npm run watch

To build for production, do:

npm run build
"name": "my-app",
"version": "0.0.0",
"dependencies": {
"browserify": "~2.36.1",
"less": "~1.5.1"
"devDependencies": {
"watchify": "~0.4.1",
"catw": "~0.2.0"
"scripts": {
"watch-css": "catw -c 'lessc -' 'style/*.less' -o static/bundle.css -v",
"watch-js": "watchify browser/*.js -o static/bundle.js -dv",
"watch": "npm run watch-css & npm run watch-js",
"build-css": "catw -c 'lessc -' 'style/*.less' > static/bundle.css",
"build-js": "browserify browser/*.js > static/bundle.js",
"build": "npm run build-css && npm run build-js"
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am commented Dec 6, 2013

Nice approach =) although it could get messy as soon as you need to add some more detailed configuration to each task.
Is this faster than executing the same with Grunt?

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mikaelbr commented Dec 6, 2013

Clever stuff – I've often thought about the npm scripts and how it can be used for more complex stuff.
An alternative to this, might be to install grunt, which is unnecessary for such an trivial and simple task.
I tried to make this even easier, by making a really simple npm module wrapper at My thought being, that it's repetitive to copy/paste this for each project. By using "mrun" it's easy
to just update your package.json. All credit goes to this, though..

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substack commented Dec 7, 2013

@mikaelbr very cool!

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pkyeck commented Dec 9, 2013

is there a way around installing the catw module globally?

ok, found it: ./node_modules/.bin/catw

but how can I "just" watch a folder and run one command when any of the files changes?
I got a less-file that includes all submodules so I only have to compile this file - it outputs the complete, concatenated css.

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DTrejo commented Dec 25, 2013

@pkyeck try this!

"watch-css": "catw -c 'lessc -' 'style/MY_ONE_BIG_FILE.less' -o static/bundle.css -v",

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kirbysayshi commented Apr 10, 2014

@pkyeck when running an npm script entry, npm searches through dependencies for "binaries" first. So catw is not actually a global, it's just that npm automatically adds it to the lookup path when executing commands.

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etarkus commented Jun 28, 2014

@substack it seems like it doesn't work on windows.. does it?

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brunodbo commented Aug 23, 2014

I'm using the following to watch .less files:

"watch-less": "catw -wvc 'lessc $FILE' assets/less/site.less -o web/css/styles.css",

While this compiles my CSS file when I first run npm run watch-less, afterwards (while watching) it only compiles the CSS file when I edit site.less directly. When I edit one of the partials that's referenced in site.less, my CSS file isn't recompiled.

I tried using @DTrejo's suggestion, but it didn't didn't work for me. I get the following error:

FileError: 'partials/global/_base.less' wasn't found in - on line 4, column 1:
3 // Base partials
4 @import "partials/global/_base.less";

Any ideas?

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genghishack commented Nov 6, 2014

@brunodbo when you have imports in your less files and are using catw in this way, the paths to the imports need to be relative to the folder in which you are calling 'npm run watch-less', not relative to the file that contains the import command. Stumbled over this one myself until I figured it out.

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ideodora commented Nov 8, 2014

watch-less stop watching when error occur. Is there any way to handle the errors to make node keep running?

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gregglind commented Mar 6, 2015

One annoyance I am running into with this method. (At

I keep typing npm build (which is a real command!) instead of npm run build. I am thinking of renaming my 'action' to compile (mozilla/self-repair-server#95), b/c npm compile isn't a valid command.

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jevets commented Sep 23, 2015

(May help someone in the future)

Instead of using catw to run a lessc compile command, I just have catw watch all my *.less files and have it run my existing build-css npm script when a .less file changes. I didn't have to adjust any --include-paths for lessc.

This triggers a rebuild when either the main .less file or a partial .less file is changed.

"scripts": {
    "build-css": "lessc assets/css/app.less > assets/css/app.css",
    "watch-css": "catw -w 'assets/css/**/*.less' -c 'npm run build-css'",
        app.less  // change triggers rebuild
            nav.less  // change triggers rebuild

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vanraizen commented Jan 25, 2016

@jevets Thank you for your suggestion, that ended up being the solution that worked for me. However, I'm noticing some strange behavior and not sure if you're seeing that on your end. For me whenever a rebuild is triggered it runs the build-css task once per .less file which means that if I have 11 .less files if a single one of them changes lessc will run 11 times. This does work but it takes a long time to run. I'm wondering if there's a faster way to do this or a way to do it where we only need to run lessc once per rebuild.

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alundiak commented Dec 27, 2017

For this

"build-js": "browserify browser/*.js > static/bundle.js",

The folder static must be created beforehand. But what if not? let's say static is in .gitignore list.

How to configure browserify command line here?

I tried kinda mkdir static && browserify browser/*.js > static/bundle.js but mkdir is no proper way to pass to NodeJS

Any ideas?

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d0ruk commented Jul 18, 2018


npm i -D mkdirp

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