Gulp and Promises

Stefan Baumgartner

Stefan on Mastodon

More on Gulp, Tools

The Gulp task system does not only work with streams alone, but also with other asynchronous patterns. One of those are well known Promises! Find out how we can use two Promise-based tools to create a thorough file sync between two folders.

File sync: Copy new files to a destination #

Think of a build system where you store your files in a source directory, but have every computation done in a working or build directory. Gradle for instance is one of those tools that recommend you to work this way. And for good reason: You never touch the source, making it more robust to integrate in CI environments. A pull from master doesn’t kill your intermediates. And on the other: Your intermediates or results don’t interfere with everything new coming from your Git branch.

So, what we are aiming for is a call that copies all the files from a source directory to a destination directory, where Gulp awaits to execute your build tasks. With the concepts we learned from incremental builds we are able to create the first part: Copying new files from a source to a destination:

var globArray = [ ... ]  // all the files you want to read

gulp.task('copy-src', function(){
return gulp.src(globArray, { cwd: '../../src/' })

That takes care of all the new files or changed files, without copying anything that doesn’t need to be there. That’s half the battle. What about the files that have been copied from a previous run, but then got removed? If you really want to have a direct copy of your source directory, you also want to remove them in your destination directory.

Getting the diff between two directories #

To get the difference between the source and destination directory we have several possibilities, even Gulp plugins to use. However, most of them feel kind of clumsy or “do too much”, something that a Gulp plugin should never do.

So, why not do it on our own? Here’s the plan:

  • Read both source and destination directory.
  • Compare both lists and find the difference
  • Delete the files that are left, hence: The ones that are not in the source directory anymore.

We have some Promised-based Node modules for that:

  • globby: Creates a list of file paths based on a glob. Something very similar to Gulp.s
  • del: A module that deletes files based on a glob. This is actually the preferred way by Gulp to take care of deleting files.

And here’s how we are going to combine them:

gulp.task('diff', function() {
return Promise.all([ /* 1 */
globby(globArray, { nodir: true }), /* 2 */
globby(globArray, { cwd: '../../src/', nodir: true }) /* 3 */
]).then(function(paths) {
return paths[0].filter(function(i) { /* 4 */
return paths[1].indexOf(i) < 0;
}).then(function(diffs) { /* 5 */
return del(diffs);

Let’s go through this one by one.

  1. We use Promise.all to run two Promise-based glob calls against our file system.
  2. globby by the one and only Sindre Sorhus allows for Gulp-style globbing (including directories) with Promises. Add the nodir parameter to the globby call to not get directory file handles.
  3. Do the same for the source directory. We change the working directory to our source directory. By using the cwd parameter, the file list has the same structure as from the first globby call. Since we run both Promises with Promise.all, we also get an array of results.
  4. The array of results contain two arrays of file names. The first one from the destination, the second one from our source. We use the Array.prototype.filter and Array.prototype.indexOf function to compare our results: We filter all elements that are not in our second array. Note: This procedure might take some time depending on how many file paths you are going to compare. We are talking seconds here. This is quite some time in the Gulp world.
  5. The result of this step is an array with “leftovers”: All those files that have been removed from the source directory but still exist in our working directory. We use Sindre Sorhus’ del module that takes care of this files. It returns also a Promise, so it’s perfectly usable with the Promise-chain that we made here.

ES6 fat arrows #

It’s even more beautiful when you work with ES6 fat arrow functions:

gulp.task('diff', function() {
return Promise.all([
globby(globArray, { nodir: true }),
globby(globArray, { cwd: '../../src/', nodir: true })
.then(paths => paths[0].filter(i => paths[1].indexOf(i) < 0))
.then(diffs => del(diffs))

Nice, clean and totally in tune with Gulp!

Bottom line #

With Gulp you have a vast ecosystem of plugins at your hand. This ecosystem expands as you can use any stream related tool and wrap it around the Gulp API. But you are not bound to streams alone. With Promises, any asynchronous code can work with the Gulp task system! So the amount of tools to choose from grows even more!

Software used: #

Works with both Gulp 3 and Gulp 4. The rest is Node.js native.

More articles on Gulp

Gulp Workshop

Stay up to date!

3-4 updates per month, no tracking, spam-free, hand-crafted. Our newsletter gives you links, updates on fettblog.eu, conference talks, coding soundtracks, and much more.