Writing gulp tasks

Now that you know how to get gulp up and running in VS Code, and how to export tasks from your gulp file, let’s talk about tasks themselves. What are they, what are they good for, and how to write them.

Gulp – being a task automation tool – is all about tasks. Anything you do about programming, which is not writing the code itself, can be considered a task, and can very likely be automated. Some tasks are automated already, like compiling your code, building your app. In case of AL development, there are many more already automated tasks, like creating a demo workspace or deploying your app to NAV. If you can automate them, tasks are immensely powerful because they save time and eliminate error.

If you are a web developer, your tasks can include bundling your source files and minifying them. For me, when building pre-2018 control add-ins, most important tasks were bundling source files, zipping the resource file, deploying a control add-in and importing the control add-in using PowerShell. All of these I have automated using gulp, and I’ll explain every single one of them in this series.

But for now, let’s simply take a look at how to write gulp tasks.

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Exporting tasks from gulpfile.js

In my last post I covered the very basics of getting started with gulp in VS Code. It was all about getting gulp up and running under the hood of VS Code, and about writing your very first gulp task. It didn’t do much, but it showed you what gulpfile.js is good for and how to export tasks from it, that you can later use from VS Code.

However, I mentioned that there is much more to exporting tasks than it seems on the surface, and I promised to blog more about it. So here we are. Tasks.

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Getting started with gulp and VS Code

Strange times. I never stop to be amazed with the kinds tools that invaded our pristine development environments. One of those tools is gulp, and if you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. Why should you hear of it?

A couple of weeks ago I introduced my talk on gulp by explaining how I made it simplify and speed up my development of control add-ins. If you are a real NAV developer, and if you didn’t classify this entire series on gulp into the “who cares” category, then chances are you’d stick with me today and learn how to set up gulp and start using it in VS Code.

In this post, I’ll explain what (and why) you need to do to get gulp up and running, and then I’ll create a very simple gulp task. This is the first post in a series where I hope to build an end-to-end example that you can even put to practical use in your projects.

Let’s get started.

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Codeunit interfaces in AL

Nearly two and a half years ago I had a dream. It was about codeunit references and codeunit interfaces. And today, nearly two and a half years later I am still here, still having the same dream. We still cannot do codeunit interfaces in AL. But it doesn’t mean we don’t need them. We do. We badly do.

Two things triggered me to write this post about how badly we need codeunit interfaces, or any kind of polymorphism: a NAV TechDays talk, and a github project I saw.

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Automating control add-in development using gulp

Happy new year everyone! Last year was a bit slow for me, until the very end, when I churned out a year’s worth of posts just in two days. I hope this year to be a bit different, and let me kick-start it with a concept I’ve been playing with recently.

If you are into control add-ins development, chances are you’re familiar with my Visual Studio Project Template for control add-ins. It’s cool because it allows you to deploy all of your changes all the way over to NAV just by pressing F6. But it sucks because it’s based on Visual Studio, which is so… not 2019. It’s true, Microsoft never prescribed exactly which tool you should use to build your control add-ins once you’ve created the interface. It was entirely up to you. For me, Visual Studio used to be the tool of choice because in there you create the interface, and then why not just create everything in there.

But recently, I thought – why not using VS Code to develop control add-ins “v1” (that is: the control add-ins that work in pre-AL, pre-extensions “v2”, pre-NAV2018/BC environments)? If you, like me, still have to do those from time to time, but absolutely want to use VS Code instead of Visual Studio, then this post is for you.

Last month, I’ve decided to port all development work on a major control add-in from Visual Studio into VS Code. When I say “major”, I mean it: it’s 16K lines of JavaScript code in 138 source code files, not including 3rd party libraries. To automate that in Visual Studio, I used a hodge-podge of build tasks, Windows batch scripts, PowerShell scripts, external utilities for zipping and minification, and the first thing I did – stupid, I know – when I transferred all my work to VS Code was to automate all of my tasks exactly the same way. So, I took all the same batch scripts, configured them as VS Code tasks, and I was happy. Not. It was slow, and ugly.

And then I remembered gulp.

It’s funny, gulp should have been the first thing to cross my mind. But, while I knew it was there, I never did anything with it. But, how complicated can it be? It turned out, I was able to replace all of the automation I had earlier into one nice gulpfile.js and turn my entire development experience completely upside-down. It’s that good.

So, I decided to share a little bit of my learning path, lessons learned, hints, tips, tricks, and all else in a series of blog posts about how to automate control add-in development using gulp. This is the first post in the series of an unknown number of posts to follow up.

Disclaimer: this particular post is not a NAV 2018/BC/AL. This is (mostly) for pre-BC control add-in developers. However, a lot of gulp concepts I’ll talk about are readily applicable to AL and BC world.

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