Automating control add-in development using gulp

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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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