Big pipe - Photo by Erlend Ekseth

Building a simple responsive images pipeline with Gulp

I have been working with static site generators a lot lately. One thing I missed is a configurable image pipeline to automate the process of creating thumbnails for responsive images and the likes, so I looked into building one with Gulp.

Over the last year or so, I have really become a fan of using static site generators for prototyping or even for full blown websites. This JAMstack thing is growing on me, but I wanted a way to deal with responsive images and thumbnails generation as part of the build process.

Generating all these thumbnails on every build is time consuming, so I wanted something working incrementally. It is also nice to have a central place where you can configure all the image transforms you need. Finally, I wanted something clean that keeps my dist folder free of cruft.

Here is what I wanted these Gulp tasks to do for me:

  1. Copy and optimise images form src to dist only if images in src are newer than images in dist.
  2. Use a simple configuration array of objects to generate and optimise image thumbnails for selected folders in src using ImageMagick.
  3. Delete images and related thumbnails in my dist folder when images are deleted from the src folder or renamed.
  4. Delete unused folders in my dist folder when transform objects are modified in the configuration array or when images in src are moved around.

Let's get to work.

Packages and configuration

Apart from Gulp itself, we will need a few packages to accomplish this:

  • del: delete files and folders
  • deleteEmpty: delete empty folders recursively
  • globby: match files and folders using globs and expose a Promise API
  • gulp-imagemin: minify images
  • gulp-image-resize: resize images using ImageMagick
  • gulp-newer: only pass through source files newer than destination files
  • merge2: merge multiple streams into one stream in sequence or parallel (we will use the parallel option for performance)

After installing these packages with NPM, we need to import them at the top of our gulpfile.js file.

const del = require("del");
const deleteEmpty = require("delete-empty");
const globby = require("globby");
const gulp = require("gulp");
const gulpImagemin = require("gulp-imagemin");
const gulpImageresize = require("gulp-image-resize");
const gulpNewer = require("gulp-newer");
const merge2 = require("merge2");

To configure image transforms, we simply use an array of objects:

const transforms = [
src: "./assets/img/blogposts/*",
dist: "./public/assets/img/blogposts/",
params: {
width: 800,
height: 600,
crop: true
src: "./assets/img/banners/*",
dist: "./public/assets/img/banners/",
params: {
width: 1500,
height: 844,
crop: true

Now that we have everything we need, let's tackle our objectives one by one.

Copy and optimise source images

First, let's simply copy our src images into our dist folder and optimise them. We want that operation to be incremental and only target images in src that are newer than the files already sitting in our dist folder. To do this, we simply use gulp-newer and feed it the path to our dist folder. Job done. Gulp only copies new or modified images.

We'll come back to that img:clean task we specify as a dependency a bit later.

* Copy original images
* - check if images are newer than existing ones
* - if they are, optimise and copy them
* - ignore (empty) directories

gulp.task("img:copy", ["img:clean"], () => {
return gulp.src("./assets/img/**/*", { nodir: true })
progressive: true,
svgoPlugins: [{ removeViewBox: false }, { removeUselessStrokeAndFill: false }]

Create thumbnails

Next, we want to create our thumbnails using ImageMagick. If we only had one image folder to deal with, it would be a trivial task: pipe the images through gulp-newer, then through gulp-image-resize and finally through gulp-imagemin before saving the output to our dist folder.

Here, we have to walk over our configuration array and, for each transform, repeat these operations. If possible, we also want to do it in parallel to optimise our build process.

That's what merge2 is used for. It merges multiple streams into one and, when fed an array of streams, processes them in parallel.

* Make thumbnails
* 1. walk transforms array to build an array of streams
* - get src images
* - check if images in src are newer than images in dist
* - if they are, make thumbnails and minify
* 2. merge streams to create all thumbnails in parallel

gulp.task("img:thumbnails", ["img:clean"], () => {

// create empty streams array for merge2
const streams = [];

// loop through transforms and add to streams array => {

// create a stream for each transform
.pipe(gulpNewer(transform.dist + "thumbs_" + transform.params.width + "x" + transform.params.height))
imageMagick: true,
width: transform.params.width,
height: transform.params.height,
crop: transform.params.crop
progressive: true,
svgoPlugins: [{ removeViewBox: false }, { removeUselessStrokeAndFill: false }]
.pipe(gulp.dest(transform.dist + "thumbs_" + transform.params.width + "x" + transform.params.height))


// merge streams
return merge2(streams);


Our thumbnails have the same filenames as the original images and we store them in subfolders named after the following pattern: "thumbs_[width]x[height]".

For example, if we configure a transform to generate "800" per "600" thumbnails for images in src/assets/images/blogposts, the generated thumbnails will be stored in dist/assets/images/blogposts/thumbs_800x600/.

Clean thumbnails

Here comes the trickier part. Whenever an image in src is deleted, moved or renamed, we need to get rid of both the base image and the relevant generated thumbnails in dist.

Because every image in our dist folder is generated or copied programatically, we can easily write a few lines of code to compare their filepaths with the filepaths of original images in our src folder. If we don't find a match, we know we can safely delete those files from dist.

Looping over a large amount of files and filtering paths can take quite a few miliseconds (which is a long time in Gulp world). We make sure we wait for that process to happen before carrying on by using globby and promises.

* Clean images
* 1. get arrays of filepaths in images src (base images) and dist (base images and thumbnails)
* 2. Diffing process
* - build list of filepaths in src
* - loop through filepaths in dist, remove dist and thumbnails specific parts
* to get both base images and corresponding thumbnails, compare with filepaths in src
* - if no match, add full dist image filepath to delete array
* 3. Delete files (base images and thumbnails)

gulp.task("img:clean", ["img:clean:directories"], () => {

// get arrays of src and dist filepaths (returns array of arrays)
return Promise.all([

globby("./assets/img/**/*", { nodir: true }),
globby("./public/assets/img/**/*", { nodir: true })

.then((paths) => {

// create arrays of filepaths from array of arrays returned by promise
const srcFilepaths = paths[0];
const distFilepaths = paths[1];

// empty array of files to delete
const distFilesToDelete = [];

// diffing => {

// sdistFilepathFiltered: remove dist root folder and thumbs folders names for comparison
const distFilepathFiltered = distFilepath.replace(/\/public/, "").replace(/thumbs_[0-9]+x[0-9]+\//, "");

// check if simplified dist filepath is in array of src simplified filepaths
// if not, add the full path to the distFilesToDelete array
if ( srcFilepaths.indexOf(distFilepathFiltered) === -1 ) {


// return array of files to delete
return distFilesToDelete;

.then((distFilesToDelete) => {

// delete files

.catch((error) => {




That img:clean task and its dependencies are called systematically before thumbnails are generated as well as before src images are copied to dist.

Clean unused thumbnail folders

We might modify our array of transform objects or delete or move all images in a given folder. To keep things tidy, we need to get rid of those useless folders potentially remaining in our dist folder. That's what the img:clean:directories task does.

Using the tried and trusted globby package, we simply loop though all thumbnails folders in dist (that's quite easy since they all use the same generated names), compare them with the array of objects we use to configure all our transforms, and get rid of all the folders that are not in use anymore.

For good measure, we also get rid of all empty thumbnails directories lying around in our dist folder.

* Clean unused directories
* 1. Diffing process between src and dist
* - Build array of all thumbs_xxx directories that should exist using the transforms map
* - Build array of all thumbs_xxx directories actually in dist
* - Diffing: array of all unused thumbnails directories in dist
* 2. Delete files
* 3. Delete all empty folders in dist images

gulp.task("img:clean:directories", () => {
.then((paths) => {

console.log("All thumbs folders: " + paths);

// existing thumbs directories in dist
const distThumbsDirs = paths;

// create array of dirs that should exist by walking transforms map
const srcThumbsDirs = => transform.dist + "thumbs_" + transform.params.width + "x" + transform.params.height + "/");

// array of dirs to delete
const todeleteThumbsDirs = distThumbsDirs.filter((el) => srcThumbsDirs.indexOf(el) === -1);

console.log("To delete thumbs folders: " + todeleteThumbsDirs);

// pass array to next step
return todeleteThumbsDirs;

.then((todeleteThumbsDirs) => {

// deleted diff thumbnails directories

.then(() => {

// delete empty directories in dist images

.catch((error) => {



Create tasks

Finally, we just need to be able to group those tasks under one name for convenience and to setup our watch task.

* We just need img:copy and img:thumbnails.
* All other tasks are dependencies

gulp.task("img", ["img:copy", "img:thumbnails"]);

* watch task

gulp.task("watch", ["browser-sync"], () => {["assets/img/**/*"], ["img"]);

A nice little image pipeline

With a few line of JS, we have a small but powerfull image pipeline built with Gulp and Node that can be used with pretty much any static site generator on the market. Sure, services like Cloudinary and imgIX are great but they are overkill for most of the projects I work on, and it also introduces another dependency. This small project also gave me the opportunity to write some ES6, to work with Promises and to prove once more than, indeed, front-end is not programming.

This series of Gulp tasks should be able to deal with even a large amount of images and is pretty easy to customise to suit your needs if you feel so inclined.

Thanks for reading and don't hesitate to hit me up if you have remarks or comments. Here is the full file as a Gist for reference.