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Moving my personal site to Gatsby

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about modern web design, and we spoke about web fonts and variable fonts. In my experience, people who work in software development have a couple of hills that they will die on, if so required. For this person - the idea of not using system fonts (i.e. typefaces which are already installed on a user’s device) was completely baffling. Why are we increasing the time-to-load and packet size required to display a web page - just for a typeface. What about that horrible (re)appearing text, or worse, shifting text which happens when the browser finally loads the typeface.

System fonts, I had argued to me, are designed and considered specifically for the device viewing the page. They’re curated in a way that we, as site authors, cannot easily curate.

Ever since they introduced that tiny bit of doubt into my mind, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I should just be using system fonts. Long story short, I rewrote my entire personal site (https://thomaswilson.xyz) from Nuxt (a Vue.JS application framework) into Gatsby (a React.JS static site generator). It took me like to evenings and I’m happy with my decision.

Look, there were a couple of other factors in this. Like, I had just taken the jump to go freelance so I needed to move my increasing portfolio over to my professional site. I wanted to move some of my older pieces of writing from Medium onto pages on this site. I was creating a beautiful list of my favourite albums of 2019. There was a lot going on, and I was finding a lot of friction in the process of writing blog posts for this site.

Why React, not Vue ?

Fundamentally, I have more personal and professional experience with React. I have created a lot of static sites and dynamic apps with React, I’ve used a lot of styling solutions, state management libraries, application architectures, and third-party packages. I know my way around the ecosystem, around React-ive thinking. We should be careful of using tech just because we’re comfortable with it, but when it’s your personal website which no one else will see or touch - familiarity is a major benefit.

It definitely didn’t help that I was having big problems getting my codebase to build on a new Laptop (a 2019 MacBook Pro, not even something obscure). It couldn’t get the Nuxt -> TypeScript build chain to work, despite hours of debugging. I’m not a dev-ops or build-chain kind of developer, but really this shouldn’t have happened, and should not have been so obscure to solve.

Additionally, at the time of writing, the proposed V3 of Vue.JS will contain a lot of changes to the library and recommended practices. I am excited to see these changes, and I think Vue.JS is a better web application framework out-of-the-box than React and Angular - I believe V3 will bring a lot of hard-learned lessons about web apps into the framework. However, right now I didn’t fancy re-writing most of a failing Vue app to have to re-write it again in a few months. A la AngularJS vibes.

Why Gatsby?

I’ve used Gatsby a few times to build quick/simple sites for friends. It’s very fast, both in development process, build process, and then loading times. I was looking for something I could be productive in quickly, at Gatsby was that.

I want to give a special shoutout here to the gastby-image package for lazy-loading images (alongside the GraphQL support and image-sharp library for image processing. This kind of support for blur-up images, and an easy ability to control image size at build time are incredible, and a great step forward for the modern web.

Speaking of GraphQL (smooth, I know) - I think GraphQL is going to play a big part in web development in the next 3-5 years. No, not everything is going to be re-written to be GraphQL endpoints, obviously. That would be a bad idea, obviously. Yet, as a front-leaning full-stack developer, GraphQL is powerful and expressive enough to make me take notice. Gatsby gives you a GraphQL layer to query for all your data (local files, site metadata) - the chance to get familiar with this tech is something I am appreciative of.

Recently the core-team has been pushing Gatsby Themes (as I heard about on here, here, and here). I love web design (have I mentioned that yet?) - and I love seeing the core-team take such an interesting, systematic approach to design as a core part of their framework’s architecture. It looks like I’ll be able to learn a lot about systemised design through Gatsby.

Lastly, I wanted to quickly/easily deploy my personal site on Netflify - a service which can build, deploy, and host static sites incredibly easy. It took, and I am not exaggerating, about 120 seconds to go from creating a git repo to having this website available on the World Wide Web.

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