Lessons learnt from new buszewski.com

Posted on March 13th, 2020

I’ve been building my new portfolio for four years, with different designs and technology stacks. And I’ve learnt quite a few things from it.

For starters, I’ll say that this iteration stands on Gatsby (so, React) and Styled Components, written in TypeScript. Data is sourced from local files in Markdown.

Before I’ll tell you, what did I learn, I will tell you, why did I choose to do things this way.

I’ve been fan of React for quite some time. More than four years, in current front-end world this seems like forever. I’ve started experimenting in 2015, using in 2016 and this is my go-to framework for UI ever since.

Gatsby was a natural choice for a React fan, so I didn’t even spent much time on alternatives. Perhaps I should. But since it had all that I like, including GraphQL and Markdown sourcing almost out of the box, I was bought.

Styled Components. The standard for styling next-gen web app, isn’t it? All the CSS-in-JS glory, ease of props handling, editor support. Everything is here.

And TypeScript. Actual standard for any serious JavaScript development, plus it really saved my ass more than couple of times in the past. It was a no-brainer.

So, why am I not fully satisfied?

Because it’s overengineered. Holy fuck, it is so overengineered, I am angry at myself for doing such a rookie mistake.

Let’s start from the beginning. I wanted to build views from components, so naturally, I’ve created a design system (with atomic design methodology) in Storybook.

Now, Storybook is really a great tool. And using it does help to have isolated components. But it also requires writing stories for every piece of code. Let’s take a look at a very simple blockquote element.

For reminder, it looks like this

First, code:

/**
 * @author tomek
 * @since 2020-02-26 10:27:24
 */

import * as React from "react";
import styled, { StyledComponentBase } from "styled-components";
import { theme } from "@ui";
import { ColorContext } from "@ui/Atoms/Section/Section";
import { Paragraph } from "@ui/Atoms";

type BlockquoteType = string &
  StyledComponentBase<"blockquote", any, {}, never>;

const Blockquote: BlockquoteType = styled.blockquote`
  opacity: 0.65;
  margin-bottom: 3rem;
  margin-left: 1rem;
  padding: 0 1rem;
  border-left: 1rem solid
    ${() => `var(--section-${React.useContext(ColorContext)}-highlight)`};

  & > ${Paragraph}:first-of-type {
    font-size: 2rem;
  }

  ${theme.breakpoints.desktop} {
    grid-column-start: 3;
    grid-column-end: 7;
    margin-left: 1.5rem;
  }
`;

export { Blockquote };

And story:

import * as React from "react";

import { text } from "@storybook/addon-knobs";
import { storiesOf } from "@storybook/react";

import { Blockquote } from "./";

storiesOf("Atoms/Blockquote", module).add("Normal", () => (
  <Blockquote>{text("Example text", "Hello")}</Blockquote>
));

While I know, this is super short, please note that this is basically styling an element in React and Styled Components way. Everything is a component, right? Looks kinda tedious, doing this for, like, ten elements? Or more? Yeah, it is tedious and in a long way, boring.

Don’t get me wrong, while building a big, really big application, like we did in 4Finance or Batmaid, this totally makes sense. But here? It’s way overblown. Unfortunately, it came to me a bit too late, so there was no point of going back.

Next thing that really slowed me down was, in fact, TypeScript. Why? Because everything has to be typed.

For those who are familiar with GraphQL, the problem may be well known. If you want to use queries as data source, you have to write the entire interface for it. It may look like this:

export interface IBlogEntry {
  title: string;
  pubdate: string;
  slugPubdate: string;
  summary: string;
  slug: string;
  featuredImage: null | any;
  photo?: null | any;
}

export interface IBlogNode {
  entry: {
    id: string;
    entry: IBlogEntry;
    fields: {
      slug: string;
    };
  };
}

As you can see, I’ve succumbed and used any. It wasn’t like this from the beginning, I actually had it typed, but as I changed the goddamn featuredImage query, I had to keep track in the interface. And it was so fucking tiresome, one evening I decided to just any it and be done.

Again, having typed such things is great. When you use it more than once. Here, it was just more work that wasn’t beneficial at all. Perhaps there is a magical tool that creates interfaces from GraphQL schema (if you know it, tell me, please). But for now, it’ll be like that, until I’ll have the time and willpower to change it. (So, like, never).

Last, but not least, is Gatsby. I know you can clone a starter and roll with it within seconds. Yes, but as I like to have control over what I do, I prefer to actually build the stack. So, gatsby new spastic (yes, I named it after a Squarepusher song) and then, well, plugins. I want TypeScript – plugin. I want Styled Components – plugin. I want PrismJS – plugin. I need to catch inner links – plugin. Google fonts – plugin. There is plugin for everything. Why this is bad? Because sometimes it would be easier just to do it manually. But, given how fragile can Gatsby be, it’s safer to stick to community-developed addons. Especially, when there is tempering with Webpack involved.

There is one extra thing that I’ve decided not to do at the beginning. Tests. Yes, the guy that talks about testing, coverage and TDD all the time didn’t do tests. Why? It is very simple – there is nothing to test, really. There is no logic in here, apart from a couple of if statements. Only actual tests that could be used here are E2E or visual regressions, but, again, given the size of this project, I chose to discard them.

Given all these, there was actually one thing that spawned the entire complain. File sizes. I know that current front-end is resource-heavy. But, for crying out loud, I’ve used only couple of additional plugins, namely Styled Components and React Markdown. And it’s goddamn gigantic. In total, it pulls over 350 KB of just JavaScript.

So, all that being said, what this actually fun? Yes, yes it was. After I configured everything, set up Storybook alongside TypeScript and Gatsby, added a plugin to resolve paths and spent a lot of time on configuration, it was really nice to work on this project.

What I would do differently? I would use a different framework for this, maybe Jekyll or Hugo. I would refrain from using React and Styled Components in favor of pure JavaScript (or VUE) with SCSS. Turning off the entire JS doesn’t really trip the page of anything. Header doesn’t hide, and links not SPA-like, without a nice animation. But apart from it? Works normally.

Perhaps, when I’ll be really bored, I will rewrite this using a simpler stack.

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