The Frontend Builds article series

Welcome to the third part of this article series. If you didn’t read the other parts, check them out now.

The idea

Frontend Apps can quickly be built for a various range of platforms. You can use Apache Crodova for building cross-platform mobile apps. For building cross-platform desktop apps, you can either use Electron or NW.js.

No matter which one you’re using (NW.js / Cordova / electron), all of them will utilize our Frontend App (x-note) and package it for distribution to the requested platforms. During this post I’d like to address desktop builds using NW.js, Cordova builds will be addressed within the upcoming post.

NW.js desktop builds

The build already contained a sample implementation for the NW.js build (see gulptasks/desktop.js).

gulp.task('private:build:nw', function(done) {
    var nw = new tasks.NwBuilder({
        files: 'dist/**/*',
        version: '0.12.3',
        platforms: ['osx64']

The underlying npm module nw-builder (see package.json’s devDependencies) is offering way more options and settings that you can – and we will do so in a minute – use to configure desktop builds concerning all ordinary requirements.

Adding / Compiling for more platforms

Use the platforms property to specify which platforms you’re app should be compiled for. You can choose from five different platforms (osx64, linux32, linux64, win32 and win64).

Let’s change our private:build:nw task to build for all available platforms now.

// ...
    platforms: ['win32', 'win64', 'osx64', 'linux32', 'linux64']
// ...

nw-builder documentation says that there is an osx32 platform which is true, but the support for osx32 has been dropped with 0.13.0-alpha.

If you’re using a Mac for development, you’re okay with those settings. OS-X can build apps for all platforms. I’ve never tried to execute such a task on Windows. If you’ve problems when executing this task on windows, post a comment, and I’ll look into that.

Dealing with cacheDir and buildDir

By default, the cacheDir will be placed within your project’s directory. This is fine for some developers, but not for me. I’ve multiple projects that are compiling to all platforms using NW.js, so each project/app would have its downloads of NW.js’ executables. Using a dead simple trick, you can minimize the required downloads and stop wasting your hard disk with the same files for every project.

First, update gulpfile.js and add the node path module to the tasks object using.

path: require('path'),

That said, add the following line of code inside of the private:build:nw right before instantiating NwBuilder.

var homeDir = process.env.HOME || process.env.HOMEPATH || process.env.USERPROFILE;

Finally set the cacheDir property like shown below.

cacheDir: tasks.path.join(homeDir, '.cache'),

The buildDir property specifies where the compiled apps will be placed. By default, all compiled apps go to the build sub-folder. If you want to change that location, specify a directory. You can either specify a relative or an absolute path. For demonstrating purpose let’s change the default buildDir to a subfolder called desktop-builds by adding the following line of code

buildDir: tasks.path.join(process.cwd(), "desktop-build"),

Specifying Icons

Many people asked me how to specify custom icons for desktop executables. For the Mac App, it’s pretty easy, specify the macIcns property and point it to your .icns file. nw-builder will automatically set the icns file as the application icon.

If you’re building NW.js apps on Windows, you can specify the winIco and point to a .ico File. The build pipeline will take care of everything else. If you’re running on OS-X or Linux, follow this Guide to set up all required tools for including the .ico file into the executables from OS-X or Linux.

In our x-note app, we specify the icon paths like this.

macIcns: 'assets/x-note.icns',
// winIco: 'assets/x-note.ico'
// uncomment the line above only if you've finished the the guide above

Zip app contents for Mac App

When building the app for the OS-X platform, you can set the macZip to true. However, be aware when setting this property to true, the startup time on OS-X will increase because NW.js has to decompress your app for each start on-the-fly.

This property defaults to false.

More properties for desktop builds

There are plenty more properties available for nw-builder go and check out the following documentation on github.

Go ahead …

.. so read the next article in the “Frontend Build” article series.