I’ve used Makefiles in the past, but you can’t write Makefiles in JavaScript. I’d rather just write JavaScript if I could; one language is simpler than two.

The Grunt tool

Make is the straightforward build tool. Grunt is not a make replacement, but it sure is useful.

Probably the strangest part is that grunt is split into 2 parts:

  1. the command line interface wrapper, installed globally: grunt-cli
  2. the task runner itself, installed locally: grunt

There is at least one advantage to this: different projects can rely on different versions of grunt without breaking. By installing specific versions of the task runner locally for each project, we don’t need one super-compatible version installed system-wide.

In contrast, the behavior of make is not going to change. It can grow, but it will (most likely) remain backwards-compatible, running old Makefiles without a hitch.

The grunt CLI wrapper doesn’t need to do very much at all, then, except locate the local copy of grunt. 36 sloc, more or less. Brilliant.

The Gruntfile

Make uses a Makefile. Grunt uses a Gruntfile. It’s a JavaScript file, so it’s literal filename is Gruntfile.js. Here’s the most basic Gruntfile you can write; it does absolutely nothing.

'use strict';

module.exports = function(grunt) {

  grunt.registerTask('default', []);

Running grunt on this Gruntfile should just say Done, without errors..

Plugins should be configured in the call to .initConfig(..), then loaded just below it as .loadNpmTasks('plugin-name');. For example, simplemocha is a plugin available through npm that can be set up like so:

'use strict';

  simplemocha: {
    all: {
      src: ['./test/**/*_test.js']


This sets up a simplemocha:all task to run mocha on all the .._test.js files in the test/ directory. Clearly this isn’t the target / dependencies / build step layout that Makefiles tend towards, but it’s not far off. It’s the plugins that make grunt shine; each plugin operates in its own way on its own source files. The watch plugin, for example, is especially useful for interactive development & testing, rerunning lint/test routines on every file change. Next post, I’ll get into a more complex Gruntfile. For now, happy hacking.