This article was originally published on my portfolio site on October 1, 2017.
When someone mentions static site generation, many people think of Jekyll. I had heard some good things about it and noticed it would allow me to build a blog quite easily. I was eager to learn something new and get something up and running that was more than just my usual WordPress theme. I was on the verge of rebuilding my portfolio site until a certain Scott Tolinski released a video on GatsbyJS.
GatsbyJS is a static site generator, similar to Jekyll, however it is written using React and allows you to write your pages as React components! It is somewhat similar to create-react-app where almost all the scary webpack config has been abstracted away from you and everything is setup ready to go, so you can get to the important stuff like…building the site! (If you are a fan of React and not convinced, the React website/docs were just released using Gatsby!)
Originally, following Scott’s and the official Gatsby tutorial, I had it pulling my content from good ol’ Markdown files. Then I saw it… too good to be true, the mention of connecting it to WordPress… I have been writing WordPress themes for almost 2 years now, so naturally this got me super excited. To have my backend as WordPress (including ACF) and the frontend in React… I had found the perfect place to test my frontend abilities.
I was skeptical at first: would I have to parse large amounts of JSON to get the data I needed? I have never even interacted with the WordPress REST API, how will I query it?
The answer… GraphQL. Gatsby ships with it and through an npm install of a gatsby-source plugin of your choice and a tiny bit of a config, you can start querying in no time. I was amazed with how simple queries are using GraphQL. You look at them and you go “Huh, that’s it? Really?“. Gatsby even ships with an in-browser query tester so you can see exactly what data you are getting from your GraphQL queries. Wanna sort those blog posts by date? No problem, just add a flag.
With very little configuration and the installation of a single plugin on my WordPress site, I began creating pages and pulling data from them using a simple GraphQL schema. Here is an example of my Projects page which includes pulling some ACF fields which were originally defined in my Projects page template:
Pulling blog posts was even easier! If you’d like to sort them by date, ID, title etc. you just add a simple flag to the query like so:
In just a few weekends I managed to rebuild my portfolio site with the blog I wanted. I’d highly recommend Gatsby for anyone who has started getting acquainted with React. Before I started this project I didn’t know a lot about:
- Static site generation/JAMstack
- Creating a Progressive Web App (PWA) and what qualifies as one
- React Router
- WordPress REST API
Moving forward with Gatsby, I’d like to extend my site to include pagination within the blog, use Styled Components and ensure the site scores a 90+ overall on Lighthouse, Google’s performance auditing tool.
Another goal is for my team to start using it with client sites, as the sheer performance out of the box is amazing. My original WordPress (PHP based theme) was scoring around 70 for Performance, however without any optimizations, my Gatsby based site scored 94. Later it scored 99 with some minor optimizations. We have recently had many clients ask for highly performant websites and Progressive Web App’s. Gatsby will be perfect to bridge the gaps between WordPress and React and allow my team to achieve these goals with ease.