NPM Scripts

Our projects use different build systems (Gulp, Grunt, custom, etc), but many times they have tasks that do similar things on every project. As developers move from project to project we can save some cognitive overhead by standardizing the commands we use for these common tasks. With node we can use npm scripts as shortcuts to our various common tasks.

Environment variables determine build type

Builds for various environments (dev/prod) can tend to multiply build tasks. Instead of using different commands for dev and production builds we can use one standard command and use environment variables to determine the type of build to execute.

npm start - The start script should start up the web server on production or otherwise run and serve a development build

Running tests

npm test - Setup your tests to run with this standard task for that purpose

All other tasks

npm run - If we setup all of our other tasks as uniquely-named NPM scripts, developers can use this simple command to quickly determine all other tasks available to them.


  • The default 'npm start' command is configured to run the start.js file which has conditional logic to run either a production server or development build based on an environment variable.
  • The postinstall script runs a production build so that the server is ready to serve immediately after deployment
  "name": "sample-project",
  "scripts": {
    "start": "node start.js",
    "prestart": "npm install",
    "serve": "node app.js",
    "dev": "[dev build/watch/serve scripts go here]",
    "postinstall": "[production build scripts go here]",
  "dependencies": {
    "shelljs": "0.5.3",


  • The production server needs the NODE_ENV environment variable set to production
  • Using shell.js allows us to run npm scripts keeping all build tasks in package.json
  • If no NODE_ENV value is found, a development environment is assumed so that local developers can start building with a simple npm start
import shell from 'shelljs';

let env = process.env.NODE_ENV;

if (env === 'production') {
  console.log('Starting Production...');
  shell.exec('npm run serve');
} else {
  console.log('Starting Development...');
  shell.exec('npm run dev');

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