Using SASS, ES6 Javascript, and Node modules with Brunch

Brunch has recently become my favourite front end build tool, to the point where I don’t want to use Grunt or the Rails Asset Pipeline ever again. Why is this? Two reasons…

It’s fast Really fast. It doesn’t use any temporary intermediary files, it’s builds are incremental, and it makes clever use of caching to avoid doing work that it doesn’t have to. As a result it’s much faster than Grunt and Gulp.

It’s simple. Remember those horrible several hundred line Grunt configs manipulating a tmp/ directory? Or those Gulp configs full of pipeline logic? Well a Brunch config that does the same probably looks something like this:

exports.config = {
  files: {
    javascripts: { joinTo: 'main.js'  },
    templates:   { joinTo: 'main.js'  },
    stylesheets: { joinTo: 'main.css' },
  },
};

Yes, really.

This is because it’s a specialised build tool, not a task runner like Grunt or Rake. It has one specific set of tasks, and it can use conventions to make this cleaner and easier.

Additionally, if I want to use a plugin that adds additional functionality (for example, CSS minification), it’s just a matter of installing the plugin module with npm, and Brunch will pick it up and plug it in for us.

The Brunch problem

It’s not all perfect though. Because all the logic happens behind the scenes, it’s possible to get into a situation where something does not work, and it’s difficult to say what you’ve done wrong. This can become even more frustrating when coupled with the fact that the documentation on the various conventions and plugins often leaves a lot to be desired.

Because of this, I thought I should write a little something about setting Brunch up to do what I generally want from my front end build tool- ES6 Javascript using the Babel transpiler, SCSS instead of CSS, jshint linting my Javascript, minification for both CSS and Javascript, and the ability to import Javascript libraries from npm.

The conventions

By convention Brunch will look for source files in app/, and output generated files to public/, so put your Javascript files in app/. A small project of mine look something like this:

app/
├── assets
│   └── index.html
├── controllers
│   └── users.js
├── main.js
├── models
│   └── user.js
├── stylesheets
│   ├── components
│   │   ├── _button.scss
│   │   └── _search.scss
│   ├── layouts
│   │   ├── _footer.scss
│   │   └── _header.scss
│   └── main.scss
└── views
    └── users.jade

And after Brunch has done its thing the output directory looks like this:

public/
├── index.html
├── main.css
└── main.js

Things to note:

  • Files in the app/assets/ directory are copied directly into the public/ directory.
  • All our Javascript has been compiled into one file, one that we have specified the name and location of.
  • All of our SCSS has been compiled into one file, one we have also specified the name and location of.
  • Our SCSS, Javascript, and template files (.jade in this case) all live within app/.

ES6 setup

First, lets get ES6 Javascript compilation working, complete with ES6 modules, etc.

Install brunch, the mandatory javascript-brunch plugin that handles Javascript compilation, and the babel-brunch plugin, which gives us ES6 Javascript support. We’ll want brunch installed globally so we’ll have the brunch command in our $PATH.

npm install -g brunch
npm install --save brunch javascript-brunch babel-brunch

Great! Now let’s make our Brunch config file, brunch-config.js

// brunch-config.js
exports.config = {
  files: {
    javascripts: { joinTo: 'main.js' },
    templates:   { joinTo: 'main.js' },
  },
};

We’re not actually setting up any template systems, such as the excellent jade-brunch, so we could drop the templates line, but there’s no harm in keeping it in the config.

And that’s it. Run brunch watch to start Brunch, and create some test ES6 Javascript files.

// app/main.js
import test from 'test';
test();

// app/test.js
export default function test() {
  console.log('Hello, world!');
}

Boom. We have a generated file at public/main.js that’s ready to be loaded into the browser. Once you’ve done that, exec require('main');, and your Javascript application will run.

That’s it. We’ve set up ES6 Javascript with Brunch.

SCSS setup

Onto the equally difficult process of adding SCSS compilation.

npm install --save css-brunch sass-brunch

Add a stylesheets line to your brunch config:

// brunch-config.js
exports.config = {
  files: {
    javascripts: { joinTo: 'main.js'  },
    templates:   { joinTo: 'main.js'  },
    stylesheets: { joinTo: 'main.css' },
  },
};

And then create some SCSS files under app/, and use the usual SCSS import statements. I like to keep them in app/stylesheets/.

Done that? Then you should have a compiled CSS file at public/main.css. Super easy.

Using libraries from npm

There’s lots of handy libraries on npm that we might want to use in our Javascript app. lodash, for example. Install it, as per usual:

npm install --save lodash

Enable npm support in your Brunch config:

// brunch-config.js
exports.config = {
  files: {
    javascripts: { joinTo: 'main.js'  },
    templates:   { joinTo: 'main.js'  },
    stylesheets: { joinTo: 'main.css' },
 
    npm: { enabled: true },
  },
};

And then import it in your Javascript like a regular module.

// app/main.js
import _    from 'lodash';
import test from 'test';
test();

Boom. It works.

Javascript linting with jshint

Add your config as a .jshintrc file in the project directory, and then install the plugin.

npm install --save jshint-brunch

Minification

Lastly, CSS and Javascript minification.

npm install --save uglify-js-brunch clean-css-brunch

Run brunch build --production to see it in action.

So that’s it. We’ve set up everything with Brunch. Told you it was easy. :)