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Steps used to create this project

Run the following steps inside a clean directory

Not sure if you are in the same boat as I, but I could not find any good resource out there that pulled this all together. So here is a step-by-step tutorial for creating a Node.js app from scratch, adding in Grunt and then Node-Sass. Yeah, try and find good docs on Node-Sass alone :(

Hope this is of help!

Create your Node.js project

  • $ npm init - create a clean node project

  • NOTE: update the package.json file to to add "private": true, so that your project is not globally distributed as a npm app. Example:

      "version": "0.1.0",
      "private": true,
      "description": "This is a new boilerplate project",

Install Express

  • $ npm install --save express - install the Express package and save to your package.json file

Install Grunt

  • $ npm install --save grunt - install the Grunt package and save to your package.json file
Grunt dependencies

Depending on your setup, you may or may not have the coffee-script package installed. Run to install globally:

$ npm install -g coffee-script

If you only want to add to this project:

$ npm install --save-dev coffee-script

Set up skeleton project framework

  • $ mkdir public - at the root of the project, crate a new 'public' directory
  • $ mkdir public/stylesheets - create stylesheets directory within the public directory

Get the app started and create a server

  • $ touch app.js - create the core application .js file

  • add the following

      // set variables for environment
      var express = require('express');
      var app = express();
      var path = require('path');
      var port = 4000;
      // Displays server log in the CLI
      // Set server port
      console.log("Server is running at => http://localhost:" + port + "/\nCTRL + C to shutdown");

Install template language

  • $ npm install --save jade - to install jade
  • $ mkdir views - create views directory for template views

Alternativelly, if you are not wanting to use the Jade templating language, you can do the following:

$ npm install --save ejs

Update the app.js file to use the templating engine

Add the following above setting the server port app.listen(port);:

// views as directory for all template files
app.set('views', path.join(__dirname, 'views'));
// use either 'jade' or 'ejs'
app.set('view engine', 'jade'); 

// instruct express to server up static assets

Make a home page

  • NOTE: ALL routes need to come BEFORE app.listen(port);
  • update app.js to reflect template being used per the route
  • $ cd views where all view templates will live
  • $ touch views/index.jade - create base index file

On your new index.jade file, add the following:

doctype html
    meta(http-equiv='X-UA-Compatible', content='IE=edge')
    title This is a project title
    meta(name='description', content='My new project description')
    meta(name='viewport', content='width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0, minimum-scale=0.5 maximum-scale=1.0')
    meta(name='apple-mobile-web-app-capable', content='yes')
    meta(name='apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style', content='black-translucent')
    link(rel='stylesheet', href='stylesheets/application.css')
    h1 This is a heading 1
    h2 This is a heading 2
    p Hello world! This is HTML5 Boilerplate.
    script(src='//localhost:35729/livereload.js') //- to use Livereload

Add Livereload

Just before the </body> in your template file, be sure to add in the script for LiveReload


Add routes

Open app.js and crate root route that points to that template file

// set routes
app.get('/', function(req, res) {

Install Grunt-Sass

  • npm install --save grunt-sass - install grunt-sass

Add Sass to the project

  • mkdir sass - create Sass directory in the root of the project

  • Add a new application.scss file to the /sass directory and add something simple so that we know that Sass is running when it comes time

      $background-color: orange;
      body {
        background-color: $background-color;

Create Gruntfile

$ touch gruntfile.js - create a new Gruntfile in the root of your project, add the following code to the empty file

module.exports = function(grunt) {
    sass: {
      dist: {
        files: {
          'public/stylesheets/application.css': 'sass/application.scss'

  grunt.registerTask('default', ['sass']);

Install Grunt Watch

  • npm install grunt-contrib-watch --save-dev - install Grunt watcher and save as a Dev resource
  • Add the following to gruntfile.js within the grunt.initConfig function, just after the sass: { ... } portion.

Add the livereload: true option so that LiveReload will work on your project

watch: {
  source: {
    files: ['sass/**/*.scss', 'views/**/*.jade'],
    tasks: ['sass'],
    options: {
      livereload: true, // needed to run LiveReload

Also be sure to register the Grunt Watch npm task.


Our desired file structure

|- node_modules/
|- public/
|--- stylesheets/
|- sass/
|- views/

Get things running

Now that you have a bare bones project set up, we need to get things running. Typically I will be running three terminal windows/tabs for this.

  • user terminal for file navigation
  • run Node server $ node app.js
  • run grunt server $ grunt watch

Now you should be able to navigate to http://localhost:4000/ and see your project running. Run PORT=9999 node app.js to listen on any other port.

Grunt and Grunt Watch with Sass

It should be noted that when you run grunt watch on this project for the first time, the Sass will not be processed into CSS. Since we are using a watcher, it is waiting for the application.scss file to be saved before processing it to CSS.

By simply running grunt on this project, or any new project where the Sass has yet to be processed, this will do a one time Grunt Task and process the Sass to CSS.

livereload: true

If you have never worked with LiveReload, this is a tool you will no longer be able to live without. At this point your new project will be configured in such a way that, while running grunt watch you should be able to edit your Sass and Jade files and watch the update happen in the browser without having to hit the refresh button.

Go ahead, try it.

Install a Sass framework

For this project I choose to use Thoughtbot's Bourbon library. The current version of Bourbon has a dependency on Ruby to install it's Gem and then init the Bourbon library from the Gem. For the scope of this project I don't want to introduce a Ruby dependency if I don't have to.


This is a fork of the official Bourbon repo, but is more ideal for using Bower to install. Since we are going to use this library as a dependency, we need to set up a bower.json manifest file. Just a couple simple steps:

At the root of the project, run:

$ touch bower.json

Open this new file and add the following:

  "name": "<project name>"

That's it. The value for "name": can be what ever your project's name is.

To install Bourbon from the Bower repo, run:

$ bower install bower-bourbon --save

This will install the Bourbon library into a newly created bower_components dir in your project. Using the --save flag will add this to the bower.json manifest as a dependency.

Gruntfile updates

To make use of the Bourbon library, we have two choices. One is to create a relative path from the application.scss file to the library within the bower_components/ dir, or we can pre-configure a load path. I am going to go with load path.

In the Grunt-Sass API there is a function for includePaths that accepts an array. To make use of this, we need to update the gruntfile.js using this function like so:

sass: {
  dist: {
    files: {
      'public/stylesheets/application.css': 'sass/application.scss'
    options: {
      includePaths: [

Note done yet. Next we need to import this library into our application.scss file:

@import "bourbon";

Remember, when adding new bower packages to your project, to update this file and add a new path to the array.

To test this, open the application.scss file and add a simple mixin from Bourbon:

body {
  @include backface-visibility(visible);

When you save they file, two things should happen. In the terminal you want to see Done, without errors. and then if you open the application.css file in the public dir, you want to see this:

body {
  -webkit-backface-visibility: visible;
  backface-visibility: visible; }

If you don't see these success factors, then review your implementation against the files in this repo and make sure that everything is correct.


At some point you will want to enter this project into version control and I would assume that you are using Git.

By now at this point in the project you should see node_modules/ and bower_components/. There are opinions on this, but my opinion is that you do not want to commit these directories to your version control. These are dependencies and we are using npm and bower to install these dependencies when needed. So, do the following:

$ touch .gitignore

Once the file is created, open it and the first thing we want to add is a good base for OS generated files

# OS generated files

Since we are using Sass, we only want our Sass files included in the Git repo, so add the following:

# Generated CSS output

Last, our dependencies, add:

# Package dependencies

Now when you git init your project, these files and directories will not be added to the repo.

Install UI foundational framework

Within the sass/ directory, we need to install a foundational directory framework to start constructing our site. I recommend the following:

|- _buttons.scss
|- _config.scss
|- _forms.scss
|- _modules.scss
|- _reset.scss
|- _typography.scss
|- _vendors.scss
|- application.scss
|- buttons/
|- colors/
|- forms/
|- layouts/
|- lib/
|- modules/
|- ui_patterns/
|- vendors/

In our application.scss file, we need to import a few files to get this started.

// App Config - this is where most of your magic will happen
// ---------------------------------------------------------
@import "config";  // Editing the config file sets the theme for the project

// Import core Sass libraries
// ---------------------------------------------------------
@import "bourbon";

// Standard CSS reset stuff here
// ---------------------------------------------------------
@import "reset";

The reset I have included in this project is a modified version of Eric Meyer's reset plus some ideas from the HTML5 reset project. Additionally I have updated this reset to be more Sass driven using variables.

Next add the individual Sass files that will make up the base, module, vendor and layout portions of the project

// Base
@import "typography";
@import "forms";
@import "buttons";

// UI Patterns and Modules
// State is addressed within the component code itself
@import "ui_patterns/manifest";
@import "modules/manifest";

// Vendor specific styles / modules
@import "vendors/manifest";

// Layouts
@import "layouts/manifest";

This will complete the initial set up of the bare bones project. From here you will be able to customize the Sass to fit the design of your project.

Deploy to Heroku

The Heroku Dev Center has a great article on "Getting Started with Node.js on Heroku".

The tl;dr version (assuming you already have the Heroku Toolbelt):

  1. Add a Procfile to declare the process type. Our Procfile should contain a single line: web: node app.js
  2. Create a new Heroku app and add it as a Git remote: heroku create <project name>
  3. Deploy: git push heroku master
  4. Visit your new app: heroku open

Compiling your Sass on deploy

When using pre-processors, you typically never want to commit your processed files to the version control. Reason being, this will introduce a host of conflict issues. So how do you compile your Sass into CSS and deploy it?

  1. Include grunt-cli in your package.json: npm install --save-dev grunt-cli
  • Add a postinstall "scripts" step to package.json. It should look something like this:

      "scripts": {
        "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1",
        "postinstall": "./node_modules/.bin/grunt"
  • Previously, we installed Grunt and Grunt-Sass as a project dependency so that when Heroku runs npm install --production during deployment we will get the necessary resources. The --production flag skips the devDependencies group.

  • Now, when you git push heroku Heroku will compile your Sass.