Tag: Journey

My Long Journey to a Decoupled WordPress Gatsby Site

As a professional research biologist, my playground used to be science laboratories filled with microscopes, petri dishes, and biology tools. Curiosity leads many scientists on their journey to discoveries. Mine led me to web design. I used to try learning HTML on my lab desktop while centrifuging extraction samples or waiting for my samples to thaw or freeze. These wait times are valuable for writing experiment notes and even learn a new skill. For me, this meant learning basic HTML through editors, like HomeSite and later Dreamweaver, as well as many other online resources.

After leaving my science lab desk about a decade ago, I found a new playground. I was introduced to WordPress by a local web developer friend. This changed the course of my life. Learning web design is no longer a downtime activity — it has become the main activity of my daily life.

My first step: Learning theme development

I call myself a WordPress enthusiast and an avid WordPress user. I entered into the world of WordPress by learning to hack themes, my virtual guru“Building Themes from Scratch Using Underscores” by Morten Rand-Hendriksen. While learning to develop themes, I must have watched this tutorial countless times and quickly it became my go-to reference. While doing my learning projects, I often referred to Morten’s GitHub repository to learn from his themes. For my personal sites, I used my own themes which are inspired by Morten’s, like Kuhn, Popper and others.

I also learned how to build plugins and widgets for my own site, but I mostly stayed within theming. I built themes for my personal sites. My personal sites are like my three-ring binders: one for every subject area. My sites discourage search engines and are designed for archiving my personal learning and posting notes. This habit of writing and documenting every aspect of my projects was inspired by “Just Write” by Sara Soueidan.

A call to Learn JavaScript deeply

It all started with Matt Mullenweg‘s  call for WordPress developers to “learn JavaScript deeply” during the 2015 State of the Word address and the subsequent announcement of the Gutenberg block editor. Until then, I was a happy WordPress user and an aspiring WordPress developer. It was reported that JavaScript and API-driven Interfaces are the future of WordPress. Like other WordPress enthusiasts, I also acknowledged that JavaScript was  a must-have skill for WordPress development.

Thus, began my own JavaScript learning journey and road map. I used Zell Liew’s article “Learning JavaScript — where should you start and what to do when you’re stuck?”

Let me share my learning journey with you.

I started by looking at React and REST API-based themes

Since the official integration of the REST API in WordPress core, a few React-based themes have started popping up.

In my opinion, these themes appeared to be experimental. When the Foxhound theme was released, it was covered in CSS-Tricks as well as WordPress Tavern. I downloaded it to my test site, and it worked fine; however, I could not hack and learn from it given my limited familiarity with JavaScript and React.

I started digging into React

I used Robin Wieruch’s article “JavaScript fundamentals before learning React” as my JavaScript/React learning road map. While struggling to learn and understand React routing, I discovered Gatsby which utilizes @reach/router as a built-in feature, making routing a breeze. In my brief exploratory research, I learned that Gatsby is indeed a “React-based framework that helps developers build blazing fast websites and apps.” This led me to learn Gatsby while continuing to make progress on React. After a while, I immersed myself in my Gatsby projects and only occasionally returned to learning basic JavaScript and React.

I picked up Gatsby

Given that I had already done several small learning projects in React, understanding Gatsby was natural. Gatsby is said to be aimed at developers and not users. I did not find it that hard to learn and run my own simple Gatsby test sites.

Gatsby’s documentation and tutorials are well-written, helpful, and easy to follow. I decided to learn Gatsby using its tutorials and completing all eight parts as a means of “learning by doing.” While working on my projects, I consulted other guides and tutorial posts. The following two guides helped me to understand build concepts, add functionality and put together a reasonable Gatsby demo site:

For styling React components, there are several options which are covered on CSS-Trick. Some options include local inline CSS-in-JS, styled components and modular CSS. Gatsby components can also be styled with Sass using gatsby-plugin-sass, which makes the code more readable. Because of its familiarity and code readability, I chose styling with Sass; however, I recognize the value of CSS modules as well.

Resources for integrating Gatsby and WordPress

My Gatsby learning didn’t stop there. In fact, Gatsby has been the most significant part of my learning curve more recently. Here’s everything I found throughout my learning journey that I hope will serve you as well on your own journey.

There are many sites already running on Gatsby. Those who have migrated to Gatsby seem to be happy, especially with the blazingly fast speed and the improved security it offers.

Commenting in Gatsby

WordPress has natively supported comments for a long, long time. Gatsby sites are serverless-static, so posting comments is an issue since they are dynamic and requires a client side service.

Some Gatsby and React developers seem to leave commenting and interactions on their own personal sites to Twitter. Others seem to reach for Disqus. If you are interested, this Northstack tutorial describes in detail how to bring WordPress comments over to Gatsby.

WordPress Gatsby themes

I first became aware of WordPress ported Tabor for Gatsby theme from WordPress Tavern. It was developed by Rich Tabor and is freely available on GitHub (demo). From there, two WordPress-inspired Gatsby themes became available through the Gatsby Theme Jam project. One was by Alexandra Spalato called Gatsby Theme WordPress Starter (demo) and the other by Andrey Shalashov called WordPress Source Theme (demo).

In 2019, a team of Gatsby and WPGraphQL developers led by Jason Bahl, Muhammad Muhsin, Alexandra Spalato, and Zac Gordon announced a project that ports WordPress themes to Gatsby. Zac, talking to WordPress Tavern, said the project would offer both free and paid premium themes. At the time of this writing, five themes were listed with no free download.

Decoupled Gatsby WordPress starters

The current Gatsby starer library lists ten WordPress-compatible starter themes, including a more recent one by Henrik Wirth that ports the WordPress Twenty Twenty theme — stylesheets and fonts — to Gatsby. Although the theme is still a work-in-progress with some limitations (e.g. no support for tags, monthly archives, and comments). Nevertheless, it is a great project and uses a new experimental Gatsby Source plugin for WordPress.

Another popular starter is gatsby-starter-wordpress by Gatsby Central.

Gatsby WordPress themes from GitHub

There are other popular Gatsby themes that are available at GitHub. The Twenty Nineteen WordPress Gatsby Theme is a port of the Twenty Nineteen WordPress Theme by Zac Gordon and Muhammad Muhsin.

Experimental plugins

There are also two new GraphQL plugins for WordPress that are under development and only available on GitHub at the moment. One is Gatsby Source WordPress Experimental by Tyler Barnes. This is a re-written version of current Gatsby Source WordPress plugin using WPGraphQL for data sourcing, as well as a custom WPGatsby plugin that transforms WPGraphQL schema in Gatsby-specific ways.

The other one is Gatsby WordPress Gutenberg which is still being developed by Peter Pristas. Its documentation is available over at the GatsbyWPGutenberg Docs site.

Step-by-step guides

Despite the ongoing progress in Gatsby WordPress theme development, I could not locate any detailed how-to guides written for beginners like me. Mohammad Mohsin wrote up a thorough guide over at Smashing magazine in 2018, explaining how he developed his Celestial React theme using the WordPress REST API. The other tutorial is another one he wrote about porting the Twenty Nineteen WordPress Theme to Gatsby, which uses WPGraphQL for WordPress data sourcing.

More recently, there have been two additional guides that I’ve benefited from:

Finally, my own partially ported Gatsby site

Everything covered so far is what has fueled me to create my own WordPress Gatsby site. While it was a large technical task, the guides I’ve referenced, in addition to the experimental plugins and existing documentation for Gatsby made it so much easier than if I had attempted to figure it out on my own.

Here is the result. While it’s still a work in progress, it’s awesome to see it working. I’ve written up a complete step-by-step walkthrough on how I made it, which will publish next week here on CSS-Tricks. So stay tuned!

What’s next on the horizon for Gatsby and WordPress?

I am still keeping my eyes on the two experimental WordPress plugins I mentioned earlier. I plan to revisit the project once those are officially released, hopefully in the WordPress Plugin Directory. This recent tweet thread highlights the current status of porting content from the WordPress block editor to a decoupled WordPress Gatsby theme.

In a recent WordCamp Spain 2020 session, Matt Mullenweg said that the demand for decoupled WordPress sites is growing:

But for people who are building more advanced applications or have some sort of constraint on their website where they need the React frontend, I think the decoupled use case of WordPress is stronger than ever. 

Dan Abramov agrees:

Taking with Sarah Gooding of WPTavern, Gatsby WP Themes project members Zac Gordon and Jason Bahl also confessed that the “most current Gatsby WordPress themes are directed for businesses and developers, they are not suitable for beginners.” Let’s hope the future fixes that!

My personal take

Based on my very limited experience, I think that currently available Gatsby WordPress themes are not ready for prime time use for users like me. Yeah, it is exciting to try something on the bleeding edge that’s clearly in the minds of many WordPress users and developers. At the same time, the constantly evolving work being done on the WordPress block editor, WPGraphQL and Gatsby source WordPress plugins makes it difficult to predict where things are going and when it will settle into a state where it is safe to use in other contexts. Until then, it’s a frustrating experience to work on something only to have the API or the interface change on you.

For my own personal uses, a normal Gatsby site is enough, I could get content with Markdown files without any hassles associated with decoupling WordPress. For larger agency sites… I can see why having a decoupled solution would make a lot of sense for them and their clients.

Remember, I’ll be sharing my tutorial next week — see you then!

The post My Long Journey to a Decoupled WordPress Gatsby Site appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

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A Beginner’s Journey to Launching a Website

In September 2018, I was just a few months into my journey of learning web development. As I’m sure is the case with many new developers, it was a big task for me to learn not only the basic skills required, but also keeping current with the fast-moving industry. Just as I was getting to the level where it felt as though I could build a simple website, I started to realize that it was only the first step.

Opening up a few HTML pages stored locally on my laptop felt like a million miles away from being able to say to someone, “Hey, check out my website, live on the actual internet!”

But I did it! And the best part is that it wasn’t as scary, difficult or expensive as it first felt like it’d be.

It all started with me sending Chris an email, which he used to write an awesome article explaining everything in plain English.

At this point, I didn’t have a fully coded website — just an idea for a basic site that I was using to teach myself as I went along. I used the ongoing progress of my site as a push to learn how to get a live website quicker. But I’m sure you could do the whole thing with an HTML document that just says “Hello, world!”

I built my site using Gatsby, a static site generator powered by React. Building a website with these tools in a modular way felt really natural to me. The concept of reusable parts is something I’m familiar with in my career as a physical product designer and mechanical design engineer. It means that you can build in stages, like Lego, brick-by-brick, until you eventually have a life-sized castle you can invite your friends to visit!

This isn’t a guide. It’s my personal experience in the process of getting a website from my laptop to being live on the internet. Hopefully it’ll give you some hope that it’s possible and achievable, even by someone who has no formal training in web development and who has only been doing it for 12 months!

Domain registrars

Before I ever bought a domain, it seemed like a pretty serious thing to do. Owning a domain means being responsible for it. People will go to that address and eventually see content that you’ve put there.

I don’t know if everyone has the same experience, but I spent weeks deciding on a domain name before going for it. It almost became an obsession of mine for a while, searching online for acronym generators to try and be clever, spending hours on dictionary.com trying to find synonyms that were cool. In the end, I settled for my name and what I do: joshlong.design. I still smile a little when I see my name in the address bar.

Since reading Chris’ article, I’ve actually bought two domains from two different providers: a .com and a .design. I realize that I went against Chris’ advice of consolidating domain names at a single registrar, but I needed to shop around a bit to get a good deal on my .design domain. I only own two domain names — and one of them I don’t actually have any plans for just yet — so keeping on top of where I bought them isn’t a task. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I needed to login and manage the domain I use on a daily basis!

Buying a domain name was as simple as any other online shopping transaction. Nothing really huge or scary about it. I bought my .com through Namecheap, and my .design through Google Domains, and the process was pretty similar for both. All they needed was my name, address and payment details. Pretty standard stuff!

I don’t remember Google trying to sell me a load of extra packages. They seemed happy with me just buying a domain, though they did offer me free WHOIS protection which I snapped up because I didn’t want my contact details freely available for anyone who’s feeling nosey. However, as Chris warned might happen, the other registrar I went through tried really hard to sell me some extras like hosting, email, a VPN (whatever that is!) and SSL certificates.

Google Domains checkout is happy just to sell the domain name.
Namecheap tries to sell you all the additional services they offer before getting to the checkout.

I didn’t go for any of those extras. I already had a hosting plan, and you can use an alias through Gmail to “fake” having a me@mycoolsite.com email address. I honestly have no idea why I’d need a VPN, and the hosting I was going to go for gave me a free SSL certificate through Let’s Encrypt. So just the domain name, please!


As Chris suggested it would be, choosing a host was a tad trickier than choosing and buying a domain name. But in the end, the web technology I used to build my site kind of guided me in a particular direction.

My site is built with Gatsby, which means it outputs straight-up static assets, basically as HTML and JavaScript files. That means that I didn’t need a host that offered a server (in my most super smart authoritative voice), especially for WordPress with a MySQL database and Apache server, 6 cores @ 3.6 Ghz, 4GB RAM, 5TB bandwidth, 5 IP Addresses and 500GB SSD Storage, etc.

All that jargon goes straight over my head. All I wanted to do was upload my files to the internet and go to my domain to see them all compiled and shiny. Should be easy, right?

Well it turns out that it actually was that easy. As there’s been so much hype around it recently, I thought I’d take a look at Netlify.

Netlify is recommended by Gatsby. They have really good documentation, and for my uses I felt as though I could comfortably stay within the free tier that they offer. In fact, at the moment I’m using 0.08% a month of the total bandwidth the free tier offers. Winning! Although maybe that means I’m not doing enough to get people to my site…

A quick aside about GitHub: I’m no expert at it and I don’t really know any of the etiquette it entails. All I did was sign up, create a new repository and follow the instructions that they give you. After that, every time I made a change to my site, I used the buttons in my code editor (VS Code) to commit and push my changes. It works, but I have no idea if it’s the correct or best practice way of doing it! I’m starting now, though, to understand how to use Git through the command line. I had no idea at all how to do it when I started, but I still muddled through it — and you can too!

Back to Netlify.

I signed up for an account (no credit card details required) and added a new site to Netlify by telling it about the GitHub repository where it was stored. When you’ve connected your repository, you can watch Netlify doing its thing deploying your site.

Part of the Netlify’s deploy process is that it shows your website going live in real time. That’s useful for debugging if something goes wrong, or just to watch and get excited like an impatient puppy waiting for a biscuit.
You also get a deploy summary to quickly see what files were uploaded during deployment.

After my site was deployed to the randomly generated URL Netlify gives you, I followed their instructions for adding a domain I had registered elsewhere. They make it so easy!

I assume the instructions will be different for different hosts, but basically, Netlify gave me some server addresses which I then had to go back to my domain registrar to enter them in. These addresses are referred to as nameservers, so look out for that word!

Netlify gives you your nameserver addresses and super easy to understand documentation to set them up with your domain registrar

Once I entered my Netlify nameservers into Google Domains, Google knew where to look to send people who type my domain name into their browser’s address bar. All I had to do after that was wait for some internet magics to happen in the background. That took around three hours for me but can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 24 hours from what I hear.

After that was done, I could type my shiny new domain name into the address bar and — just like that — I’m looking at my own site, hosted live on the internet!

Content Management Systems

The world of Content Management Systems (CMS) is vast, and confusing, but it can also be completely irrelevant to you if you want it to be. I felt so liberated when I realized you don’t have to worry about it. It was one less thing in my list of things to do.

My Gatsby site posts and pages (my content) was just a directory of markdown files and my CMS was my text editor. Chris and Dave talked about the idea of this in a recent episode of ShopTalk Show.

My website content is managed right in my text editor, VS Code.

Because I wanted to have a standard structure for different types of posts and pages, I eventually started using NetlifyCMS which is an open-source CMS which can be included in your site real fast. (Chris also did a video recently about NetlifyCMS for his confer-reference site… see what I did there?!) Now I can create blog posts and drafts from anywhere in the world, straight from my website, as long as I have an internet connection!

The same content managed through NetlifyCMS, which offers a great UI and GitHub integration

Asset Hosting (CDNs)

A Content Delivery Network (CDN), as Chris explained in his article, is basically somewhere on the internet where you store the files you need for your website to run, HTML, CSS, images, etc. When your website needs them, it goes to the CDN and grabs the files for your site to use.

From what I’ve read, it’s good practice to use a CDN, and because of the hosting decision I made, it’s not something I have to worry about – it’s included by Netlify as standard, for free!

Netlify has it’s own CDN where all of the files for your website are stored. When someone goes to your website, Netlify goes to its CDN and grabs the files. It’s amazingly quick, and makes your site feel so much smoother to navigate.

It’s a long journey, but you can do it!

There was a point, before I set off on the journey of getting my website live, where I tried to convince myself that it’s fine to just have local websites, as my career isn’t in web development. The reason for that was because the path felt like it would be difficult, long and expensive.

In fact, it was none of those things! You could get a website live on the internet for £0.99 (~$ 1.25 for you Americans) or less if you find a deal on a domain name. The domain name was my only expense because for the path I took for hosting, asset management and content management.

At a super basic level, the path looks like this..

Code > Buy Domain > Find/Buy Hosting > Update Nameservers > Upload Code > Live!

If you happen to use the same vendor to buy your domain name and your hosting, you can skip the nameserver step. (Netlify sells domains too!)

It’s definitely possible for anyone to get their website live on the internet. There’s a process that you need to follow, but if you take your time, it can be relatively straightforward. It’s a really wonderful feeling, getting a thing you built in front of people, and it’s honestly something that I thought I’d never be able to do. But it’s certainly within everyone’s reach!

Something I’ve come to really admire over this process (and thousands of Google searches) is the willingness of everyone in the web community to collaborate and help, accepting me and my questions as I tried to learn what I was doing. It’s something that I wish was more common in my own industry.

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences getting their first website live. What were your pitfalls and triumphs? Was it as scary as it first seemed?

The post A Beginner’s Journey to Launching a Website appeared first on CSS-Tricks.


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