April 14, 2014

Metalsmith Part 1: Setting Up the Forge

In my last article I gave a brief introduction to Metalsmith, a simple, pluggable static site generator written in JavaScript. In this tutorial I want to show, what a basic folder structure for Metalsmith could look like and we will also set up the basic build script.

The source code for this tutorial can be found here.

You will need Node.js and NPM. To find out, how to install them check the official documentation.

Collecting the Materials

I usually start every project by thinking about the basic folder structure. A good folder setup is key to keep your files organised and maintainable. For our purposes I think the following structure will do the job:

|– src/
    |– content/
    |– images/
    |– styles/
    |_ scripts/
|– templates/
|   |_ partials/
|– config.json
|– index.js
|_ package.json

Let’s start at the bottom: The package.json will hold our dependencies which we’ll be setting up now. For this simple example we will only need a few packages, namely Metalsmith. You can either add it to your package.json under the dependencies or devDependencies key, but I usually just use the command line to install the package and save it as a dependency at the same time. If you choose to add them manually to the package.json don’t forget to run npm install to install all your dependencies once you’ve declared them.

So let us go ahead and install Metalsmith. Using the command line execute the following:

$ npm install --save-dev metalsmith

Now let’s create the actual build file which will contain the instructions on how to generate our site. I will call this index.js but you could also call it build.js or something along those lines (index.js is often the “default” for node projects). We’ll start with some boilerplate code:

var Metalsmith = require('metalsmith');


While this code doesn’t do anything except copy the files from src/ to build/ it does give us a good starting point at least. Metalsmith will look for a folder named src in the given directory. You could change the source folder by calling the source() method and passing it a directory name. Here we are using a variable set by node that will point to the directory our build file is in. Then we set the destination folder using the destination() method, and then tell Metalsmith to run by calling build().

Adding some Content

As I said before, our script is pretty much useless right now, so let’s add some content. Create a file name index.md in the src/ directory and fill it with the following content:

title: Home
Hi, this is my start page; neat ain't it? ;)

### Some info!

The first block enclosed by the --- is YAML front-matter, a simple format used to associate metadata with the file that Metalsmith parses and can then be used by plugins. In this example we are telling Metalsmith that the title of the page is “Home”, nothing too useful yet. What follows after the front-matter is markdown which we’ll be easily able to convert to HTML.

If you are not familiar with markdown check out this guide.

To do so we will first need to install the markdown plugin for metalsmith, conveniently named metalsmith-markdown. So go ahead and add it to your package.json or install it via the command line:

$ npm install --save-dev metalsmith-markdown

Then we simply need to require it and call it in our build file:

var Metalsmith = require('metalsmith'),
    markdown   = require('metalsmith-markdown');


If you run the build script now (node index) you will find a file named index.html in the build directory. As you can see it’s super easy to add plugins to Metalsmith and customise the way your files are processed. If you have ever worked with Gulp or express.js this will look very familiar.

Note: Some versions of Metalsmith require a callback on the build method. If the code above doesn’t create the build directory, change .build() to:

    .build(function (err) { if(err) console.log(err) })

Shaping Your Content

Of course rendered markdown is not enough to make a full website. In this next step we will add some templates to wrap our content. For this we will use another Metalsmith plugin cleverly called metalsmith-templates. As before go ahead and install it and add it to your build script:

$ npm install --save-dev metalsmith-templates
var Metalsmith = require('metalsmith'),
    markdown   = require('metalsmith-markdown'),
    templates  = require('metalsmith-templates');


As with the markdown plugin we simply pass the templates() function to the use() method to tell Metalsmith to use this plugin. However we are still missing some key parts for this to work, firstly some templates and a templating engine. metalsmith-templates is build on top of consolidate.js, which gives us tons of engines to choose from. I will go with Handlebars but you could also choose Jade or Swig.

We need to install our engine and tell metalsmith-templates which engine to use:

$ npm install --save-dev handlebars
// ...
// ...

Next we need to create a simple template in the templates/ folder, so create a file called home.hbt (or whatever extension your engine uses) and fill it with some templating goodness:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="UTF-8" />
    <title>{{ title }} | Metalsmith Page</title>
    <div class="main-wrapper">
        {{{ contents }}}

Now we have to tell Metalsmith which template we want to use wrap the index.md, so we add a “template” key to the YAML front-matter:

title: Home
template: home.hbt

Now run you build script et voilà, a wrapped index.html in our build/ directory.

Turn the heat up

Next time I will dive more into the inner workings of Metalsmith and I will show you how to work with collections, multiple types of content and how to further structure your project.

Take some time and experiment with Metalsmith and read the docs over at Metalsmith.io.

The source code for this tutorial can be found here


You can find the next post in this series here: Metalsmith Part 2 : Shaping The Metal

© Robin Thrift 2017