Jeremy Parnell

Introducing the Gatsby Essentials Blog starter project for GatsbyJS

6 min read

GatsbyJS is a React-based website generator. This post is for beginners just getting started in Gatsby, wondering where to begin. If you’re not already familiar with Gatsby, take some time to get to know it. It’s an extremely versatile publishing framework that performs amazingly well.

Because Gatsby is backed by a large community of developers in support, you can jump in fairly quickly by following any of the numerous tutorials available.

I recommend installing one of the Gatsby starter projects and going for a joy ride, which is how I got familiar with it. There’s a lot of them, but the Gatsby Starter Blog is one of the most popular. It’s a good place to start.

Start with the Gatsby Starter Blog

You can install it with:

gatsby new my-gatsby-starter-blog https://github.com/gatsbyjs/gatsby-starter-blog

Out of the box, you’ll get these nice features:

  • Basic setup for a blog
  • Content sourcing from Markdown files
  • Automatic optimization of images in Markdown posts
  • React Helmet for site meta tags
  • Google Analytics
  • An RSS feed

Immediately outgrow it

These features are great, for getting started, but you’ll quickly notice that they are limited and don’t cover the needs of most blogs. Maybe you could get by with them for a little while, but you will quickly find that you need more. There are other, essential, features that the Starter blog leaves out.

Gatsby Essentials Blog is the next step

That’s where the Gatsby Essentials Blog project comes in. We started with the Gatsby Starter Blog, but then added other essential things that almost every blog needs. The project is still simple and easy to follow, ie. a good starting place, but it’s a little more robust and practical.

First, do actually install and get familiar with the Gatsby Starter Blog.

Then, go ahead and install the Gatsby Essentials Blog.

gatsby new my-gatsby-essentials-blog https://github.com/JeremyWasHere/gatsby-essentials-blog

Let’s look at some of the changes/additions.

A real home page

The home page of the Gatsby Starter Blog is a list of blog posts. This is traditionally what you get with a fresh install of a blogging system, but you’re going to want some sort of landing page eventually.

So the first thing we did was move the list of blog posts from pages/index.js to templates/blog-list.js and refactored gatsby-node.js to use the new template. We also gave the list the new route of /blog/ and individual posts the route of (ex.) /blog/hello-world.

This frees up our home page to be whatever we want it to be (in this project, we have a nice welcome image along with recent posts).

Better lists of content

Looking at the list of content in the Gatsby Starter Blog, it leaves a lot to be desired. We made several improvements.

Thumbnail images

It’s not very common for a blog post to be just text. Thumbnail images are essential. Those are provided through the frontmatter thumbnail in our Markdown files. These are optimized when building the Gatsby project.

Also, a key piece of social sharing was missing in the Starter blog. While Twitter and Facebook meta tags are included in the <head> of the page, no image is supplied. With our new thumbnail support, we have images to provide there, so we do.

Pagination

You’re going to write a lot of blog posts (hopefully). The original Starter blog would list all of those on a single page. Scrolling forever isn’t the best experience, so we’ve added pagination to the /blog/ list. Pagination is an essential feature. We left the number of posts to display as 1 in the project code for demonstration purposes, but you can set that to whatever you’d like in gatsby-config.js

Grouping of posts by topic

Categories, tags, topics or otherwise grouping of related posts together is very common in blogs. We’ve added that to this project with an array of topics in the frontmatter of the Markdown files, and filtering in gatsby-node-config.js. Each blog post displays links to pages of other posts on the same topic.

Standalone content pages

Let’s face it, not everything you write should flow through the blogging system. Even personal blogs would have a standalone “About Me” page. It’d be weird to have that About Me page appear in a list of blog posts that are largely chronological in context.

Pages that are like blog posts, but don’t flow through lists, are essential. We achieve that by adding a pageType to the frontmatter of our Markdown files, and filtering the two different types of content (“blog” and “page”) in gatsby-node.js. Content pages have a separate template so they can even be styled differently or have different components in them.

Additional improvements

Read more cards

A common feature of blogs is to suggest additional posts to read, to keep visitors engaged in your site. We’ve added that essential feature to this project as well. At the end of every blog post are (randomly selected) suggestions of other posts to read. We also use this component on the home page, sorting by most recent instead of random.

Social share links

These often appear on blogs as icons. We went with text links in a call to action statement. However, you can modify that on your own if you’d like to supply Font Awesome icons instead, following examples of where we do use those icons in other places (like the footer).

Site map for search engine optimization

A site map is essential for Google Search Console and SEO so we added the gatsby-plugin-sitemap and added the reference to Helmet. The Starter project has RSS feeds in it, so the lack of a Site Map was a strange omission.

Just the essentials

We hope that you find the Gatsby Essentials Blog project helpful in getting you up and running with your own GatsbyJS blog, and that you find these additional features as essential as we do. There are thousands of other plugins to consider, but these features are ones that we feel every blog should have.

Here is the official DEMO SITE so you can see the project in action. I also use a variation on my own blog!

Jeremy Parnell is a software developer, interactive designer, and entrepreneur based in Lexington, Kentucky.
© 2020 Jeremy Parnell. All rights reserved.