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Set Up Your Development Environment

Before you start building your first Gatsby site, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with some core web technologies and make sure that you have installed all required software tools.

Overview of core technologies

It’s not necessary to be an expert with these already — if you’re not, don’t worry! You’ll pick up a lot through the course of this tutorial series. These are some of the main web technologies you’ll use when building a Gatsby site:

  • HTML: A markup language that every web browser is able to understand. It stands for HyperText Markup Language. HTML gives your web content a universal informational structure, defining things like headings, paragraphs, and more.
  • CSS: A presentational language used to style the appearance of your web content (fonts, colors, layout, etc). It stands for Cascading Style Sheets.
  • JavaScript: A programming language that helps us make the web dynamic and interactive.
  • React: A code library (built with JavaScript) for building user interfaces. It’s the framework that Gatsby uses to build pages and structure content.
  • GraphQL: A query language. A programming language that allows you to pull data into your website. It’s the interface that Gatsby uses for managing site data.

💡 (Optional!) For a comprehensive introduction to what a website is—including an intro to HTML and CSS—check out “Building your first web page”. It’s a great place to start learning about the web. For a more hands-on introduction to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, check out the tutorials from Codecademy. React and GraphQL also have their own introductory tutorials.

Familiarize yourself with the command line

The command line is a text-based interface used to run commands on your computer. You’ll also often see it referred to as the terminal. In this tutorial we’ll use both interchangeably. It’s a lot like using the Finder on a Mac or Explorer on Windows. Finder and Explorer are examples of graphical user interfaces (GUI). The command line is a powerful, text-based way to interact with your computer.

Take a moment to locate and open up the command line interface (CLI) for your computer. Depending on which operating system you are using, see instructions for Mac or instructions for Windows.

💡 For a great introduction to using the command line, check out Codecademy’s Command Line tutorial for Mac and Linux users, and this tutorial for Windows users. Even if you are a Windows user, the first page of the Codecademy tutorial is a valuable read. It explains what the command line is, not just how to interface with it.

Install Node.js

Node.js is an environment that can run JavaScript code outside of a web browser. Gatsby is built with Node.js. To get up and running with Gatsby, you’ll need to have a recent version installed on your computer.

⌚ Download Node.js

Visit the Node.js site and follow the instructions to download and install the recommended version for your operating system. Once you have followed the installation steps, make sure everything was installed properly:

Check your Node.js installation

  1. Open up your terminal.
  2. Run node --version. (If you’re new to the command line, “run command” means “type node --version in the command prompt, and hit the Enter key”. From here on, this is what we mean by “run command”).
  3. Run npm --version.

The output of each of those commands should be a version number. Your versions may not be the same as those shown below! If entering those commands doesn’t show you a version number, go back and make sure you have installed Node.js.

Check node and npm versions in terminal

Familiarize yourself with npm

npm is a JavaScript package manager. A package is a module of code that you can choose to include in your projects. If you just downloaded and installed Node.js, npm was installed with it!

npm has three distinct components: the npm website, the npm registry, and the npm command line interface (CLI).

  • On the npm website, you can browse what JavaScript packages are available in the npm registry.
  • The npm registry is a large database of information about JavaScript packages available on npm.
  • Once you’ve identified a package you want, you can use the npm CLI to install it in your project or globally (like other CLI tools). The npm CLI is what talks to the registry — you generally only interact with the npm website or the npm CLI.

💡 Check out npm’s introduction, “What is npm?”.

Install Git

Git is a free and open source distributed version control system designed to handle everything from small to very large projects with speed and efficiency. When you install a Gatsby “starter” site, Gatsby uses Git behind the scenes to download and install the required files for your starter. You will need to have Git installed to set up your first Gatsby site.

The steps to download and install Git depend on your operating system. Follow the guide for your system:

💡 You will not need to know Git to complete this tutorial, but it is a very useful tool. If you are interested in learning more about version control, Git, and Github, check out Github’s Git Handbook.

Install Gatsby CLI

The Gatsby CLI tool lets you quickly create new Gatsby-powered sites and run commands for developing Gatsby sites. It is a published npm package. You can install Gatsby CLI from the npm registry, using the npm CLI.

  1. Navigate to the terminal.
  2. Run npm install --global gatsby-cli.

💡 If you are unable to successfully install due to a permissions issue, you may want to check out the npm docs on fixing permissions, or this guide.

A couple of different things are happening here.

npm install --global gatsby-cli
  • You’re using the npm CLI to install Gatsby CLI. npm install is the command used to install packages.
  • When installing npm packages, you can install them globally or in a specific project. (You’ll learn about the latter, later). The --global flag signals that we want the first option to install globally. This means your package will be available to you on your computer, outside of the context of a specific project.
  • gatsby-cli is the exact name our desired package is registered with on the npm registry.

Check your Gatsby CLI installation

  1. Open up your terminal.
  2. Run gatsby --version.
  3. Run gatsby --help.

Check gatsby version in terminal

If successfully installed, running gatsby --version should return a version number and running gatsby --help will show different commands available to you using the gatsby-cli tool.

Create a Gatsby site

Now you are ready to use Gatsby CLI tool to create your first Gatsby site. Using the tool, you can download “starters” (partially built sites with some default configuration) to help you get moving faster on creating a certain type of site. The “Hello World” starter you’ll be using here is a starter with the bare essentials needed for a Gatsby site.

  1. Open up your terminal.
  2. Run gatsby new hello-world (Note: Depending on your download speed, the amount of time this takes will vary. For brevity’s sake, the gif below was paused during part of the install).
  3. Run cd hello-world.
  4. Run gatsby develop.

What just happened?

gatsby new hello-world
  • Starting with gatsby says, ‘hey, we want to use the gatsby-cli tool!’.
  • new is a gatsby command to create a new Gatsby project.
  • Here, hello-world is an arbitrary title — you could pick anything. The CLI tool will place the code for your new site in a new folder called “hello-world”.
  • Lastly, the GitHub URL specified points to a code repository that holds the starter code you want to use.
cd hello-world
  • This says ‘I want to change directories (cd) to the “hello-world” subfolder’. Whenever you want to run any commands for your site, you need to be in the context for that site (aka, your terminal needs to be pointed at the directory where your site code lives).
gatsby develop
  • This command starts a development server. You will be able to see and interact with your new site in a development environment — local (on your computer, not published to the internet).

View your site locally

Open up a new tab in your browser and navigate to http://localhost:8000.

Check homepage

Congrats! This is the beginning of your very first Gatsby site! 🎉

You’ll be able to visit the site locally at http://localhost:8000 for as long as your development server is running. That’s the process you started by running the gatsby develop command. To stop running that process (or to “stop running the development server”), go back to your terminal window, hold down the “control” key, and then hit “c” (ctrl-c). To start it again, run gatsby develop again!

Note: If you are using VM setup like vagrant and/or would like to listen on your local IP address, run gatsby develop --host= Now, the development server listens on both ‘localhost’ and your local IP.

Set up a code editor

A code editor is a program designed specifically for editing computer code. There are many great ones out there. If you haven’t worked with a code editor before, we recommend the editor used throughout this tutorial — VS Code.

Download VS Code

Gatsby documentation sometimes includes screenshots of code editors; these screenshots show the VS Code editor, so if you don’t have a preferred code editor yet, using VS Code will make sure that your screen looks just like the screenshots in the tutorial and docs. If you choose to use VS Code, visit the VS Code site and download the version appropriate for your platform.

Install the Prettier plugin

We also recommend using Prettier — Prettier is a tool that helps format your code, keeping it consistent and helping to avoid errors.

You can use Prettier directly in your editor using the Prettier VS Code plugin:

  1. Open the extensions view on VS Code (View => Extensions).
  2. Search for “Prettier - Code formatter”.
  3. Click “Install”. After installation you’ll be prompted to restart VS Code to enable the extension.

💡 If you’re not using VS Code, check out the Prettier docs for install instructions or other editor integrations.

➡️ What’s Next?

To summarize, in this section you:

  • Learned about web technologies used with Gatsby (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, React, and GraphQL)
  • Learned about the command line and how to use it
  • Installed and learned about Node.js and the npm CLI tool, the version control system Git, and the Gatsby CLI tool
  • Generated a new Gatsby site using the Gatsby CLI tool
  • Ran the Gatsby development server and visited your site locally
  • Downloaded a code editor
  • Installed a code formatter called Prettier

Now, move on to getting to know Gatsby building blocks.

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