<strong>kung fu</strong>Fork me on GitHub

Metalsmith is Awesome (Part 2)

Last time, we got Metalsmith up and running, generating a single static page. This was a good first step, but we need more. If we intend to build a fully functional blog or documentation site, we need things like style and syntax highlighting. We'll also need to add some structure to the site, as well as the ability to generate sane permalinks.

Faster development

Before we get started with any of that, though, we need to tighten our feedback loop. We're going to be making lots of changes to the site quickly, and we need a way to see our results. Dropping out to a shell to run node build after each change, then opening the resulting file is just too slow. So we're going to set up a watcher for our files, and run a simple static Node.js server to handle serving our content.

wait time: 0
wait time: 0

We're going to be using Express to serve our site locally, so we'll start by installing it and the serve-static plugin.

npm install express serve-static --save-dev

We need to create a script to hand over control to Express:

index.jsvar express = require('express'),
    serveStatic = require('serve-static');

var app = express();

// Port can be overrideen with an environment variable.
var port = process.env.PORT || 3003;


Very simple. Just point serve-static at our build directory, and default to listening on port 3003. We can crank up the server directly with node index.js, but let's do this the npm way:

	/* ... */

	"scripts": {
		"server": "node index.js"
	/* ... */

With this in place, we should be able to simply:

npm run server

Our "site" should now be served on port 3003. We can confirm this by pointing a browser at http://localhost:3003/about.html. We should see our super mega awesome about page in all its glory. Now we need our site to be automatically rebuilt every time we change a file. For starters, let's add an npm task to handle the building.

  /* ... */
  "scripts": {
    "server": "node index.js",
    "build": "node build.js"

We can now use

npm run build

to rebuild the site. The trick is tying these 2 together, so they both run back to back when we make changes. For this, we're going to use a utility called nodemon. Let's get it installed.

npm install -g nodemon

We install it globally so we can execute it directly from the CLI. Now we need to tweak the scripts in our package.json:

  /* ... */
  "scripts": {
    "server": "node index.js",
    "build": "node build.js",
    "start": "npm run build && npm run server",
    "run-watch": "nodemon -e js,md,pug,scss --ignore build/ --exec npm start"

What this does is allow us some flexibility. npm run server will just start the express server, npm run build will invoke the Metalsmith pipeline to generate the site, npm run start will build the site, and immediately start the express server, and npm run run-watch will build the site, run the server, and repeat both steps when any changes are made. There are many more elegant ways to accomplish this, but this one will work for our purposes. For now, just crank the environment up with

npm run run-watch

You should be able to visit http://localhost:3003/about.html, and our about page should be accessible. From here on out, we should not need to restart the server to see our changes take effect.

Giving it some flair

Now that we can quickly see our changes, it's time to add some styling to our little site. I prefer Sass, so that's what we will be using here. If you prefer Less or Stylus, there are Metalsmith packages available as well.

To get started, we need to add metalsmith-sass to our project.

npm install metalsmith-sass --save-dev

Next, we need to add a basic stylesheet.

src/assets/style.scsshtml {
	line-height: 1.6em;
	font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
	font-size: 100%;
	color: #333333;
	a {
		color: #123eab;

That's about as basic as it gets, and bare includes any Sass, but will do for our purposes. Full styling is really out of scope for this discussion.

We need to now get Metalsmith to preprocess this file and dump the result in our build directory.

build.jsvar metalsmith = require('metalsmith'),
    layouts = require('metalsmith-layouts'),
    markdown = require('metalsmith-markdownit'),
    sass = require('metalsmith-sass');

  // ...
    outputDir: 'assets/css/',
    outputStyle: 'expanded'
  .use(markdown('commonmark', { html: true }))
  // ...

All that's left is to get our stylesheet actually included in our pages. We do this by adding it to our site's template.

layouts/main.pugdoctype html
// ...
      meta(name='viewport', content='width=device-width,initial-scale=1')
      link(rel='stylesheet', href='assets/style.css')
// ...

If everything is wired up properly, the app should kick off a new build, and restart the server. Refreshing our page should show you a newer, slightly better version than what we had before.

Wrapping up

Since last time, we've got our site auto-building itself on changes, and it looks oh-so-much better (lulz). Next time, we'll start putting together some real content, complete with syntax highlighting of any code snippets we add. Same as last time, everything I've done here is availble on Github.