[gruntjs] NPM vs. Bower vs. Browserify vs. Gulp vs. Grunt vs. Webpack


I've been also searching for this quite some time since there is a lot of tools out there and each of them benefits us in a different aspect. The community is divided across tools like Browserify, Webpack, jspm, Grunt and Gulp. You might also hear about Yeoman or Slush. That’s not really a problem, it’s just confusing for everyone trying to understand a clear path forward.

Anyway, I would like to contribute something.

1. Package Manager

Package managers simplify installing and updating project dependencies, which are libraries such as: jQuery, Bootstrap, etc - everything that is used on your site and isn't written by you.

Browsing all the library websites, downloading and unpacking the archives, copying files into the projects — all of this is replaced with a few commands in the terminal.

  • NPM stands for: Node JS package manager helps you to manage all the libraries your software relies on. You would define your needs in a file called package.json and run npm install in the command line... then BANG, your packages are downloaded and ready to use. Could be used both for front-end and back-end libraries.

  • Bower: for front-end package management, the concept is same with NPM. All your libraries are stored in a file named bower.json and then run bower install in the command line.

The biggest difference between Bower and NPM is that NPM does nested dependency tree while Bower requires a flat dependency tree as below.

Quoting from What is the difference between Bower and npm?


project root
[node_modules] // default directory for dependencies
 -> dependency A
 -> dependency B
    -> dependency A

 -> dependency C
    -> dependency B
       -> dependency A 
    -> dependency D


project root
[bower_components] // default directory for dependencies
 -> dependency A
 -> dependency B // needs A
 -> dependency C // needs B and D
 -> dependency D

There are some updates on npm 3 Duplication and Deduplication, please open the doc for more detail.

  • Yarn: A new package manager for JavaScript published by Facebook recently with some more advantages compared to NPM. And with Yarn, you still can use both NPMand Bower registry to fetch the package. If you've installed a package before, yarn creates a cached copy which facilitates offline package installs.

  • jspm: is a package manager for the SystemJS universal module loader, built on top of the dynamic ES6 module loader. It is not an entirely new package manager with its own set of rules, rather it works on top of existing package sources. Out of the box, it works with GitHub and npm. As most of the Bower based packages are based on GitHub, we can install the those packages using jspm as well. It has a registry that lists most of the commonly used front-end packages for easier installation.

See the different between Bower and jspm: Package Manager: Bower vs jspm

2. Module Loader/Bundling

Most projects of any scale will have their code split between a number of files. You can just include each file with an individual <script> tag, however, <script> establishes a new http connection, and for small files – which is a goal of modularity – the time to set up the connection can take significantly longer than transferring the data. While the scripts are downloading, no content can be changed on the page.

  • The problem of download time can largely be solved by concatenating a group of simple modules into a single file, and minifying it.


    <script src=“build/wagon-bundle.js”></script>
  • The performance comes at the expense of the flexibility though. If your modules have inter-dependency, this lack of flexibility may be a showstopper.


    <script src=“connectors/axle.js”></script>
    <script src=“frames/board.js”></script>
    <!-- skateboard-wheel and ball-bearing both depend on abstract-rolling-thing -->
    <script src=“rolling-things/abstract-rolling-thing.js”></script>
    <script src=“rolling-things/wheels/skateboard-wheel.js”></script>
    <!-- but if skateboard-wheel also depends on ball-bearing -->
    <!-- then having this script tag here could cause a problem -->
    <script src=“rolling-things/ball-bearing.js”></script>
    <!-- connect wheels to axle and axle to frame -->
    <script src=“vehicles/skateboard/our-sk8bd-init.js”></script>

Computers can do that better than you can, and that is why you should use a tool to automatically bundle everything into a single file.

Then we heard about RequireJS, Browserify, Webpack and SystemJS

  • RequireJS: is a JavaScript file and module loader. It is optimized for in-browser use, but it can be used in other JavaScript environments, like Node.

E.g: myModule.js

// package/lib is a dependency we require
define(["package/lib"], function (lib) {

    // behavior for our module
    function foo() {
        lib.log( "hello world!" );

    // export (expose) foo to other modules as foobar
    return {
        foobar: foo

In main.js, we can import myModule.js as dependency and use it.

require(["package/myModule"], function(myModule) {

And then in our HTML, we can refer to use with RequireJS.

<script src=“app/require.js” data-main=“main.js” ></script>

Read more about CommonJS and AMD to get understanding easily. Relation between CommonJS, AMD and RequireJS?

  • Browserify: set out to allow use of CommonJS formatted modules in the browser. Consequently, Browserify isn’t as much a module loader as a module bundler: Browserify is entirely a build-time tool, producing a bundle of code which can then be loaded client-side.

Start with a build machine that has node & npm installed, and get the package:

npm install -g –save-dev browserify

Write your modules in CommonJS format

var foo = require('../foo.js');

And when happy, issue the command to bundle:

browserify entry-point.js -o bundle-name.js

Browserify recursively finds all dependencies of entry-point and assembles them into a single file:

<script src=”bundle-name.js”></script>
  • Webpack: It bundles all of your static assets, including JavaScript, images, CSS and more, into a single file. It also enables you to process the files through different types of loaders. You could write your JavaScript with CommonJS or AMD modules syntax. It attacks the build problem in a fundamentally more integrated and opinionated manner. In Browserify you use Gulp/Grunt and a long list of transforms and plugins to get the job done. Webpack offers enough power out of the box that you typically don’t need Grunt or Gulp at all.

Basic usage is beyond simple. Install Webpack like Browserify:

npm install -g –save-dev webpack

And pass the command an entry point and an output file:

webpack ./entry-point.js bundle-name.js
  • SystemJS: is a module loader that can import modules at run time in any of the popular formats used today (CommonJS, UMD, AMD, ES6). It is built on top of the ES6 module loader polyfill and is smart enough to detect the format being used and handle it appropriately. SystemJS can also transpile ES6 code (with Babel or Traceur) or other languages such as TypeScript and CoffeeScript using plugins.

Want to know what is the node module and why it is not well adapted to in-browser.

More useful article:

Why jspm and SystemJS?

One of the main goals of ES6 modularity is to make it really simple to install and use any Javascript library from anywhere on the Internet (Github, npm, etc.). Only two things are needed:

  • A single command to install the library
  • One single line of code to import the library and use it

So with jspm, you can do it.

  1. Install the library with a command: jspm install jquery
  2. Import the library with a single line of code, no need to external reference inside you HTML file.


var $ = require('jquery'); 

$('body').append("I've imported jQuery!");
  1. Then you configure these things within System.config({ ... }) before importing your module. Normally when run jspm init, there will be a file named config.js for this purpose.

  2. To make these scripts run, we need to load system.js and config.js on the HTML page. After that we will load the display.js file using the SystemJS module loader.


<script src="jspm_packages/system.js"></script>
<script src="config.js"></script>

Noted: You can also use npm with Webpack as Angular 2 has applied it. Since jspm was developed to integrate with SystemJS and it works on top of existing npm source, so your answer is up to you.

3. Task runner

Task runners and build tools are primarily command-line tools. Why we need to use them: In one word: automation. The less work you have to do when performing repetitive tasks like minification, compilation, unit testing, linting which previously cost us a lot of times to do with command line or even manually.

  • Grunt: You can create automation for your development environment to pre-process codes or create build scripts with a config file and it seems very difficult to handle a complex task. Popular in last few years.

Every task in Grunt is an array of different plugin configurations, that simply get executed one after another, in a strictly independent, and sequential fashion.

  clean: {
    src: ['build/app.js', 'build/vendor.js']

  copy: {
    files: [{
      src: 'build/app.js',
      dest: 'build/dist/app.js'

  concat: {
    'build/app.js': ['build/vendors.js', 'build/app.js']

  // ... other task configurations ...


grunt.registerTask('build', ['clean', 'bower', 'browserify', 'concat', 'copy']);
  • Gulp: Automation just like Grunt but instead of configurations, you can write JavaScript with streams like it's a node application. Prefer these days.

This is a Gulp sample task declaration.

//import the necessary gulp plugins
var gulp = require('gulp');
var sass = require('gulp-sass');
var minifyCss = require('gulp-minify-css');
var rename = require('gulp-rename');

//declare the task
gulp.task('sass', function(done) {
      keepSpecialComments: 0
    .pipe(rename({ extname: '.min.css' }))
    .on('end', done);

See more: https://medium.com/@preslavrachev/gulp-vs-grunt-why-one-why-the-other-f5d3b398edc4#.fte0nahri

4. Scaffolding tools

  • Slush and Yeoman: You can create starter projects with them. For example, you are planning to build a prototype with HTML and SCSS, then instead of manually create some folder like scss, css, img, fonts. You can just install yeoman and run a simple script. Then everything here for you.

Find more here.

npm install -g yo
npm install --global generator-h5bp
yo h5bp

See more: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-differences-between-NPM-Bower-Grunt-Gulp-Webpack-Browserify-Slush-Yeoman-and-Express

My answer is not really matched with the content of the question but when I'm searching for these knowledge on Google, I always see the question on top so that I decided to answer it in summary as well as why we need to use those tool.

Recently I found a really comprehensive guide from Grab team about how to approach front-end development in 2017. You can check it out as below.



I'm trying to summarize my knowledge about the most popular JavaScript package managers, bundlers, and task runners. Please correct me if I'm wrong:

  • npm & bower are package managers. They just download the dependencies and don't know how to build projects on their own. What they know is to call webpack/gulp/grunt after fetching all the dependencies.
  • bower is like npm, but builds flattened dependencies trees (unlike npm which do it recursively). Meaning npm fetches the dependencies for each dependency (may fetch the same a few times), while bower expects you to manually include sub-dependencies. Sometimes bower and npm are used together for front-end and back-end respectively (since each megabyte might matter on front-end).
  • grunt and gulp are task runners to automate everything that can be automated (i.e. compile CSS/Sass, optimize images, make a bundle and minify/transpile it).
  • grunt vs. gulp (is like maven vs. gradle or configuration vs. code). Grunt is based on configuring separate independent tasks, each task opens/handles/closes file. Gulp requires less amount of code and is based on Node streams, which allows it to build pipe chains (w/o reopening the same file) and makes it faster.
  • webpack (webpack-dev-server) - for me it's a task runner with hot reloading of changes which allows you to forget about all JS/CSS watchers.
  • npm/bower + plugins may replace task runners. Their abilities often intersect so there are different implications if you need to use gulp/grunt over npm + plugins. But task runners are definitely better for complex tasks (e.g. "on each build create bundle, transpile from ES6 to ES5, run it at all browsers emulators, make screenshots and deploy to dropbox through ftp").
  • browserify allows packaging node modules for browsers. browserify vs node's require is actually AMD vs CommonJS.


  1. What is webpack & webpack-dev-server? Official documentation says it's a module bundler but for me it's just a task runner. What's the difference?
  2. Where would you use browserify? Can't we do the same with node/ES6 imports?
  3. When would you use gulp/grunt over npm + plugins?
  4. Please provide examples when you need to use a combination

StackShare provides a side-by-side (or stack up) of three tools at one time.

Here it is for npm vs. Bower vs. Browserify and for gulp vs. Webpack vs. Grunt

On these comparison pages you can find the following:

  • number of votes each has received from the StackShare community
  • which companies use them in their tech stack
  • interest level for each over time
  • pros for each tool

What is webpack & webpack-dev-server? Official documentation says it's a module bundler but for me it's just a task runner. What's the difference?

webpack-dev-server is a live reloading web server that Webpack developers use to get immediate feedback what they do. It should only be used during development.

This project is heavily inspired by the nof5 unit test tool.

Webpack as the name implies will create a SINGLE package for the web. The package will be minimized, and combined into a single file (we still live in HTTP 1.1 age). Webpack does the magic of combining the resources (JavaScript, CSS, images) and injecting them like this: <script src="assets/bundle.js"></script>.

It can also be called module bundler because it must understand module dependencies, and how to grab the dependencies and to bundle them together.

Where would you use browserify? Can't we do the same with node/ES6 imports?

You could use Browserify on the exact same tasks where you would use Webpack. – Webpack is more compact, though.

Note that the ES6 module loader features in Webpack2 are using System.import, which not a single browser supports natively.

When would you use gulp/grunt over npm + plugins?

You can forget Gulp, Grunt, Brokoli, Brunch and Bower. Directly use npm command line scripts instead and you can eliminate extra packages like these here for Gulp:

var gulp        = require('gulp'),
  minifyCSS     = require('gulp-minify-css'),
  sass          = require('gulp-sass'),
  browserify    = require('gulp-browserify'),
  uglify        = require('gulp-uglify'),
  rename        = require('gulp-rename'),
  jshint        = require('gulp-jshint'),
  jshintStyle   = require('jshint-stylish'),
  replace       = require('gulp-replace'),
  notify        = require('gulp-notify'),

You can probably use Gulp and Grunt config file generators when creating config files for your project. This way you don't need to install Yeoman or similar tools.