Tag: Netlify

The Power of Serverless v2.0! (Now an Open-Source Gatsby Site Hosted on Netlify)

I created a website called The Power of Serverless for Front-End Developers over at thepowerofserverless.info a little while back while I was learning about that whole idea. I know a little more now but still have an endless amount to learn. Still, I felt like it was time to revamp that site a bit.

For one thing, just like our little conferences website, the new site is a subdomain of this very site:


Why? What’s this site all about?

The whole idea behind the serverless buzzword is a pretty big deal. Rather than maintaining your own servers, which you already buy from some other company, you architect your app such that everything is run on commoditized servers you access on-demand instead.

Hosting becomes static, which is rife with advantages. Just look at Netlify who offer blazing-fast static hosting and innovate around the developer experience. The bits you still need back-end services for run in cloud functions that are cheap and efficient.

This is a big deal for front-end developers. We’ve already seen a massive growth in what we are capable of doing on the front end, thanks to the expanding power of JavaScript. Now a JavaScript developer can be building entire websites from end-to-end with the JAMstack concept.

But you still need to know how to string it all together. Who do you use to process forms? Where do you store the data? What can I use for user authentication? What content management systems are available in this world? That’s what this site is all about! I’d like the site to be able to explain the concept and offer resources, but more importantly, be a directory to the slew of services out there that make up this new serverless world.

The site also features a section containing ideas that might help you figure out how you might use serverless technology. Perhaps you’ll even take a spin making a serverless site.

Design by Kylie Timpani and illustration by Geri Coady

Kylie Timpani (yes, the same Kylie who worked on the v17 design of this site!) did all the visual design for this project.

Geri Coady did all the illustration work.

If anything looks off or weird, blame my poor implementation of their work. I’m still making my way through checklists of improvements as we speak. Sometimes you just gotta launch things and improve as you go.

Everything is on GitHub and contributions are welcome

It’s all right here.

I’d appreciate any help cleaning up copy, adding services, making it more accessible… really anything you think would improve the site. Feel free to link up your own work, although I tend to find that contributions are stronger when you are propping up someone else rather than yourself. It’s ultimately my call whether your pull request is accepted. That might be subjective sometimes.

Before doing anything dramatic, probably best to talk it out by emailing me or opening an issue. There’s already a handful of issues in there.

I suspect companies that exist in this space will be interested in being represented in here somewhere, and I’m cool with that. Go for it. Perhaps we can open up some kind of sponsorship opportunities as well.

Creating with components: A good idea

I went with Gatsby for this project. A little site like this (a couple of pages of static content) deserves to be rendered entirely server-side. Gatsby does that, even though you work entirely in React, which is generally thought of as a client-side technology. Next.js and react-static are similar in spirit.

I purposely wanted to work in JavaScript because I feel like JavaScript has been doing the best job around the idea of architecting sites in components. Sure, you could sling some partials and pass local variables in Rails partials or Nunjucks includes, but it’s a far cry from the versatility you get in a framework like React, Vue or Angular that are designing entirely to help build components for the front end.

The fact that these JavaScript frameworks are getting first-class server-side rendering stories is big. Plus, after the site’s initial render, the site “hydrates” and you end up getting that SPA feel anyway… fantastic. Yet another thing that shows how a JavaScript-focused front-end developer is getting more and more powerful.

As an aside: I don’t have much experience with more complicated content data structures and JAMstack sites. I suspect once you’ve gone past this “little simple cards of data” structure, you might be beyond what front-matter Markdown files are best suited toward and need to get into a more full-fledged CMS situation, hopefully with a GraphQL endpoint to get whatever you need. Ripe space, for sure.

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Netlify Functions for Sending Emails

Let’s say you’re rocking a JAMstack-style site (no server-side languages in use), but you want to do something rather dynamic like send an email. Not a problem! That’s the whole point of JAMstack. It’s not just static hosting. It’s that plus doing anything else you wanna do through JavaScript and APIs.

Here’s the setup: You need a service to help you send the email. Let’s just pick Sparkpost out of a hat. There are a number of them, and I’ll leave comparing their features and pricing to you, as we’re doing something extremely basic and low-volume here. To send an email with Sparkpost, you hit their API with your API key, provide information about the email you want to send, and Sparkpost sends it.

So, you’ll need to run a little server-side code to protect your API key during the API request. Where can you run that code? A Lambda is perfect for that (aka a serverless function or cloud function). There are lots of services to help you run these, but none are easier than Netlify, where you might be hosting your site anyway.

Get Sparkpost ready

I signed up for Sparkpost and made sure my account was all set up and verified. The dashboard there will give you an API key:

Toss that API Key into Netlify

Part of protecting our API key is making sure it’s only used in server-side code, but also that we keep it out of our Git repository. Netlify has environment variables that expose it to functions as needed, so we’ll plop it there:

Let’s spin up Netlify Dev, as that’ll make this easy to work with

Netlify Dev is a magical little tool that does stuff like run our static site generator for us. For the site I’m working on, I use Eleventy and Netlify Dev auto-detects and auto-runs it, which is super neat. But more importantly, for us, it gives us a local URL that runs our functions for testing.

Once it’s all installed, running it should look like this:

In the terminal screenshot above, it shows the website itself being spun up at localhost:8080, but it also says:

◈ Lambda server is listening on 59629

That’ll be very useful in a moment when we’re writing and testing our new function — which, by the way, we can scaffold out if we’d like. For example:

netlify functions:create --name hello-world

From there, it will ask some questions and then make a function. Pretty useful to get started quickly. We’ll cover writing that function in a moment, but first, let’s use this…

Sparkpost has their own Node lib

Sparkpost has an API, of course, for sending these emails. We could look at those docs and learn how to hit their URL endpoints with the correct data.

But things get even easier with their Node.js bindings. Let’s get this set up by creating all the folders and files we’ll need:

/project    ... your entire website or whatever ...    /functions/       /send-email/          package.json          send-email.js

All we need the package.json</code file for is to yank in the Sparkpost library, so <code>npm install sparkpost --save-dev will do the trick there.

Then the send-email.js imports that lib and uses it:

const SparkPost = require('sparkpost'); const client = new SparkPost(process.env.SPARKPOST);  exports.handler = function(event, context, callback) {   client.transmissions     .send({       content: {         from: 'chris@css-tricks.com',         subject: 'Hello, World!',         html:           "<html><body><p>My cool email.</p></body></html>"       },     recipients: [{ address: 'chriscoyier@gmail.com' }]   }); }

You’ll want to look at their docs for error handling and whatnot. Again, we’ve just chosen Sparkpost out of a hat here. Any email sending service will have an API and helper code for popular languages.

Notice line 2! That’s where we need the API key, and we don’t need to hard-code it because Netlify Dev is so darn fancy that it will connect to Netlify and let us use the environment variable from there.

Test the function

When Netlify Dev is running, our Lamba functions have that special port they are running. We’ll be able to have a URL like this to run the function:


This function is set up to run when it’s hit, so we could simply visit that in a browser to run it.


Maybe you’ll POST to this URL. Maybe you’ll send the body of the email. Maybe you’ll send the recipient’s email address. It would be nice to have a testing environment for all of this.

Well, we can console.log() stuff and see it in the terminal, so that’s always handy. Plus we can write our functions to return whatever, and we could look at those responses in some kind of API testing tool, like Postman or Insomnia.

It works!

I’ll leave it to you to get fancy with it 😉

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It’s pretty cool how Netlify CMS works with any flat file site generator

Little confession here: when I first saw Netlify CMS at a glance, I thought: cool, maybe I’ll try that someday when I’m exploring CMSs for a new project. Then as I looked at it with fresh eyes: I can already use this! It’s a true CMS in that it adds a content management UI on top of any static site generator that works from flat files! Think of how you might build a site from markdown files with Gatsby, Jekyll, Hugo, Middleman, etc. You can create and edit Markdown files and the site’s build process runs and the site is created.

Netlify CMS gives you (or anyone you set it up for) a way to create/edit those Markdown files without having to use a code editor or know about Pull Requests on GitHub or anything. It’s a little in-browser app that gives you a UI and does the file manipulation and Git stuff behind the scenes.

Here’s an example.

Our conferences website is a perfect site to build with a static site generator.

It’s on GitHub, so it’s open to Pull Requests, and each conference is a Markdown file.

That’s pretty cool already. The community has contributed 77 Pull Requests already really fleshing out the content of the site, and the design, accessibility, and features as well!

I used 11ty to build the site, which works great with building out those Markdown files into a site, using Nunjucks templates. Very satisfying combo, I found, after a slight mostly configuration-related learning curve.

Enter Netlify CMS.

But as comfortable as you or I might be with a quick code edit and Pull Request, not everybody is. And even I have to agree that going to a URL quick, editing some copy in input fields, and clicking a save button is the easiest possible way to manage content.

That CMS UI is exactly what Netlify CMS gives you. Wanna see the entire commit for adding Netlify CMS?

It’s two files! That still kinda blows my mind. It’s a little SPA React app that’s entirely configurable with one file.

Cutting to the chase here, once it is installed, I now have a totally customized UI for editing the conferences on the site available right on the production site.

Netlify CMS doesn’t do anything forceful or weird, like attempt to edit the HTML on the production site directly. It works right into the workflow in the same exact way that you would if you were editing files in a code editor and committing in Git.

Auth & Git

You use Netlify CMS on your production site, which means you need authentication so that just you (and the people you want) have access to it. Netlify Identity makes that a snap. You just flip it on from your Netlify settings and it works.

I activated GitHub Auth so I could make logging in one-click for me.

The Git magic happens through a technology called Git Gateway. You don’t have to understand it (I don’t really), you just enable it in Netlify as part of Netlify Identity, and it forms the connection between your site and the Git repository.

Now when you create/edit content, actual Markdown files are created and edited (and whatever else is involved, like images!) and the change happens right in the Git repository.

I made this the footer of the site cause heck yeah.

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A Site for Front-End Development Conferences (Built with 11ty on Netlify)

I built a new little site! It’s a site for listing upcoming conferences in the world of front-end web design and development. In years past (like 2017), Sarah Drasner took up this daunting job. We used a form for new conference submissions, but it was still a rather manual task of basically manually editing a blog post. I wanted to keep doing this, as I think it’s valuable to have a simple reference page for conferences in our niche slice of the web, but I wanted the site to be able to live on year after year with lower maintenance-related technical debt.

So this is what I did!

I wanted to get it on GitHub.

So I put it there. Part of the beauty of GitHub is that it opens up the idea of collaboration through pull requests to really anyone in the world. You need to have a GitHub account, but that’s free, and you need to understand Git at least on some minor level (which is a barrier that I’d like to resolve in time), but it invites more collaboration than something like just asking people to email you content and ideas.

I wanted the content in Markdown in the Repo.

The Front Matter format, which is Markdown with some data the the top, is such a useful and approachable format. You need almost zero knowledge, not even HTML, to be able to create/edit a file like this:

Having the actual conference data in the repo means that pull requests aren’t just for design or features; more commonly, they will be for actual conference data. The work of making this site full of all the best conferences is the work of all of us, not just one of us.

At the time of this writing there have already been 30 closed pull requests.

I used 11ty to build the site.

11ty is almost fascinatingly simple. It looks in one directory for what it needs to process or move to another directory. It supports my favorite templating system out of the box: Nunjucks. Plus front matter Markdown like I mentioned above.

I was able to essentially design a card that displays the data we get from the Markdown files, and then build the homepage of the site by looping over those Markdown files and applying the templated card.

11ty is based on Node.js, so while I did have some learning-curve moments, it was comfortable for me to work in. There definitely is configuration for doing the things I wanted to be doing. For example, this is how I had to make a “collection” of conferences in order to loop over them:

config.addCollection("conferences", function(collection) {   let allConferences = collection.getFilteredByGlob("site/conferences/*.md");   let futureConferences = allConferences.filter(conf => {     return conf.data.date >= new Date();   });   return futureConferences; });

The site is hosted on Netlify.

One reason to use Netlify here is that it’s incredibly easy. I made a site site in Netlify by connecting it to the GitHub repo. I told it how to build the site (it’s a single command: eleventy) and where the built site files are (dist), and that’s it. In fact, that’s even part of the repo:

Now whenever I push to the master branch (or accept a pull request into master), the site automatically rebuilds and deploys. Just takes seconds. It’s really amazing.

Better, for each pull request, Netlify makes sure everything is in order first:

My favorite is the deploy preview. It gives you an (obscure) URL that will literally last forever (immutable) and that serves as a look at the built version of this site with that pull request.

So, not only is it extremely easy to use Netlify, but I get a bunch of stuff for free, like the fact that the site is smokin’ fast on their CDNs and such.

I’m also excited that I’ve barely tapped into Netlify’s features here, so there is a lot of stuff I can dig into over time. And I intend to!

I use Zapier to re-build the site every day.

There is a bit of a time-sensitive nature to this site. The point of this site is to reference it for upcoming conferences. It’s less interesting to see past conferences (although maybe we can have a browse-able archive in the future). I like the idea of ripping off past conferences for the homepage. If this was PHP (or whatever), we could do that at runtime, but this is a static site (on purpose). Doing something like this at build time is no big deal (see that code snippet above that only returns conferences past today’s date). But we can’t just waiting around for pull requests to re-build the site, nor do I want to make it a manual thing I need to do every day.

Fortunately, this is easy as pie with Zapier:

Phil Hawksworth took this to the extreme once and built a clock website that rebuilds every minute.

This site wasn’t just an experiment. I’d like to keep it going! If you’re part of running a conference, I’m quite sure it doesn’t hurt to add it to add yours, just so long as it has an enforcable and actionable Code of Conduct, and is within the world of front-end web design and development.

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Netlify Makes Deployments a Cinch

(This is a sponsored post.)

Let’s say you were going to design the easiest way to deploy a static site you can possibly imagine. If I was tasked with that, I’d say, well, it would deploy whenever I push to my master branch, and I’d tell it what command to run to build my site. Or maybe it has its own CLI where I can kick stuff out with as I choose. Or, you know what, maybe it’s so accommodating, I could drag and drop a folder onto it somehow and it would just deploy.

Good news: Netlify is way ahead of me. Netlify can do all those things, and so much more. Your site will be hosted on a CDN so it’s fast as heck. You can roll back to any other deployment because each build is immutable and trivially easy to point to. You can upload a folder of Node JavaScript functions and you can run those so you can do back-end things, like talk to APIs securely. Heck, even your forms can be automatically processed without writing any code at all!

It’s almost shocking how useful Netlify is. I recommend giving it a try, it might be just that empowering tool you need to build that next project you have in mind. 🤔

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