Introducing Bookshop: component-driven workflow for static websites

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CloudCannon
06 October 2021

We’re delighted to launch Bookshop: an open-source framework to speed up development and reduce maintenance on static websites by developing components in isolation.

Building and maintaining high-performing informational websites have their own set of challenges. It’s almost impossible to know all the requirements for a website upfront, so there’s often an endless amount of iteration and tweaking involved in these projects. Requirements change, new components are necessary, buttons need ‘more pizzazz’, the data team wants to add a series of graphs to their latest blog post, and it’s on you to get everything to work together while being prepared for the next wave of changes. This constant chopping and changing often leads to an unmaintainable jungle of CSS and JavaScript where a complete rebuild becomes the only option. We’ve all been there; it’s usually just a matter of time.

The key to avoiding this jungle is a component-driven workflow. Ideally, you isolate each component’s template and CSS. Doing this makes the website far easier to maintain and gives you a framework for adding as many components as you’d like, without your codebase getting out of control.

In a traditional React application, you might reach for Storybook to solve this problem. Storybook provides the tooling needed to build components in isolation, and we’re big fans of the workflow that it brings to our React projects.

 

The problem.

When we started tackling static websites with a component-driven methodology, however, we hit some limitations working with Storybook outside of the JS framework world.

  1. Complicated configuration — Storybook doesn’t have built-in support for templating languages like Liquid, Handlebars, or Go templates. We experimented with adding templating support to one of the existing Storybook frameworks, and building Javascript definition files for each component, giving us the rich Storybook controls. Another option was to use Storybook as an HTML reference guide, copying snippets out whenever we needed a component.Neither workflow provided the benefits we were used to in our application Storybooks, and our component reference would eventually fall out of sync with the implementation.
  2. Schema duplication — There was no source of truth for the data passed to each component. We had to manually keep parity between our Storybook configuration, component includes, and include tags across each website.
  3. No SSG integration — The SSG doesn’t know anything about components, so we had no prescribed workflow for structuring our files at a component level. Eventually, a given site would become a bird’s nest of include files and sass modules, and it was no longer clear what was actually a component.
  4. Development speed — Once we weren’t receiving the full benefits of Storybook, the extra tooling and build time became a damper on an otherwise lightweight static website development environment.

Our solution? Bookshop.

Bookshop is a component browser and playground, which addresses these limitations and brings component-driven development to static site generators (SSGs).

The benefits include:

  • SSG templating language support — Bookshop is built for templating and can render the exact same includes you use to build your production website.
  • Easy configuration — Configure components with TOML, which functions as a schema for the front matter data structure you’ll use in your SSG.
  • Easy integration — Bookshop includes plugins for popular SSGs, allowing them to use components with a distinct template tag that enforces a separation of concerns. Using this, Bookshop can seamlessly pass data from front matter to your component. There’s no need to manually pass data to an include one variable at a time.
  • Isolated component structure — Bookshop has strong opinions on how templates and CSS are structured to ensure they’re isolated, easy to find, and simple to maintain.
  • Fast build times — Bookshop is lightweight. Rather than a standalone application, bookshop builds a component browser that can embed anywhere on your website. This means you get to use your website styles and assets, and esbuild under the hood brings fast build times and quieter laptop fans.

Finally, Bookshop integrates tightly with CloudCannon for your content management needs. Editors can see the full catalog of components available and use them to build pages visually, all powered by your custom-built component library. No extra steps are necessary.

And did we mention that Bookshop adds a local component browser to your static webdev process? With a hot-reloading live-preview UI explorer for static template components, your workflow will thank you.

HTML-based SSGs such as 11tyJekyll, and Hugo (support coming soon) benefit the most for Bookshop, as existing tooling doesn’t support their native templating languages. However, there will still be benefits to using Bookshop with React or Vue-based SSGs, particularly if you want content editors to manage content visually on CloudCannon. Support for a Bookshop workflow with these SSGs will be coming later this year.

To help get you started with Bookshop, we’ve created a starter theme (Jekyll, 11ty) to give you a boilerplate to build the rest of you site on. We’re also launching a collection of free, high quality templates. These production-ready templates make full use of Bookshop, are optimized for CloudCannon and can be used for free for any project, commercial or not.

We can’t wait to see how you start using Bookshop on your web projects and reach new productivity levels. To get started, check out the readme for Bookshop in the GitHub repository. We’re always open to any feedback. If you hit a problem or have an idea to improve Bookshop, open an issue on the repository, and we’ll be there to help.

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