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Remixing the old with the new

The evolution of my blog starting from 2015 - 2023

Taran "tearing it up" Bains • July 15, 2023 10 min read

I’ve been working on websites for the past 7 years, and throughout those years, some things has stayed consistent: I’ve always had a blog and there’s always been something new to learn. Whether or not I’ve consistenly written content on my blog, though, is another story (I haven’t); but I’ve always had one!

Let me walk you through the evolution of my blog, starting from 2015 and how we ended up here!

some thingy

The Why

First and foremost, let’s establish why I rewrote my blog (again) in 2023. My previous iteration was written in Gatsby, and I was pretty happy with it. It was fast, it was easy to write, and it did everything I needed a basic blog to do.

However, I was starting to get a bit bored of it, Gatsby had fallen out of favor, I wanted to try something new, and thanks to the massive lay-offs in big tech, I had some time on my hands 😅. Moreover, I’m noticing a shift in the FE landscape where the lines between the backend and the frontend are starting to get a little bit blurry so it kinda made sense to pick up a project that would get me some exposure 💨 — Enter react server components.

The Evolution

When I first started getting into web development, my first project, like many others who are starting out today was a blog! However, back then (circa 2014), I didn’t know JavaScript all that well and the JavaScript that I did know was all jQuery. Creating a fancy, slick looking site was beyond my abilities and I didn’t have all the modern day niceities that we have today (tailwind was not a thing, webpack wasn’t even on my radar, and don’t even get me started on the state of React).

So I did what I could. I started before I was ready and with the tools that I had at my disposable: HTML and CSS. My old site is still available and hosted for free at my alma-mater.

via GIPHY

It’s not much to look at and it’s not mobile friendly, but it is one thing for damn sure, besides cringey: performant. You can’t get much faster than vanilla HTML and css, and it’s one of the primary benefits of the Jamstack. Unlike my second iteration of my blog (which is no longer up), there’s also minimal security concerns with these HTML files. My old server got hacked and became a zombie sending people spam emails 😅 because I failed to keep it updated.

2023 Rewrite

Here’s the list of things involved with my rewrite:

Written with:

Serviced Used:

Archtitecture diagram from excalidraw for taranveerbains.ca

Each one of the services listed above and diagramed in my architecture exaclidraw are more than worthy of having their own blog post so I’ll just focus on the ones that were new to me or ones that made me go “huh, guess I need this”.

Redis

As you may have guessed, I am using Github as my CMS and their API gave me quite a lot of trouble; well, not really the API, but I was was using it gave me trouble. Originally, I copypastad the methods Kent C. Dodds had written in his blog project for querying Github. I didn’t understand why Kent was using the cachified library for his API requests and so I decided to strip cachified out from my implementation (boy was that a bad idea 😅) because I thought I didn’t need it.

Not only were my pages loading slower than I wanted (upwards of 10 seconds for my til page), but I would hit the rate limit for the API within a few minutes of local development 😱. During Kent’s office hours, I asked him how I could address this problem and when I showed Kent my implementation, he lol’ed. Turns out, I had stripped out the layer that was needed for performance — the redis cache!

I brought back cachified and started using redis to as my caching layer for 3rd party requests and boy, I gotta say, that was a real improvement to my page speeds! cachified makes it super easy to plug in redis/redis like databases and so I was off to the races within minutes!

Octokit

The above was the first real problem I experienced when creating my full stack remix app: I had nothing caching the API calls to third parties and because of this, the performance of my site suffered. However, more importatnly I had forgotten one of my core tenants of programming: code we cannot understand is code we cannot trust.

I didn’t understand Kent’s implementation for interfacing with the Octokit and therefore ditched key elements that I actually needed. I decided to abandon the idea of reusing Kent’s code for querying Github and decided to do my own technical discovery. As you could image, my discovery was quite fruiful because it landed me on the Github Graqhql API. The Graphql API made it easy to recurisvely query data from Github with one request (the TIL and blog pages on my site require recursive querying and this was a pain in the butt with the Rest API) and so the liklihood of me hitting the Github API rate limit diminished greatly 🎉!

Unified + Mdx Bundler

So as I mentioned above, my last iteration for my blog was written in Gatsby. Gatsby was great for a myriad of reasons: it let me write my website in React, it had an awesome developer experience, and there were a whole host of plugins at my disposable.

When I came over to Remix, a lot of the goodies I had in Gatsby RE MDX didn’t really exist for me anymore 😅. Some of the plugins I used were written specifically for Gatsby and they didn’t have a one to one port over to a platform like Remix — this also became an opportunity for more self growth though 😏! Morever, while Remix has built in support for MDX at build time and, don’t get me wrong, it’s great, I didn’t see point of doing a rewrite of my blog with a fullstack framework if I was not going to do anything substantial with my server!

Thankfully, Kent C. Dodds worked on the mdx-bundler and so I was able to actually bundle my mdx and run-time (yay, I got to use my server to do some processing!) 😊. While mdx-bundler gets the job done, there were some oddities I noticed. For example, whenever I run prettier on my MDX files, my TextLink component renders in a separate paragraph. Even though my TextLink was supposed to be inside the regular flow, contained in the preceeding paragraph, the combination of prettier and mdx-bundler casued it to be added to its own paragraph tag. Owing to this, I just opted not to run prettier on my MDX files; not great, but oh well 🤷.

Remember when I mentioned like one paragraph ago that I had an opportunity for more self growth when working with MDX and my Remix site? Well, let me elaborate! Gatsby has a plugin that allows developers to associate titles to their remark code blocks and it’s great (if you’re usin Gatsby) but there is no remark counterpart that exists 😱!

However, there was something that was close to what I needed: rehype-code-titles. This rehype library basically did the same thing as the Gatsby version, but didn’t support the ability for a custom separator for the title string. After some encouragement from Kent, I made my first PR and became a contributor to the library 🎉. The issue link describes basically what I did and the reason why I needed to add it to the library.

Contributed to open source; I call that growth 😎

Cloudflare

The unexpected foot gun 🤣. The short version of this story is that the extra DNS hops and the attempt to use the Cloudflare as my CDN actually negatively impacted my page score lol.

Remix

Remix is my chosen full stack framework for writing web applications and websites, or at least it is at the time of writing this blog post. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a plethora of full stack frameworks to choose from and they’re all good in their own regard, offering their own respective set of tradeoffs, but I am partial to Remix not only because it offers a seamless and amazing developer experience but also because it remixes the base principles of web development I learned about when I first started my career with the modern developer experience, and frameworks I’ve come to love.

I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a mental shift to have to start thinking about my web app from the perspective of the server and the client. When I first got started, well if I remembering correctly, I had issues understanding how to properly read from localStorage, the window object being undefined whenever I tried to access it, and the most annoying thing, I keep running into hydration issues 😅. Now let me be clear, none of these issues are isolated to Remix alone — it’s just the nature of working with React at the server and client level. Owing to my own, inexperience, I ran into these issues and I eventually figured them out.

Regardless, using Remix has been an absolute joy and I’ve had so much fun migrating my site to this stellar framework. Lots of learning, lots of late nights, and lots of stress — but good things all around 😍.

Closing Thoughts

This migration was tough, but most things in life that are worth doing, tend to be on the difficult side. I can tell I grew a lot from this migration and it’s not only helped me become a better developer, but also a better engineer, and overall problem solver.

Life’s true beauty lies in the relentless pursuit of growth and the courage to embrace change, for it is in those moments that we discover the depths of our potential.