Building my blog with Gatsby, TypeScript, Tailwind, and Netlify CMS


For the last several weeks as I’ve been searching for a new job I have been surprised to find that not only is React a whole lot hotter than Angular where I am in Seattle, but it’s honestly not even really close. I have spent the last 2.5 years on a weird little island doing consulting work where I could freely pick the tech stack for client projects and I tended to err on the side of what I knew best (i.e. Angular) so that my time wasn’t spent fiddling around with a unfamiliar technology.

Now that I’ve come back from my blissfully unaware island, it really feels like my corner of the web development world (i.e. the somewhere-between-a-startup-and-a-small-company world) has more or less left Angular in the past and is significantly more focused on React and to a lesser extent Vue. I have only ever worked with these two technologies a tiny bit and I felt like if I wanted to stay sharp on what is in demand, I should get a bit more experience with React under my belt - so I decided to indulge a long time I should really build a blog feeling and…well, build a blog.

You are reading this on the blog that I built with GatsbyJS, a framework for taking components written in React, filling them up with data sourced from a GraphQL layer that supports a really diverse set of data sources, and spitting out pre-rendered “static” content that is much friendlier for SEO in the same way that server rendered content is, and which can then be “re-hydrated” into a fully dynamic React application on the client - I think it’s incredibly neat technology!

Project objectives

There were a few goals I had with this project (besides the previously stated “build a blog in React”):

  • Build it as an open source project which serves as a demo of how to build such a blog

    🎉 All source code for this blog can be found on my GitHub profile: andrewbrey/console.blog

  • Incorporate TailwindCSS (and possibly Tailwind UI) which has quickly become my favorite way to build and style web content
  • Build the React components in TypeScript instead of using PropTypes for type checking

    Incidentally, I read a post on the React Native blog this week where there was discussion of moving the code base to using build-time type checking (presumably by moving to TypeScript?) rather than using run-time checking - does this imply PropTypes enforce run-time type safety? I need to look into this more…

  • Get it hooked up to Netlify and Netlify CMS for builds, deploys, and content management

Diving in to the details

As mentioned before, this whole project is open source and MIT licensed so feel free to skip this write up and dig in to the code if that’s more your thing, but if you’re interested in my color-commentary on the experience of building, read on!

Overview

There are a few bullet points outside of the project objectives that I think are worthy of mention that I’ll present here in a group:

  • All of the content for the blog is written in Markdown as part of the git repository for the blog source code. The .md files are transformed into HTML through a series of Gatsby plugins, collectively found in a file called remark.plugin.ts which is part of the overall Gatsby framework configuration. As you might guess, the plugin is called Remark and it has several accompanying plugins that do things like extract referenced images to the static asset folder upon build, calculate the reading time for a post based on the number of words, and add code syntax highlighting to code fenced snippets.
  • If you look at the markdown stuff just mentioned, you’ll see that I have all of the framework configuration in a “non-standard” location (at least as far as I’ve seen on other Gatsby blogs), namely a config directory. The code is also written in TypeScript and I leverage ts-node within the “normal” configuration files to allow me to import .ts code into the typical .js configs.
  • I’m using several other plugins for things like the rss feed, the sitemap, and the Netlify redirect/header/caching rules - many of these plugins require no manual configuration for my use case.
  • You’ll notice that I have a .devcontainer directory that has some Docker related content inside. This is configuration that allows me to run my local development environment inside of a container and attach my (container host) instance of the Visual Studio Code GUI to the running container instance. I get the isolation, reproducibility, and portability of containers with the nice editor experience and tools of vscode - a very nice combination! If you’re interested in learning more, check out the vscode article on developing inside containers.

Using TailwindCSS

There is a Gatsby plugin for TailwindCSS, but I opted to instead add Tailwind myself using the “preferred” installation method discussed on the Tailwind documentation site which meant using PostCSS. This worked better for me as I knew I was going to be adding other PostCSS plugins (namely PurgeCSS and Autoprefixer) and I wanted to have as little Gatsby dependency as I could for this set of configurations. After adding the PostCSS plugin, I was off to the races.

Using TypeScript

Again, this was pretty straight forward - just install the Gatsby TypeScript plugin and add a ts-config.json to the root of the project! Don’t forget to also add ts-node as a devDependency in your package.json so that you can make use of .ts and .tsx files in your Gatsby configurations.

Using Netlify and Netlify CMS

This was the goal that took the most fiddling to get working exactly right. In order to generate Netlify deployment configuration files when you run gasby build, you need only add the Netlify plugin with no extra configuration, but in order to use Netlify CMS (which is a git based static site generator CMS) I ended up having to take more manual control of the configuration than I originally wanted. To facilitate this, I grabbed the Netlify CMS plugin, which generates the admin page on your behalf, and critically, has support for customizing the runtime CMS configuration within js/ts (which I have done in src/cms/index.tsx). This allows me to run the CMS using a local git proxy server (also a Netlify offering, see the beta features documentation for details) when I’m in my local environment, and using the real Netlify git proxy API in production, all without maintaining local file modifications that I have to remember to stash before committing!

Another thing I customized in here was the blog post preview template which allowed me to make the admin editing experience produce a preview that looks just like (well, very close to) the final rendered site which is very helpful!

That’s about it for the tour - there is more code in there but a lot of this an adaptation of the Gatsby stater blog template so it should be close to familiar to anyone who has toured other Gatsby blog repositories - this just has a sprinkling of my personal preferences and technology choices on top!

Cheers!



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