The U.S. government employs millions of people, many of whom are working on government websites or digital technology. Corralling and informing such a large community is a huge undertaking, and exactly what digital.gov is all about. Let’s dive in.
I’m going to start off with a feature that genuinely surprised and delighted me. When you click on the blue edit symbol at the bottom right of the screen, it highlights all the editable pieces of content on the page with a yellow background. Clicking on one takes you to the source Markdown file on GitHub where you can fork, update the content and submit a pull request.
Clicking the red bug icon takes you a page to create an issue on GitHub with the current page already populated.
How cool is that? You have a basic CMS and bug reporting tool that any visitor to the website can use. It’s a website of the people, by the people, for the people. Better yet, they still have all the advantages of a static site and haven’t had to set up any extra services. The only downside I can see is throwing the average person in GitHub might be overwhelming, but this site is for a digital audience, so many of them are likely well versed with GitHub and Markdown.
So how does it work? It’s actually relatively simple, editable elements have a
data-edit-this attribute added to them like this:
Which is generated in Hugo by outputting the path of the current page:
They have jQuery that picks up these attributes and turns them into a GitHub link when edit mode is enabled.
We have a similar feature on CloudCannon called client sharing. Currently only people you’ve shared the site with can edit. We’re exploring a similar workflow where visitors can suggest changes. It’s an exciting workflow that essentially brings Wikipedia-style collaboration to sites built with an SSG.
One of the limitations of Hugo is it’s a static binary, so you can’t extend the build with plugins like you can with most other static site generators. To get around this, Digital.gov uses NPM to run static checks and Gulp to build the asset pipeline.
Let’s start with the Gulp asset pipeline. There’s a lot of code here so I’m going to talk at a high level. If you want the nitty-gritty, then dive into the repo.
Images run through the following steps:
I’m surprised to see no image minifying with something like gulp-imagemin. Perhaps it increases the build time too much.
Scripts through the following:
Styles run through the following:
These are pretty standard flows for CSS and JS, nothing too fancy but saves time and problems by automating it as part of the build.
As I mentioned, NPM is running a series of static checks to help ensure a high quality website. Let’s have a look at them one by one:
These scripts either run before or after the Hugo build and provide a lot of extra functionality that wouldn’t be possible in Hugo itself.
Digital.gov makes great use of partial caching to ensure speedy builds:
This site has around 4000 content pages and there’s 6 partials here which render the bulk of the layout. Without caching Hugo would render have to render 24000 partials. With caching it’s 6. The moral of the story is give Hugo and your CPU a break and use partial caching.
The news section is the core of the digital.gov website. It’s essentially a blog that combines news and past events. To start, let’s look at a news markdown file:
Fairly standard for a blog post, some metadata in the front matter and markdown content for the body.
When it comes to listing the posts, they first retrieve the past events and combine it with news:
Then use the event type to determine which layout to render with. I was expecting a switch/case statement here and was surprised find there isn’t a switch statement with Go templating.
When it comes to rendering an individual post it’s fairly standard too, the layout works its way through rendering the metadata and content. It’s lengthy so I won’t post it here. If you’re interested, take a peak.
One last thing I wanted to call attention to is the beautiful formatting of this data file:
Data files are often a dumping ground for copy-pasted spaghetti formatted code. It’s nice to see someone take pride in their code, even in a place that isn’t seen by many people. Shout out to Jeremy Zilar for the pleasant surprise.
That wraps up the digital.gov showcase. This is a well-established, frequently updated Hugo use case with interesting complexity around news/blog. If you’re interested in using Hugo for your next project, take a look at this Hugo tutorial to get started.
29 November 2021
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