Compile LESS on the fly for your exploded WAR in IntelliJ

At CleverTap, we’ve recently started using LESS for dynamic CSS. While it has it’s upsides, the biggest downside was that most of our developers couldn’t use the hot deploy feature for their local deployments.

After an hour or so, we came up with a neat solution.

 

There are two parts to this:

  1. Just before deploying the app into the web container, compile all the LESS files within the exploded artifact output directory
  2. Have the File Watcher plugin re-compile a modified LESS file within the IDE, and copy it over to the artifact output directory

Both parts above utilize a bash script (since everybody uses a Mac for development, it’s cool).

Prerequisites:

  1. The LESS compiler – can be installed using npm (npm install -g less). If you don’t have the Node Package Manager, just search on how to install it (most likely you’d use Homebrew)
  2. Install the File Watcher plugin in IntelliJ
    1. Go to Preferences in IDEA, then to Plugins
    2. Hit the “Install JetBrains plugin…” button, and search for “file watchers”.
    3. Install the plugin and restart the IDE
  3. A run configuration that is configured to deploy an exploded WAR (can be either Tomcat/Jetty/anything)
  4. Knowing where your exploded artifact resides (in my case, it is /Users/jude/developer/WizRocket/out/artifacts/Dashboard_war_exploded). If you don’t know how to get this, follow these steps:
    1. Go to File -> Project Structure
    2. Click on Artifacts (in the left menu)
    3. Select your exploded WAR artifact
    4. On the right, you’ll see the output directory

Part 1: Compile the LESS into CSS just before deployment

Copy the following script and save it as /Users/username/bin/lessc-idea:

Note: You will need to update the variable exploded_artifact_path in the script above.

Make it executable:

$ chmod +x /Users/username/bin/lessc-idea

Now, open up your run configuration, and scroll all the way to the bottom (where it says Make, followed by Build artifact …). Hit the “+” button, and select “Run External Tool”.

Hit the “+” button to add a new External Tool, and configure it as follows:

External Tool configuration for compiling LESS files before deployment

Ensure that the build order in your run configuration is as follows:

Build order for LESS compilation

Once this is done, your LESS files should be automatically generated when you deploy your web app. Go ahead and give it a shot.

 

Part 2: Configure the File Watcher plugin to re-compile LESS files edited:

Go to Preferences, and navigate to File Watchers under Tools (left menu). Hit the “+” button and select “Less”.

Configure your new watcher as shown in the screenshot below:

File Watcher configuration for LESS files

Before your hit the OK button, a few things to do:

  1. Clear any output filters added automatically: Press the Output Filters… button, and remove anything inside there.
  2. Select your scope: Select the CSS/LESS directory within your web module (ensure you click on Include Recursively after you’ve selected the directory)

You’re all set. Hit OK, then Apply, and OK.

Test drive your new setup. The moment you change a LESS file, it’ll get re-compiled into the corresponding CSS file within the corresponding directory in the artifact output, and you’ll be able to see the changes immediately.