Chris Wang

Engineering @ Instructure. Passionate about Tech and People

16 Feb 2014

How do you build LESS into CSS? How do you build it minified? How can you build it in your development environment?

These are the common scenarios when working with LESS and they are easily solved with Grunt.

In the past, we used grunt-recess, because that’s what Bootstrap was using. Apparently, the owner of that repository hasn’t kept up with the updates with LESS (most notably LESS 1.4 extend functionality), so we have stopped using it. (I think he’s going to maintain his recess code for Gulp, which is also a useful build tool, but a bit different from what we need in some cases).

Now, I suggest using grunt-contrib-less.

The set up is simple if you’ve set up your Gruntfile.js

Install using the node package manager from your command line and normally you’ll want to save the version information as well (using the –save-dev):

npm install grunt-contrib-less --save-dev

Then, add the configuration (which is really just javascript data):

var watchFilesLess = 'Web/assets/style/**/*.less';

    pkg : grunt.file.readJSON('package.json'),
    // Watch for auto compiling.
    watch : {
        filesLess : { // name of the watch for our less files.
            files : [watchFilesLess],
            tasks : ['less:dev'],
            options : {
                spawn : false
    less: {
        dev: {
            options: {
            files: {
                'Web/assets/style/site.css': 'Web/assets/style/site.less'
        production: {
            options: {
                cleancss: true // compress using clean-css
                // Could also use the default: compress: true
            files: {
                'Web/assets/style/site.min.css': 'Web/assets/style/site.less'

Define the tasks:


I normally run the task as part of my default, meaning that when I type ‘grunt’ on the command-line, it will run. Order is important here, and my ‘less’ should be before my ‘watch’.

grunt.registerTask('default', ['less:production', 'watch']);

Then, I have a task for just building the css, which is run on the command-line by typing: grunt css

grunt.registerTask('css', ['less:production']); // just build

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