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Auto reload content as you work


One of the coolest things I see in tutorials and demos is the automatic reload when files change.

This post will explore three ways of setting auto-reload for your front-end projects.

These three projects will start from scratch. Integrating tooling into an existing project is not trivial and will depend a lot on your skills and the type of project you're working on.

Vite #

Vite created by Evan Yu, the creator of Vue.js, Vite provides a fast and consistent experience:

To start a new project with Vite, the command will depend on the version of NPM you're using.

If you're using NPM 6.x, run the following command to install a basic Typescript project without a framework.

npm create vite@latest \
my-new-app \
--template vanilla-ts

If you're using NPM 7 or later, run the following command. The extra double-dash is required:

npm create vite@latest \
my-new-app -- \
--template vanilla-ts

Follow the prompts on the screen after Vite finishes installing the required packages.

cd my-new-app
npm install
npm run dev --open

This will open your default browser to the index.html document at the root of the project.

To further automate the process, add the following scripts block to your package.json file.

  "scripts": {
    "dev": "npm run dev --open",
    "build": "vite build",
    "preview": "vite preview"

Note that npm run dev --open or vite dev --open will not create a production-ready build. You must run npm run build.

Gulp-based solution #

If you're using Gulp as your build system, you can leverage it to also provide hot reloading of your content.

This sample task defines a serve task that is dependent on the hypothetical postcss task to transpile CSS to something that current browsers support, and a babel task to transpile Javascript using Babel.

The tasks will initialize a Browsersync server and then watches content and takes action based on the type of content that has changed on the server.

var gulp = require('gulp');
var browserSync = require('browser-sync').create(),

postcss = require('gulp-postcss');
babel = require('gulp-babel');

gulp.task('serve', ['postcss', 'js'], function() {
      server: "./app"
  });"app/**/*.css".on('change', ['postcss']));"app/**/*.js".on('change', ['babel']));"app/**/*.html").on('change', browserSync.reload);

gulp.task('default', ['serve']);

Prepros #

Yet another option is to use applications that will abstract all the code and processes for you.

Prepros (cross-platform) and its alternatives like Codekit (macOS only) automate several different development activities. For the purpose of this post, we'll look at reloading when files change.

Prepros showing dialogue and instructions for loading preview. Command / Control + L will open the default browser to the site's index page
Prepros showing dialogue and instructions for loading preview. Command / Control + L will open the default browser to the site's index page

Command / Control + l will open the default browser to the site's index page (usually index.html)

You can add more browsers to work with your site by pointing the new browsers to localhost:8848.

Conclusion: Which one to use? #

I've used all three alternatives offered here, which one to use for a specific project depends on what you need to do and what type of project you're working on.

If I'm starting a project from scratch I will use Vite. I prefer the command line to an app to run the code.

Larger projects where I need to do things other than compile SASS to CSS and Typescript to Javascript would work better with Gulp. I leverage an existing project template that does image compression, transpilation, and content auto-refresh when things change

Finally, if I'm handing over a project to a client or someone who is not technically proficient I may recommend Prepros or a similar alternative. Yes, it is a paid product but it will reduce the friction of having the user update their content and may, hopefully, reduce incidences of me having to do support, and that's always a good thing :)

Edit on Github