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Blog post: Experimenting with GitHub Pages and JavaScript

jonasbn profile image jonasbn ・6 min read

Introduction

This experiment and prototype project was triggered with the question:

Can you host semi-interactive pages with data using GitHub Pages?

I have blogged about using GitHub Pages previously, but simply for generating a webpage based on rendering of Markdown formatted content.

I know it is possible to alter the standard themes using Sass, but I have not gotten into more dynamic solutions, since I got my first itch scratched (see the mentioned blog post).

I am sure it would be quite easy, that it would be possible to add additional JavaScript so the more interesting part of the question is related to the data.

Now it is time to dig into the process.

Process

I am by no means a frontend developer and and my JavaScript it pretty since it was primarily pre-jQuery and early jQuery. I am experimenting a bit with Vue on the side and I did a React tutorial and Svelte is on my list of technologies to evaluate.

  1. I googled a bit and found a blog post entitled "Using GitHub Pages To Host Your Website", after reading this and it supported my own experience I was confident I could accomplish something

  2. I went to Codepen.io and found a beautiful pen called "Terminal Text Effect", do check it out. This pen holds HTML, CSS and JavaScript, so I have all the building blocks I need

  3. Next up was embedding the pieces from the pen in an HTML page. So I downloaded a basic HTML5 skeleton file and got everything working locally

  4. I enabled GitHub Pages for my newly created GitHub repository and uploaded everything. The implementation became available at:

    https://jonasbn.github.io/github-pages-javascript-prototype/

    Instead of:

    https://github.com/jonasbn/github-pages-javascript-prototype

    Where you can just see the files

    Do note that the above thing took me some time, because I forgot this step could not understand, why things where not working. One small bump in the road, but nothing compared to the next steps

  5. Now I wanted to alter "Terminal Text Effect" to display text based on data from an external file, currently also included in the repository, fetching from outside is beyond the scope of my prototype.

    I googled like crazy and read several fine StackOverflow and blog posts, where most of the responses where relying on jQuery solutions. Finally I came across Mozilla Developer Network (MDN).

    I created a JSON data file, mimicking the data from "Terminal Text Effect".

    {
        "words": ["Hello World, JavaScript is Awesome", "Console Text", "Made with Love."],
        "id": "text",
        "colors": ["tomato","rebeccapurple","lightblue"]
    }
    

    I implemented a XML HTTP request in my JavaScript to read the JSON file:

    var oReq = new XMLHttpRequest();
    oReq.addEventListener("load", reqListener);
    oReq.open("GET", "data.json");
    oReq.send();
    

    And I implemented a listener:

    function reqListener () {
        var obj = JSON.parse(this.responseText);
        consoleText(obj.words, obj.id, obj.colors);
    }
    

    So when the page has loaded my JavaScript reads the JSON data file and calls the awesome JavaScript from the pen and I can now control the text rendered by changing and committing a new revision JSON data file.

    This all required alot of reading and experimentation (the number of commits shows), I needed to understand XMLHttpRequest and JSON parsing and I really had a hard trying get data out of the event listener until I understood the order of things.

    One thing I did learn from all of this is JavaScript programming and frontend development is not the same, it uses the same language, but the context of the browser is a very different world from doing katas or similar for learning JavaScript programming.

Conclusion

The final solution is available here and you can see it running here

It took some time to get it to work, but I am glad that I could answer my original question and demonstrate the answer:

Can you host semi-interactive pages with data using GitHub Pages?

Programming is hard and wrapping your head around new concepts, technologies, challenges and constraints is hard, but it is also immensely fun and rewarding.

Reflecting on the process, I find that keeping the goal small and constrained and not letting the scope creep, lets you focus on the task at hand and the goal.

Yes the challenge might seem overly simple and it seems everybody else can solve it faster and better. Every time you run into a problem you are faced with imposter syndrome, but remember it is a process and you are learning.

I am expanding from having worked primarily with middle-tier and backend solutions for many years to the frontend. It is very hard and I feel stupid all the time. But in my experience when I have struggled long enough with a particular problem and have asked for help, people with more experience in the particular field have been incredibly helpful and have sent me in the right direction and have never experienced somebody pointing fingers.

So solving this basic task and getting helpful assistance when really needed, has really sparked my ambition to continue in this manner and there are plenty of next steps I can take from here.

Next Step

GitHub Pages is centered around Jekyll, there are newer static site generator, which have evolved from where Jekyll originally scratched an itch.

I decided how to start with a vanilla solution.

The next steps could be to delve into experiments/prototypes based on:

  1. Jekyll, getting more from the standard and by GitHub chosen static site generator
  2. Hugo, evaluating the use of an alternative static site generator
  3. Vue, not limiting implementation to vanilla JavaScript
  4. React, again not limiting implementation to vanilla JavaScript
  5. Svelte, and yet again not limiting implementation to vanilla JavaScript
  6. D3, perhaps even doing beautiful visualizations or graphs

These could all be basic proof of concept like projects. At some point I do however want to go deeper, based on a real project and of course the best fit candidate for the optimal solution.

The one thing that I would really like to try out at this time is extending the prototype with use of an external data source as stated previously I decided to host the data locally, so this step would be a natural path forward. This will push the work into the security realm and content security policies, so I expect I need to get a more thorough understanding of this especially in relation to Github Pages, but it would certainly bring more value to the table to be able to answer the extended question:

Can you host semi-interactive pages with external data using GitHub Pages?

Resources

Thanks to all the people, who unknowningly have contributed to this work.

Almost all of the resources mentioned above are listed here:

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jonasbn profile

jonasbn

@jonasbn

Computer programmer, runner, LEGO builder, powernapper, yakshaver and father of 2 boys all squeezed in the few hours available.

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