Production code is distinct from development code. In production, you must create fast-running packages, handle dependencies, automate operations, load external modules, and more. Build tools are tools that allow you to convert development code into production code. Frontend developers typically use the following sorts of development tools:
- package managers,
- task runners,
- module loaders,
- module bundlers,
In this article, I’ve compiled a list of the finest frontend development build tools. Because these tools all run from the command line, they lack a graphical user interface.
1. npm (package manager)
The term npm stands for Node Package Manager, which is Node.js’s default package manager. When you install Node.js on your machine, npm is also installed and accessible via the command line interface. You can use npm to install any Node.js package with a single command.
All existing Node.js packages can be found in the npm registry, which can be accessed using the search bar at the top of npm’s webpage. You merely need to type the name of the package you’re looking for (for example, ‘postcss’) into the search field, and you’ll be sent to the package page, which will tell you all you need to know about the package, how to install it, and what dependencies it has.
- Easy installation process.
- Cross-platform software (Windows, Linux, macOS, SmarOS, and more).
- Hundreds of thousands of packages.
- Efficient dependency management through the package.json file.
- Multiple configuration options (through the command line).
- Extensive documentation and helpful community.
2. Yarn (package manager)
Yarn is a frontend package manager that can be used instead of npm. Because Yarn is a Node.js package, you must first install Node.js before you can use it. Then, simply follow the installation instructions to use it to manage your frontend dependencies.
Although npm is a fantastic tool, building packages with it can take a long time at times. If you don’t have many dependencies to install or don’t use a package management on a daily basis, this isn’t necessarily a problem. However, if you are a frequent user, it may be worthwhile to investigate Yarn, which prides itself on ultrafast build times.
Yarn accelerates the build process by caching every package, eliminating the need to download dependencies numerous times. It also performs parallel processes to further cut build times.
- Cross-platform tool (Windows, Linux, macOS) with separate installation guides for each platform.
- Compatible with all Node.js packages.
- Fast build times.
- Extra security by using checksums to verify the integrity of packages.
- Offline mode.
- Flat mode to avoid creating duplicates.
3. Grunt (task runner)
Grunt is a frontend task runner that lets you automate repetitive processes like minification, linting, and testing. Task runners vary from package managers in that they cannot manage dependencies. They are only required if you want to repeat the same task(s) during each build process.
Because Grunt is a Node.js package, you can use npm, Yarn, or another Node.js package manager to install it. The custom dependencies required by Grunt to perform your predefined jobs are stored in the package.json file. You can define your jobs in the Gruntfile (see an example), which runs during every build process and performs each task it contains automatically.
- Cross-platform command line tool that runs on any operating system.
- Straightforward configuration process.
- Huge ecosystem with hundreds of plugins to add frontend tools (such as Sass, Jade, JSHint, Handlebars, RequireJS, and others) that complete the pre-configured tasks.
- Asynchronous tasks if needed.
- Extensive documentation.
- Widely adopted.
4. Gulp (task runner)
Gulp is another automatic task runner and Grunt’s main competition. Gulp, like Grunt, may be used to automate recurring front-end activities like CSS preprocessing, auto-prefixing, image optimization, and many more. It’s also a Node.js package that you can install using the npm and Yarn package managers. You can specify your tasks in the Gulpfile and configure your task dependencies in the package.json file.
The most significant difference between Gulp and Grunt is that Gulp employs a more efficient automation technique that allows for speedier build times. Gulp conducts in-memory operations without writing to temporary files, whereas Grunt requires temporary files to process tasks. These in-memory activities, known as Node streams, might save you a significant amount of time, especially if you wish to handle several tasks at each build.
- Cross-platform task runner that can be installed as a regular Node.js package.
- Uses Node streams to speed up operations.
- Huge ecosystem with thousands of plugins.
- Quality code base using Node.js best practices.
- Easy-to-follow documentation.
- Minimal API surface for simple adoption.
5. Browserify (module loader/bundler)
- Bundles all Node.js dependencies into a single file.
- Speeds up modular applications that rely on multiple Node.js modules.
- Allows external requires (you can require modules from other <script> tags).
- Makes it possible to split up bundles if necessary.
- Exclude, ignore, and transform functionalities.
- Detailed documentation and helpful Browserify handbook.
6. Webpack (module loader/bundler)
Webpack is a sophisticated module bundler that lets you bundle all of your dependencies and load them as static assets in the user’s browser. Unlike Browserify, which exclusively bundles Node.js modules, Webpack can handle any type of front-end file, including.html,.css,.js,.scss, pictures, and other assets.
Because Webpack is a Node.js module, it can be installed using either the npm or the Yarn package managers.
Webpack project configuration takes a long time by default owing to the numerous choices that allow you to fine-tune your project. However, as of Webpack 4, it includes a zero-configuration option that automates the build process and requires only the entry file to be defined.
- Multiple configuration options.
- Code splitting into smaller chunks that can load asynchronously.
- Dead code elimination.
- Hot module replacement.
- Support for source maps.
- Zero-config option (since Webpack 4).
- Huge ecosystem with a rich plugin interface.
Frontend build tools assist you in transforming your development code into production-ready code that performs flawlessly on every device or platform. In this collection, we looked at the most widely used build tools for web projects, such as package managers, task runners, and module loaders/bundlers.
Aside from the widely used solutions, there are some (relatively) new tools on the market that are gaining traction, such as the pnpm package manager (an alternative to npm and Yarn), the Parcel module bundler (an alternative to Webpack), and the Rollup ES module bundler (similar to Browserify but bundles ECMAScript modules rather than CommonJS modules). If you’re looking for fresh solutions, these newest tools are definitely worth a look.
Introducing new tools into your workflow helps propel your development process forward. If you want to enhance your programming skills, take a look at our list of the top locations to learn how to code.