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less-middleware: using LESS with node.js

March 16, 2013

LESS is a great way to write CSS, allowing you to use variables, nested rules, mixins, and many other useful features. If nothing else, I think it helps you better organize your CSS. Recently I've been playing around with Node.js, and wanted to use the less-middleware package so that I could easily use LESS within my application. The less-middleware package automatically handles compiling your LESS code to CSS once you have it configured. Configuration is simple if you store you LESS and CSS in the default locations, but I wanted to use different paths for my source and destination directories. The documentation was a little confusing here, so I thought I'd write up what I found.

If you specify a different "src" and "dest" directory, you must also supply the "prefix" option, and it must match the path after "public" in your destination directory. An example may be a bit easier to follow:

var lessMiddleware = require("less-middleware");

  src: __dirname + "/less",
  dest: __dirname + "/public/css",
  // if you're using a different src/dest directory, you
  // MUST include the prefex, which matches the dest
  // public directory
  prefix: "/css",
  // force true recompiles on every request... not the
  // best for production, but fine in debug while working
  // through changes
  force: true
app.use(express.static(__dirname + "/public"));

In this example, I've configured the source directory to the "/less" directory within the root of my application. I've also stated I want the compiled CSS output to the "/public/css" directory within the root of my application. At the time of this writing, this did not work unless you also specify the "prefix" which matches the path after my "/public" directory. So in this case, I must use "/css" as the prefix. (I've also specified "force: true" so that the less-middleware package compiles my LESS to CSS on every request, which I recommend while your developing.)

All that's left is to include your CSS file in your HTML:

<link rel="stylesheet", type="text/css", href="css/styles.css">

More Examples

If you need more help in understanding how to use LESS within your Node based projects, you can check out some of my projects on GitHub. Specifically, the simple-todo application I wrote to review Backbone.js uses LESS and less-middleware. In my app.js file I use the same configuration stated above (although since I'm done developing it, I've commented out the "force: true" option). I also store my LESS file in the "less" directory within the root of the application. My compiled CSS is output in the "public/css" directory, which you'll see is not checked in to GitHub. I've purposely ignored the directory within my .gitignore file ("public/css/*") so I only check in the source LESS and not the compiled CSS. Feel free to clone the project and play around with it to understand how to use less-middleware further.