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Chris Noring for Microsoft Azure

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

How YOU can learn to extend Gatsby further by authoring Plugins

TLDR; this article will teach you how to build two types of plugins for Gatsby and thereby extend Gatsby's capabilities.

This article is part of a series. If you are completely new to Gatsby I suggest you start with the first article on top:

Plugins are one of the best parts of Gatsby. With the help of Plugins, you can fetch data and also transform data to make it all usable by Gatsby. Being able to extend Gatsby's capacity with plugins is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful things about Gatsby.


Here are some more links if you want to take your Gatsby app to the Cloud


Gatsby's plugins work to augment, to give Gatsby functionality it didn't have before. Plugins operate during a build process in which it's able to run the plugins before the page components are being built. Why does the order matters? Well, the plugins are supposed to add data to the in-memory data graph or change what's already there and make it something that's easy to render in a page component. We, therefore, differ between two different types of plugins:

  • Source plugins
    Source plugins source content. Sourcing means it fetches content from somewhere and then adds it to the in-memory data graph as Nodes.

  • Transformer plugins
    Transformer plugins are transforming a certain content type from one type to another. Just like source plugins a transformer plugin ends up changing the data graph and its Nodes. Examples of things a Transformer plugin could do is to take the content of JSON or YAML files and convert that into Nodes the user can query for.

Where to create them

Plugins can be created in one of two ways:

  • In your project, you can create a plugin directly in your project. This plugin is now tied to this project.
  • As a Node.js library, you can also create a plugin as a separate Node.js library and install it like you would any Node module.

How to configure

Regardless of whether you create a plugin directly in the library or download them as a Node module you need to tell the Gatsby project they exist. There's a gatsby-config.js that we can instruct to say here's a plugin please run it during the build process.

Plugin anatomy

All a plugin need is a gatsby-node.js file and a package.json file, like this:

--| gatsby-node.js
--| package.json

DEMO author source plugin

What you are about to do next is implement the Gatsby Node API. In the context of a source plugin that means that you will export a JavaScript module that implements the method sourceNodes(). The method sourceNodes() will be invoked early in the build process and expects us to fetch data from somewhere and turn that data into Nodes.

To create and run your plugin we will need to do the following:

  1. Create the files gatsby-node.js and package.json
  2. Place the files under the plugins directory or in a directory of your choosing
  3. Implement the sourceNodes() method
  4. Configure the plugin for use
  5. Run the build process and see the plugin working

Create the needed files

  1. Create the file gatsby-node.js, give it the following content:
  exports.sourceNodes = async({ actions, createNodeId, createContentDigest }) => {  


You will implement this shortly.

  1. Create the file package.json, give it the following content:

      "name": "gatsby-source-swapi",
      "version": "1.0.0",
      "description": "",
      "main": "gatsby-node.js",
      "scripts": {
        "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1"
      "keywords": [],
      "author": "",
      "license": "MIT"

    Note how the name property has the name gatsby-source-swapi. The two first parts is a name convention. The convention looks like this <gatsby>-<what source or transform>-<from where>. Given the name you therefore state that you will create a source plugin reading its data from swapi. What is swapi? The Star Wars API of course, located at

Plugin placement

You will create a plugins directory under src/ directory. Additionally, you will create a directory with the same name as the name you gave the plugin in the package.json file. You should now have a structure looking like this:

--| src/
----| plugins/
------| gatsby-source-swapi
--------| gatsby-node.js
--------| package.json

It is possible to still create plugins within your project but not place them in the plugins/ directory. You do need to point out to Gatsby where to find your plugin. Let's come back to this one in the configure section.


Open up your gatsby-node.js file. The data your plugin is about to query is located at To fetch the data you will need a library capable of fetching data over HTTP. Ensure you are at the root of the Gatsby project before typing the following command:

npm install node-fetch

The above will install the node-fetch library which will help us do fetch() requests like we are used to from the Browser.

Add the following code to gatsby-node.js:

async function getSwapiData() {
  const res = await fetch("");
  const json = await res.json();
  return json.results;

The code above fetches data from and converts it to JSON. Next locate the part in the code that says export.sourceNodes and replace it with this:

exports.sourceNodes = async({ actions, createNodeId, createContentDigest }) => {  
  const planets = await getSwapiData();

  planets.forEach(planet => {
    const newNode = {
      id: createNodeId(,
      internal: {
        type: "SwapiNode",
        contentDigest: createContentDigest(planet),
    // creating nodes from SWAPI data


Above you are invoking the method getSwapiData() that fetches the data you need from the outside. Next, you are iterating through the data. For every iteration, you are creating a Node that will be inserted into the built-in data graph. Let's break down the methods being invoked:

  • createNodeId(), this method will generate a unique ID for your Node.
  • createContentDigest(), this is a hash of the content, a summary being encoded as a so-called MD5 hash. This is used for caching.
  • createNode(), this is what is actually creating the Node and inserts it into the Graph.

Note also how we set the internal.type to SwapiNode. Let's revisit this when we later run Gatsby.

Configure plugin

Now that you have authored your plugin it's time to tell Gatsby about your plugin so it can source the data so you can use that data as part of your Gatsby app. Locate the file gatsby-config.js, open it, and add the following entry:


Run the plugin

To test out the plugin type the following command:

gatsby develop

Above you are starting Gatsby's development server but you could also have tested the plugin out by typing gatsby build. The reason for going with gatsby develop is that you want to see the built-in graph and how your Nodes have been added to it. Navigate to URL http://localhost:8000/___graphql in your browser.

Above you see the Nodes allSwapiNode and swapiNode have been created. Let's try to query for the data as well by drilling down and selecting Nodes in the explorer section:

DEMO author transformer plugin

Let's look at how to author a transformer plugin next. This time you will develop this plugin as a stand-alone Node.js project. This is how you would author a plugin that you mean to redistribute. The point of this plugin is to be able to read and transform content inside of CSV files that is placed in the Gatsby project.

The plan

The overall plan is to come in at a later stage than a sourcing plugin would. This later stage is when a node has just been created. As you have seen in the previous demo a Node is created as part of a sourcing process. Gatsby has a built-in source plugin gatsby-source-filesystem that scans the project directory and creates a Node from every file. You will use that fact and filter out Nodes that are the result of scanning .csv files. What you want is for each and every node representing a CSV file, read out the content from the said file, and create a child node from it. That way you will be able to query for contents within the files and not just the file nodes themselves.

You will need to do the following:

  1. Create CSV data in the Gatsby project
  2. Scaffold a new Node.js project and create the files package.json and gatsby-node.js
  3. Implement the method onCreateNode()
  4. Configure the plugin for use
  5. Run the plugin

Create CSV data

In your Gatsby project create a directory csv under the src directory and inside of it create the file orders.csv. Give the file the following content:

id       name       created
1        order1     2011-01-01
2        order2     2011-02-12

Your project structure should look something like this:

--| src/
----| csv/
------| orders.csv

Scaffold a new Node.js project

Place yourself in a new directory apart from the Gatsby project. In the terminal run the command:

npm init -y

This will create a package.json file with some Node.js defaults. Locate the name property and change it to the following:

"name": "gatsby-transformer-csv"

This follows the convention that was mentioned before for the source plugin, namely that it's a gatsby plugin of type transform that operates on CSV files.

Create the file gatsby-node.js and give it the following content:

}) {}

Your plugin project structure should look like this:

--| package.json
--| gatsby-node.js


Create the file parseContent.js and give it the following content:

function parseContent(content) {
  const [headerRow,] = content.split("\n");
  const headers = headerRow.match(/\w+/g);
  const data = [];
  rest.forEach((row) => {
    const columns = row.match(/[a-z0-9-]+/g);
    let obj = headers.reduce((acc, curr, index) => {
      acc = { ...acc, [curr]: columns[index] };
      return acc;
    }, {});
  return data;

module.exports = parseContent;

What the above does is to take the CSV content and transform it from it's CSV format, with headers as the first row and content on the remaining rows to a list with objects on this format:

  'column1': 'first row value, first column',
  'column2': 'first row value, second column',
  'column3': 'first row value, third column'
  'column1': 'second row value, first column',
  'column2': 'second row value, second column',
  'column3': 'second row value, third column'

Open up gatsby-node.js, and replace its content with the following:

const parseContent = require('./parseContent')

async function onCreateNode({
}) {
  function transformObject(obj, id, type) {
    const csvNode = {
      children: [],
      internal: {
        contentDigest: createContentDigest(obj),
    createParentChildLink({ parent: node, child: csvNode });

  const { createNode, createParentChildLink } = actions;

  if (node.internal.mediaType !== `text/csv`) {

  const content = await loadNodeContent(node);
  const parsedContent = parseContent(content);
  parsedContent.forEach(row => {
    transformObject(row, createNodeId(, 'CSV')
exports.onCreateNode = onCreateNode

There is a lot of interesting things going on here. Let's list it from the top:

  1. transformObject(), this is an inner function that will help you create a CSV node. What it does is create a child node using the createNode() function and the input data you give it. Then it connects itself to a parent, an instance called node via the method createParentChildLink().
  2. filter nodes, you are only interested in file nodes from CSV files so the following line of code filter out all other nodes:
   if (node.internal.mediaType !== `text/csv`) {
  1. load content, Here we are using a built-in method to read out the CSV content from the Node so we can parse it from CSV to an object format that we can use when creating the child node:
   const content = await loadNodeContent(node);
  1. parse content here you are parsing the content from CSV to an object format
   const parsedContent = parseContent(content);
  1. create child nodes for each row, here you are iterating the list you got back from parsing and invoke the transformObject() method that will create a child node for each row.
   parsedContent.forEach(row => {
     transformObject(row, createNodeId(, 'CSV')

Configure the plugin

To use this plugin we need to do the following:

  1. Link plugin project with Gatsby project, because you are developing a Node.js plugin project locally you need to emulate that you have installed it via npm install. A way to do that is to invoke the npm link command. You will do so in two steps:
  • at the root of the plugin project type the following command in the terminal:
   npm link

this will create a so called symlink

  • at the root of the Gatsby project type the following:
   npm link gatsby-transformer-csv

this will link in the content of your plugin project node_modules/gatsby-transformer-csv in the Gatsby project. Any changes you do to your plugin project will be reflected as it's a link.

  1. Open up gatsby-config.js and add an entry gatsby-transformer-csv to the plugins array
  2. Additionally add the following entry to scan for the CSV files:
     resolve: `gatsby-source-filesystem`,
     options: {
       name: `csv`,
       path: `./src/csv`,

Run it

Gatsby is very efficient in caching data. While developing plugins it's a good idea to run the following command to clear that cache every time you change the code and want to try it out:

gatsby clean

Run your Gatsby project with the following command:

gatsby develop

Open up a browser and navigate to the following URL http://localhost:8000/___graphql.

Drill down into the following nodes in the explorer section and you should see the following columns available:

Above you can see how the node has the fields id and name on it and when queried we are to get a response. That response is data that resided inside of the CSV file.


You were taught an advanced topic today, plugins. Being able to extend Gatsby with plugins is a great feature. You were taught how to create source plugins that enabled you to fetch external data and make that part of Gatsby's build process. Additionally, you were shown how to process content within files residing inside of your project when building transform plugins. Hopefully, you feel empowered by now that you can extend your Gatsby app in any direction you see fit. If there is no plugin already that you can download you now know how to build one, or maybe two? :)

Top comments (1)

robmarshall profile image
Robert Marshall

Great article Chris! A few months ago I wrote a starter plugin template -

Might help get people off the ground a bit quicker.