by Pav Sidhu

How I Built My Blog Using Gatsby and Netlify

Photo by Stanley Dai on Unsplash

Can you name a more iconic duo? ?

Years ago, whenever I built a static website, I didn’t use any fancy frameworks or build tools. The only thing I brought into my projects was jQuery, or if I was feeling extra fancy, I used Sass.

Nowadays, we have tools like Gatsby and Netlify, which greatly improve the experience of building static websites. Rather than thinking about boilerplate and configuration (looking at you Webpack), you can just focus on your application.

I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the Gatsby and Netlify flow is the best programming experience I’ve ever had. Let me explain why.

Gatsby

Gatsby is a static site generator that uses React. Everything is configured out of the box including React, Webpack, Prettier, and more.

Since Gatsby builds on top of React, you get all the benefits of React, such as its performance, components, JSX, React library ecosystem, and a large community (React is nearing 100,000 stars on GitHub ?).

If you haven’t used React before, there is a learning curve. But there are plenty of well-written tutorials that make React very accessible. The official React documentation is also very well written.

For many static websites like my blog, I need to use external data sources (my actual blog posts) during the build process. Gatsby provides support for many forms of data, including Markdown, APIs, Databases, and CMSs like WordPress. To access this data, Gatsby uses GraphQL.

Taken straight from the Gatsby website

All my blog posts are in Markdown, so I’m using a Gatsby plugin (gatsby-transformer-remark) that lets me query my Markdown files using GraphQL. It also converts a Markdown file to HTML straight out of the box like magic. I simply need to use the following GraphQL query to access a specific post:

query BlogPostByPath($path: String!) {  markdownRemark(frontmatter: { path: { eq: $path } }) {    frontmatter {      title      date(formatString: "Do MMMM YYYY")    }    html  }}

Using this query, I access the data through my props like so:

const BlogPost = ({ props: { data: { markdownRemark } } }) => (  <div>    <h1>{markdownRemark.title}</h1>    <p>{markdownRemark.date}<p>    <div dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: markdownRemark.html }} />  </div>)

If you understand GraphQL, accessing data from Markdown using Gatsby feels right at home. If GraphQL is new to you, it does add yet another thing to learn. But the documentation on using GraphQL with Gatsby has plenty of information and code snippets that you can use.

If you are building a simple blog with only one or two queries, there are Gatsby starter kits that set up gatsby-transformer-remark and all the querying for you. To speed up development, I used one called gatsby-starter-blog-no-styles.

I am a huge fan of styled-components, so I tried to use it when building this blog. I did encounter an issue, since there was no way for me to specify to gatsby-transformer-remark how to style my components. Instead I had to use plain CSS for styling. I would love to see something like the following in gatsby-config.js :

import styled from 'styled-components'
const Header = styled.h1`  font-size: 24px;  color: #333333;`
module.exports = {  plugins: [    {      resolve: 'gatsby-transformer-remark',      options: {        h1: Header      }    }  ]}

In addition to the ease of actually using Gatsby, the official documentation is very well written and up to date. Each guide in the docs explain concepts of Gatsby so well, it’s likely that in most cases you won’t need to check any third party source of information.

The only difficulty I had with Gatbsy was when I deployed my website. I had a FOUC (flash of unstyled content). I found that upgrading Gatsby from 1.8.12 to 1.9.250 fixed the issue. I’m not too sure why this fixed it, and I assume it must have been an internal issue with Gatsby.

I mean who really wants to see my forehead?

Netlify

Usually, when building a static website, I’ll use GitHub pages because it’s free and fairly easy to set up. Although I still think GitHub pages is a great tool, Netlify takes the process one step further to make the developer experience even more efficient.

Once you’ve hooked up Netlify to your repo, each push to your GitHub repository automatically builds your website, according to the static site generator you’re using, and deploys it to production.

I currently only use Netlify for static site hosting. But it also supports cloud functions, domain management (with SSL), form submissions, a/b testing, and more.

Netlify’s web interface is also clean and easy to use. The difference from AWS is night and day. While AWS is highly configurable, many developers don’t use this functionality. When I first used S3 or Lambda (Amazon’s static file and cloud function services), I spent a considerable amount of time looking up Amazon’s difficult and sometimes out-of-date documentation. There is a whole lot of unneeded complexity and Amazon jargon when using AWS. In comparison, Netlify is a breath of fresh air. It’s one of those services that just works.

The best part about Netlify is that it’s free. If you’re in a large team or need more resources for cloud functions, form submissions, and more, they do have paid options. If you plan on building a small blog like I am, it’s unlikely you’ll need to pay for anything.

TL;DR

Gatsby and Netlify are the easiest way to build and publish a static website. Period.

If you would like an example of how to build a blog using Gatsby, the code for my blog is available on GitHub.

This post was originally published on my blog: How I Built My Blog Using Gatsby and Netlify

Thanks for reading, please ? if you found this useful! I’d love to hear your thoughts on Gatsby and Netlify in the comments.