Watching Sass in Eleventy

By Steve Stedman

I’ve been using node-sass in my 11ty workflow for awhile now but, for whatever reason, couldn’t get the --watch flag to work. This meant that, for any SCSS update, I’d have to toggle back to the command line and manually run npx node-sass src/_sass/_main.scss dist/css/main.css or an npm script shortcut for the same.

Well, I finally had enough and came up with something that works for me. It might just work for you so I’m sharing the details here.

  1. Make sure node-sass is installed.

    npm install --save-dev node-sass
  2. Open a new file, name it _includes/sass-watch.js, and drop in the following code.

    const fs = require('fs');
    const path = require('path');
    const sass = require('node-sass');

    // Generate and save CSS.
    const generateCss = (_scssPath, _cssPath) => {
    // Encapsulate rendered css from _scssPath into renderedCss variable
    const renderedCss = sass.renderSync({ file: _scssPath });

    // Then write result css string to _cssPath file
    fs.writeFile(_cssPath, renderedCss.css.toString(), (writeErr) => {
    if (writeErr) throw writeErr;

    console.log(`CSS file saved: ${_cssPath}`);

    module.exports = (scssPath, cssPath) => {
    // If cssPath directory doesn't already exist, add it...
    if (!fs.existsSync(path.dirname(cssPath))) {
    console.log(`Creating new CSS directory: ${path.dirname(cssPath)}/`);

    // Create cssPath directory recursively
    fs.mkdir(path.dirname(cssPath), { recursive: true }, (mkdirErr) => {
    if (mkdirErr) throw mkdirErr;

    console.log('CSS directory created.');

    generateCss(scssPath, cssPath);

    // Generate CSS on startup
    generateCss(scssPath, cssPath);

    // Use Node's to catch subsequent changes to scssPath directory, (evType, filename) => {
    console.log(`SCSS file changed: ${path.dirname(scssPath)}/${filename}`);

    generateCss(scssPath, cssPath);
  3. Edit .eleventy.js so that it now includes the following sass-watch bits.

    const sassWatch = require('./_includes/sass-watch');

    module.exports = function (eleventyConfig) {
    // Watch Sass directory for styling changes.
    // Works only if you set the ELEVENTY_ENV to 'dev'.
    if (process.env.ELEVENTY_ENV === 'dev') {
    sassWatch('./src/_sass/_main.scss', './dist/css/main.css');

    Sharp-eyed folks will notice that the script above won’t run unless there’s an ELEVENTY_ENV environment variable set. This is to prevent sass-watch from running in production where it isn’t needed and might just cause mischief.

    For local development, I set the ELEVENTY_ENV variable to dev in two places but mostly rely on the VSCode debugger for daily use.

    1. Command line: package.json start script:

      "start": "ELEVENTY_ENV=dev eleventy --serve --watch"
    2. VSCode: .vscode/launch.json script:

      "version": "0.2.0",
      "configurations": [
      "type": "node",
      "request": "launch",
      "name": "Launch 11ty",
      "program": "${workspaceFolder}/node_modules/@11ty/eleventy/cmd.js",
      "args": [
      "env": {
      "ELEVENTY_ENV": "dev"
  4. Start Eleventy again via command line (npm start) or VSCode via the Debugger, all subsequent changes to Sass files should initiate an automatic build and the browser should refresh with the changes.

Conclusion permalink

I sincerely hope there’s a better solution for kicking-off Sass builds from file changes. If you can enlighten me, please reach out on Twitter @stedman.

Until then, I’ll be happily updating Sass and watching the changes show up in my browser.