Webmentions in three SSGs: Part 4

Part 4 of a five-part series about incorporating the IndieWeb into three different static site generators (SSGs) — in this case, Gatsby.


General note: This site’s appearance, configuration, hosting, and other basic considerations will change over time. As a result, certain content on this page could be at variance with what you’re currently seeing on the site, but the two were consistent when this post originally appeared.

Note: This is Part 4 of a five-part series about how you can set up webmentions in websites built by three different static site generators: Eleventy (the subject of Part 2), Hugo (the subject of Part 3), and Gatsby (covered in detail in this part). In the conclusion, you’ll find a bibliography of the best articles I found on the subject of this series. All of the articles link (even if only through tiny GitHub logos) to their authors’ code. They were invaluable to this effort, and I encourage you to take particular notice of them and their authors.

Added note, 2020-07-26: I have now archived the various configuration files linked within this series within a GitHub repo of their own and changed the links accordingly, so as to make them immune to ongoing changes in the repos originally linked from this series.

In the introduction to this five-part series, I gave you a quick run-through about the IndieWeb and the general setup of webmentions. In Part 2, the subject was how you implement webmentions specifically in the Eleventy SSG. Then, in Part 3, I moved on to the subject of implementing them in the Hugo SSG. Now, here in Part 4, it’s time to look at doing the same thing in the Gatsby SSG.

My original hope, as I told you at the end of Part 3, was that the webmentions-on-Gatsby implementation would benefit from JavaScript code I’d used in my Eleventy repo.

Ah, silly me.

Gatsby: Fetching webmentions

One good thing you can say about Gatsby: because of its great popularity, you have a decent chance of finding a plugin that can help you do just about any reasonable thing one can make a Gatsby site do.

I knew that Chris Biscardi had created gatsby-plugin-webmention for the express purpose of fetching webmentions from webmention.io and exposing them to Gatsby’s GraphQL data layer, from which one should be able to query for the numerous levels of appropriate content.

Still, handling the webmention.io token as an environment variable in Gatsby was tricky because I had to do two things to make the plugin send the appropriate token:

  • Instead of having just one /.env file, I had to have separate /.env.development and /.env.production files, which allowed me to specify in the plugin-specific code in /gatsby-config.js that it should find the token in the process.env global variable that Node.js uses to determine the current working environment, development or production.1 As with the standalone /.env file I mentioned earlier in the series, you should not source-control these files.
  • In each of those /.env.* (so to speak) files, I had to give the webmention token a name with a prefix of GATSBY_. (I did try a plugin that was supposed to fix this, but it didn’t work for me.) So, since my token is called WEBMENTION_IO_TOKEN in other repos’ respective /.env files, I named it GATSBY_WEBMENTION_IO_TOKEN in both /.env.development and /.env.production.

Note: If you deploy a repo like this through Netlify, that /.env.production file is irrelevant since the proper procedure is to let Netlify handle sending an environment variable at the appropriate time. I use that file only for executing “production” builds on my local setup in the testing process through the gatsby build command (which is all that’s in the build script in package.json).

Once I’d properly assuaged this particular Gatsby quirk, I could see the webmention.io data was clearly coming through in GraphQL. That’s why I figured I was already about eight-tenths of the way home even before I got started on the more tedious coding required to make things actually appear.

Yeah, right. And you’d think I’d have known better, too.

Gatsby: Displaying webmentions

After all: it hadn’t been that long since my failed Gatsby Experiment I, my equally failed but at least shorter Gatsby Experiment II, or even my successful Gatsby Experiment III; so I should’ve realized that just because the Gatsby repo could now “see” the webmentions in GraphQL didn’t mean I could make the repo’s components see them — or, at least, not without a lot of preliminary grief.

This is where I ran into the toughest “chase scene”2 of this entire effort.

For several nights, I pored through successful-webmentions-on-Gatsby articles, forum posts, and repos, trying desperately to duplicate how others had done it. There were a number of false exits along the way. Quite often, I’d achieve display of a few webmention elements and think I’d solved the problem, but then quickly discover not only that I couldn’t display the next few but also that Gatsby didn’t even understand what the next few were. If I saw one Gatsby error message about trying to display items it considered Undefined, I saw a million.

I had hoped to reproduce some of the webmentions-filtering process from the Eleventy repo, so as to avoid the being-eaten-by-ants feel I often got from dealing with GraphQL queries. That hope quickly died. While some things work just fine in the “vanilla” JS that Eleventy uses for this stuff (some of which I’d even been able to use in the Hugo repo, as noted in Part 3), Gatsby “don’t play dat.”

So what did I do, finally?

Ironically enough, the answer turned out to be a case of “I, for one, welcome our new GraphQL overlords.” In other words, I had to lean more heavily on GraphQL, not less so.

For each possible wm-property (or wmProperty, as GraphQL and Gatsby have to call it) that I wanted to track, I did a separate aliased query. While it amounted to a boatload of query code in the component, it worked. By now, I had ceased to worry about whether it was even remotely pretty. I just wanted the fricking webmentions to appear and get counted as in the Eleventy and Hugo repos. So much for coding vanity, if that’s even a thing.

And where did this code go? Well, therein lies another tale about how I achieved workable (if ugly) code in the first place.

Like most if not all of the other major SSGs, Gatsby is designed to encourage separating code into parts, specifically components in the React-based Gatsby’s case. The idea is for you to use multiple layout pieces — “partials,” in Hugo-ese. This makes it easier to re-use stuff like headers and footers wherever they’re needed, thus pleasing the all-hallowed DRY Gods.

However, with Gatsby, as is true for most other React-based platforms, this is taken even further. You might say the Gatsby way involves “partials all the way down.” Even so, that’s usually fine; you just call each piece as needed, right?

Well, you’d think so.

But there’s this one little thing about Gatsby page components as opposed to Gatsby non-page components: the latter can’t make full use of the GraphQL querying capabilities. Specifically, non-page components are limited to using the StaticQuery method, which (like the newer UseStaticQuery) is more limited in what parameters it will accept and how you can incorporate it into your site.

In essence, the problem was feeding the GraphQL queries the right information so GraphQL could find the webmentions that went with each page — i.e., because each webmention refers to a page’s URL as the wm-target, I had to make the GraphQL ask, “What is this page’s URL, so that I can then sift through the webmentions and find only the ones that go with it?” Since StaticQuery can’t accept the variable which otherwise would’ve made that reasonably simple, I had to put the code in a page component rather than a non-page component.3

What this meant for my specific situation was that, rather than have a /src/components/webmentions.js component that each template could call separately, I ended up putting the appropriate code in each affected component.

And, yeah, that’s extremely offensive to the DRY Gods. They’ll have to get over it.

Thus, you’ll find the code that worked for the Gatsby repo in:

  • /gatsby-config.js — Mostly for Chris Biscardi’s gatsby-plugin-webmention plugin, but you should also note the dotenv-related code at the very top that works with the two separate /.env.* files. Without that, you ain’t got no webmentions from webmention.io, period, end of story.

  • /gatsby-node.js — This added to the PageContext the variable urlToCheck for use by the GraphQL queries for webmentions. Until I got that in there, those queries were stumped. (Using permalink didn’t work; as I learned on testing, it came back as https://brycewray.com[objectObject] or something like that, despite how it looked in that file. I’m sure I did something stupid to cause that but, as you’ve gathered by now, I’m past the point of caring about it.)

  • /src/templates/singlepost.js — This is the big enchilada with all the GraphQL queries and spaghetti that make the webmentions appear on posts for which webmention.io has received them.

  • /src/components/layout-home.js, /src/components/layout-about.js, and (again) /src/templates/singlepost.js — For the footer-based microformats data that webmentions require. (In the first two, I just “hand-coded” the respective microformats stuff because each is used for only one page, either the home page or the “About” page; so that data won’t change.)

And, oh, don’t forget /src/assets/css/webmentions.css, which is identical to its counterparts in the other two repos.

The end is in sight

Sorry for the harrowing nature of this part in particular, but my purpose was to give you some idea of potential bumps in the road-to-webmentions traverse so you could, if not truly avoid them, at least know where they were before you cracked a metaphorical front axle on them. To be sure, many other Gatsby users can address them far, far more capably than I; but what I’ve done works and, hey, my hands shake only a little when I recall the ordeal.

Now, let’s wrap up things with this series’ conclusion — including that bibliography I touted at the start.

  1. Just to be consistent with the other repos, I still put a non-source-controlled /.env file in the Gatsby repo, but I know Gatsby doesn’t see it. ↩︎

  2. As noted in Part 1: “. . . I found it really difficult to follow the logic in certain articles’ related code. I found myself chasing variables, constants, and statements from other files — and sourly muttering things like ‘Where’d that come from?’ and ‘What’s that got to do with what’s supposed to be happening here?’ and ‘Wait a minute; what happened to the step before this part?’” ↩︎

  3. I got an unexpected laugh when, while searching for a way to make this happen, I found a fine CSS-Tricks article, “How to Get the Current Page URL in Gatsby,” by Dmitry Mayorov. My laugh came after I’d read Mr. Mayorov’s rather detailed explanation, when I saw that the very first reader response was in the form of a comment by none other than Max Böck which would resonate with anyone vexed by Gatsby’s complexity: “Jesus that’s a lot of JS just to access the page url. This is literally just {{page.url}} in most other SSGs.” Preach on, Brother Böck. ↩︎

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