Debug mode in gulp

I've been using gulp a lot lately (as you can see from my posts).

To the uninitiated, gulp is the hottest, sleekest and newest build system in town. Which I'm in love with and use almost everywhere now. Yup, it's that awesome.

However, I had been having troubles with debugging while using gulp. It's not exactly easy to debug one-line CSS or mangled JS now, is it?

So I came up with a solution, creating a switch variable and a new task, debug.

The debug variable

Everything will be controlled by a single variable, which I call debug. Set debug to be false at the start of your gulpfile.js.

var debug = false;  

In the default task, write a line:

gulp.task('default', function() {  
  debug = debug || false;

Why? So we can easily switch the variable from other tasks, and this change is passed to the default task.

The debug task

We need to now create a task that achieves three things:

  1. Sets debug to be true.
  2. Logs that gulp is running on 'debug mode'.
  3. Set easy-debugging configuration options in all tasks.
gulp.task('debug', function() {  
  debug = true;
  gutil.log('RUNNING IN DEBUG MODE') );

That's my debug task. Here, gutil = require(gulp-util);. This logs a helpful message, and switches the debug variable to be true.

We can now use this information to make debug changes in our existing tasks.

Debug configuration in tasks

I've added a simple variable at the top of each task - uglyLevel. Depending on the task, uglyLevel can be true/false, or 'compress'/'expanded'. The values are toggled using a simple ternary operator.

    var uglyLevel = debug ? true : false;

Then, these are passed on as values depending on the plugin. For example, with gulp-jade, uglyLevel must be a boolean value and will be used like so:

.pipe( p.jade({ pretty: uglyLevel }) )

gulp-uglify is similar:

.pipe( p.uglify({ compress: uglyLevel }) )

However, for gulp-stylus, uglyLevel is either 'compress' or 'expanded'.

var uglyLevel = debug ? 'expanded' : 'compress';

gulp.src( src )  
  .pipe( p.stylus({ set: [uglyLevel] }) )

You can also try toggling sourcemaps if you're using SASS, unfortunately the option isn't available in Stylus yet. Many different ways to solve the same problem.


Simply run gulp debug in the command line instead of gulp. Done! Since debug task runs the default task, all additonal tasks like watch or connect will run automatically.

And there you have it, an easy and quick debug method for gulp.

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