Getting started with GatsbyJS

Reading Time

7 min


May 8, 2018


gatsbyjs animation post

Update June 2019: This Tutorial was written for Gatsby V1. In Gatsby V2 the layouts behavior described in this post changed. You can get the old behaviour by loading the layout plugin.

Recently I ported my website to GatsbyJs. In my previous setup I already wrote my blog posts in markdown, but had a kind of self-built way of displaying those markdown files, which I wasn’t perfectly happy with. For those who don’t know GatsbyJs: It’s a static site generator, that is built on top of React and has a ton of great plugins, that are very easy to setup and use.

The difference to Create-React-App

So what’s the difference to the regular Create-React-App (CRA)? There is a great GitHub issue explaining the difference: Mainly that Gatsby is built on top of CRA, runs on GraphQL out of the box and has more build opinions. Further once you build your site with Gatsby, you’ll get a set of static sites rendered on the server instead of a dynamic application rendered on the client (you can also add server side rendering to CRA, but it’s not out of the box). CRA on the other hand is more open in how you handle data and is just a quick and easy way to get started with React without having too many pre-defined ways of how your application should be built.

How I got started

In order to understand, which part of my old application I should port into the new Gatsby setting, I first read the Quick-Start guide and installed the Gatsby CLI npm install --global gatsby-cli. After exploring the basic starter you get when running gatsby new gatsby-site, I mainly looked through the code of various of the starters to figure out which parts I needed an didn’t need and what I had to change in order to get the same experience I had now with the old redux setting. I decided to not use Redux anymore, since my portfolio website doesn’t have a lot of state and I really enjoy the simple Gatsby way of using the remark plugin and writing page specific state into the markdown files and then querying it with GraphQL.

The file structure

When looking through various starters, I always found myself back in two main files: gatsby-config.js and gatsby-node.js, because they quickly tell you what’s happening in the project and what's built in. I decided to split my static pages markdown files and my blog post markdown files in two different folders called pages and posts. Those then will be rendered into the templates located into the templates folder. Markup that's valid for all pages goes into the layout/index.js file.

File Structure


The config file explains what plugins you’re using with what options. You can find my complete config here: Gatsby Config

The gatsby-source-filesystem plugin is essential to get your markdown files loaded. I created to seperate folders for my static pages and for my blog posts, with the name option name: "pages” you’re later able to query your specific pages or posts files in GraphQL.

resolve: `gatsby-source-filesystem`,
options: {
path: `${__dirname}/src/pages/`,
name: "pages",
resolve: `gatsby-source-filesystem`,
options: {
path: `${__dirname}/src/posts/`,
name: `posts`,


The node file is where the magic happens. It’s where your markdown files and templates are loaded and where your different paths are created. In order for my site to work I needed to load different templates depending if the markdown file was in the posts or pages folder.

const pageTemplate = path.resolve('./src/templates/static-page.js')
const postTemplate = path.resolve("./src/templates/blog-post.js");

I also adapted the GraphQL remark query to filter for only posts or pages:

allMarkdownRemark(filter: { id: { regex: "//posts|pages//" } }, limit: 1000) { ... }

and then further down, when my pages were created I loaded the correct template depending on in which folder the markdown files was in.

        const posts =;

_.each(posts, (post, index) => {
const slug = post.node.fields.slug;
const isPost = /posts/.test(;

path: slug,
component: isPost ? postTemplate : pageTemplate,
context: {
slug: slug,

Working with Markdown and Remark

Markdown is awesome and simplifies writing on the web a lot. If you haven't used it yet, you can get started with this nice markdown tutorial. GatsbyJS makes it really easy to transform your markdown content into HTML structure using the remark plugin. In order to make it work for your project there is a couple of things you need to consider.

Location of markdown files

You can have different locations for your markdown files, just specify where they are located in the gatsby-config.js for the gatsby-source-filesystem plugin.


Once you have your files setup, you can query your markdown files in GraphQL using either allMarkdownRemark for getting multiple markdown files or simply markdownRemark for getting a simple markdown file.

To get a specific markdown file you could do the following:

query IndexQuery {
markdownRemark(frontmatter: {title: {eq: "about"}}) {
frontmatter {

This would go through your markdown files and get the one, that has title: about set.

Or to get all markdown files located within your posts folder, you could do the following:

query BlogQuery {
filter: {fileAbsolutePath: {regex: "/(posts)/.*\\.md$/"}},
sort: { fields: [frontmatter___date], order: DESC },
limit: 1000) {
edges {
node {
fields {
frontmatter {
date(formatString: "DD MMMM, YYYY")


For my website the main animation happens whenever we go to a new page. Since the component, that creates this animation is on all my pages, it is located in my layouts/index.js file. In order for the component to receive this location change the only thing I had to add was a location prop, so I could add the animation on componentDidUpdate.

class Template extends React.Component {
render() {
const { location, children } = this.props
return (
<Frame className="frame" location={location} />

So in my Frame Component, whenever the location updated, my component updated and I added a simple CSS Class, which I removed again, after the animation had finished.

export class Frame extends React.PureComponent {
  componentDidUpdate() {
    setTimeout(() => { this.overlay.classList.remove('animating'); }, 1200);

  render() {

The animation itself is defined with styled components and CSS Keyframes.

const scaleUpDown = keyframes`
0% { transform: scaleY(0) }
40% { transform: scaleY(1); animation-timing-function: cubic-bezier(0.075, 0.820, 0.165, 1.000); }
80% { transform: scaleY(1); animation-timing-function: cubic-bezier(0.600, 0.040, 0.980, 0.335); }
100% { transform: scaleY(0) }

and my Overlay had an animation class, which triggered the animation whenever the .animating class was added.

const Overlay = styled.span`
  &.animating {
    animation: ${scaleUpDown} 1s 0s both cubic-bezier(0.445, 0.050, 0.550, 0.950);

Fade Out Transitions

I haven’t added fadeOut transitions myself but there is a very handy gatsby plugin called gatsby-plugin-page-load-delay that delays the unmount of your component, which allows you to add animation on the componentWillUnmount lifecycle hook. By setting the window.pageExitTime = 1000 to the time of your animation, the next page will be mounted as soon as the animation is finished.

Page Specific Animations

If you have animations that aren’t specific to your entire layout, but only to one page, you can trigger these animations in the componentDidMount hook of the specific page. For my website this is the case with the different main color on the pages. My main color is defined as a CSS Variable on my document.body and whenever we’re going to a new page this is updated. Which color the page should have is defined in the markdown file of the page itself:

title: Speaking
color: '#4AD9D9'

Some markdown text

And in my PageTemplate I’m setting the --main CSS Variable on my document.body, which updates the color for the body and all the children that use this variable.

class PageTemplate extends React.Component {
componentDidMount() {
const color = get(this, '') || '#F5A503';'--main', color);

render() { ... }

NOTE: In order to add new fields to the markdown files like I added the color field, you need to load the gatsby-transformer-javascript-frontmatter plugin and query the field in the GraphQL query of the template.

markdownRemark(fields: { slug: { eq: $slug } }) {
frontmatter {

The Overlay that is animated when we go to another page for example, has the background and a transition defined dependent on the --main CSS variable.

  background: var(--main);
transition: background 0.3s ease-out;

Custom Components

Something I find awesome and amazing is the ability to create custom components, that you can use within your markdown files like I did on my /work page:

title: Work
color: '#F2385A'

<work-project title="Illustration" subtitle="Drawings" link=""></work-project>

There is a great tutorial on how to create these components and for me this allowed to have one single PageTemplate for all my static files instead of 5 different files likes index.js, work.js, writing.js, speaking.js. Then I just defined the page specific components within the markdown file.


Once you finished the development of your Gatsby site you have different options to deploy your site. When you run gatsby build a public folder will be created within your project and you can just copy these static files via FTP to your server, but the best option for me is to add a continuous deployment, which rebuilds your site when you push changes to your GitHub repository.

Deployment with CircleCI on your own webspace

If you already own a webspace and don’t want to switch to something else a tool like CircleCI is free, if you don’t have tons of builds. It's fairly easy to setup with an exisiting GitHub repository. Here is a simple circleCI setup you can use for your Gatsby site. In order to use it, all you need is a ssh access to your webspace and to add your credentials for the deploy jobs.

command: scp -r public "$SITE_SSH_USER@$SITE_SSH_HOST:/var/www/$PROD_URL/"

Deployment with Netlify

If you don’t have a webspace the easiest option is to use Netlify, because it integrates very nicely with GatsbyJS and you can even hook it up to NetlifyCMS, allowing you to have a CMS Editor for your static site. Steps for using Netlify to deploy your project:

  1. Create a Netlify Account
  2. Upload your project to a public or private Github Repo
  3. Grant Netlify Access to this Github Repo
  4. Deploy
  5. Add your custom domain (change the DNS settings to point to your netlify deployment)
  6. Edit your Continuous Deployment Settings

The process of creating a new site is very simple and straight forward in Netlify. Just connect your Github Repo and get started.

Netlify Create Site

Netlify Create Site

Once you deployed your project you can point your domain to the netlify deployment, so you have a nice domain name for your project.

Adding your custom domain

After everything is ready, you can edit your Continuous Deployment Settings to tell Netlify when it should rebuild your project. The basic settings are that your site is rebuilt whenever you push on master on your GitHub repo

Continuous Deployment Settings


In my opinion GatsbyJS is great in the following cases:

  • if you use React and want to generate fast static sites
  • great markdown support with GraphQL
  • fairly simple continous deployment with Netlify
  • easy CMS integration with NetlifyCMS & GraphQL
  • lots of great Gatsby Plugins, that automate build steps
  • great documentation with guides for common patterns & problems