Skip to content

Blogging with Vitepress


Happy new year!

In my most recent update post, I mentioned that I had migrated this blog over to Vitepress, a promising but relatively new static site generator powered by Vue.js and Vite. I'm already familiar with these tools (we use all of them in Codex), so it made sense to try using the same setup here.

Tuning the Default Theme

I've used a lot of static-site generator tools over the years. One of my common struggles with these tools is designing a custom theme from scratch – I guess I am a design snob, because I was never happy with the out-of-the-box results from Jekyll, Hugo, etc.

Crafting a responsive, elegant website layout that works well for all possible devices and viewport sizes is actually a daunting task. CSS is far more capable than it used to be, but there are also a lot more use-cases you have to consider and work around (don't even get me started on the frustrating way that Mobile Safari interacts with full-height elemenents as its toolbars appear and disappear).

To my surprise, the default theme that Vitepress ships with is actually quite nice. Even better, it is very customizable. A lot of things like navigation elements and sidebars can be switched off in the config file.

export default {
    title: 'My Blog',
    description: 'My Personal Website',

    themeConfig: {
        logo: '/logo.svg',
        nav: [...],
        outline: false,
        sidebar: false

You can see the full list of theme configuration options here.

Layout Slots

The default theme's <Layout/> component accepts a variety of slots that can be used to inject arbitrary content. In my case, I wanted to include a custom <PageHeader/> component at the top of every blog post. I was able to use the #doc-before slot to achieve this.

<script setup lang="ts">
import DefaultTheme from 'vitepress/theme'
import PageHeader from '../components/PageHeader.vue';
const { Layout } = DefaultTheme

        <template #doc-before>
            <PageHeader />

To figure out how content would appear in various slots, I created a dummy <TestComponent/> which drew a border around itself and tried dropping it in a few different places.

<script setup lang="ts">
import DefaultTheme from 'vitepress/theme'
import PageHeader from '../components/PageHeader.vue';
import TestComponent from '../components/TestComponent.vue';
const { Layout } = DefaultTheme

        <template #doc-before>
            <PageHeader />

        <template #layout-bottom>
            <TestComponent name="Layout bottom" />

RSS Feed Generation

Vitepress does not ship with the ability to generate an RSS feed automatically. However, the docs do include some hints on how to implement such a feature. Vitepress exposes a method called createContentLoader that can take a directory full of markdown files and return an array of ContentData objects. Non-markdown files are ignored. I'm using this feature to generate the index of blog posts on the Notes page of my site. You can read more about createContentLoader here.

Vitepress also exposes some build hooks which you can access in your site config. The buildEnd hook is the relevant one for writing an RSS feed (I'm using the excellent Feed library to help with this).

As an RSS maximalist, I want to include the full text of every post in my feed. I also want to include images, but I'm using some custom Vue components to display them. The ContentData objects returned by createContentLoader include the HTML output of plain markdown files, but vue components are not rendered.

I needed to use a second build hook - transformHtml, to get the rendered HTML output for each page, stash the parts I cared about, and then look up the content for each page when buildEnd is fired to add that content to the feed.

import path from 'path';
import { writeFileSync } from 'fs';
import { Feed } from 'feed';
import { defineConfig, createContentLoader, type SiteConfig } from 'vitepress';
import formatPageContentForRSS from './theme/utils/formatPageContentForRSS';

// Create a record object to stash fully-rendered page content from the
// transformHTML hook so that it can be accessed during the build end hook
const formattedPagesForRSS: Record<string, string> = {};

export default defineConfig( {
    // ...general config settings

    // transformHTML gets called for each page in the site, receiving a
    // `ContentData` object for that page as an argument
    transformHtml(_code, _id, { content, pageData } ) {
        const { filePath } = pageData;
        const dirname = path.dirname( filePath );
        const basename = path.basename( filePath, '.md' );

        if ( dirname === 'notes' ) {
            // custom helper method for formatting
            const html = formatPageContentForRSS( content, hostName );

            // stash the rendered page content into the record
            if ( html ) {
                formattedPagesForRSS[ `/${dirname}/${basename}` ] = html;

    buildEnd: async ( config ) => {
        // set up a new Feed object with metadata
        const feed = new Feed( {
            title: siteTitle,
            description: siteDescription,
            id: hostName,
            link: hostName,
            copyright: siteCopyright,
            language: 'en',
        } );

        // Load data from all the blog markdown files, sorted by date
        const posts = await createContentLoader( `/notes/*.md`, {
            render: true,
            includeSrc: true,
            transform ( rawData ) {
                return rawData.sort( ( a, b ) => {
                    return +new Date( ).getTime() - +new Date( ).getTime()
                } );
        } ).load();

        // Add items to the feed in order
        for ( const { url, excerpt, frontmatter, html } of posts ) {
            // Grab the full rendered page markup that we stashed earlier and use that instead of the
            // markdown-only HTML; this insures that any embedded Vue components are fully rendered.
            // Fall back on the markdown output if the full markup is not available for somre reason.
            const improvedHtml = formattedPagesForRSS[ url ];

            feed.addItem( {
                title: frontmatter.title,
                id: `${hostName}${url}`,
                link: `${hostName}${url}`,
                description: excerpt,
                content: improvedHtml || html,
                author: [
                        name: 'Eric Gardner',
                        email: '',
                        link: ''
            } );

        // Write the RSS feed to disk
        writeFileSync( path.join( config.outDir, 'feed.rss' ), feed.rss2() );

} );

You can see the full code for this here

Custom Components

Vitepress's output is basically a Vue SPA with server-side rendering. Since everything is already part of a Vue application, adding your own custom components is very simple. I created custom <Gallery/> and <Figure/> components to display image content inside of my posts (mostly to save me the effort of having to write out all the necessary markup by hand over and over again). I also created a custom layout for the home page called <StartLayout/>.

In all of these cases I found it helpful to register the components globally in .vitepress/theme/index.ts. For custom layout components this is necessary (I registered my <StartLayout/> as start so that I could set layout: start in YAML frontmatter).

import type { Theme } from 'vitepress';
import DefaultTheme from 'vitepress/theme';
import CustomLayout from './layouts/CustomLayout.vue';
import StartLayout from './layouts/StartLayout.vue';
import Gallery from './components/Gallery.vue';
import Figure from './components/Figure.vue';
import './style.css';

export default {
    extends: DefaultTheme,
    Layout: CustomLayout,
    enhanceApp({ app, _router, _siteData }) {
        app.component( 'start', StartLayout );
        app.component( 'Gallery', Gallery );
        app.component( 'Figure', Figure );
} satisfies Theme

Quality-of-life improvements

Some static site generators include handy little scripts to do things like scaffold a new blog post with some frontmatter fields (title, date, etc) pre-populated. Vitepress doesn't include anything like this, but it was easy enough to use the Node.js filesystem API to write one. Just make sure to prepend your file with #!/usr/bin/env node and add it to the bin property in package.json.

This allows me to start a new blog post by running npm exec "Hello World"; this will create a new file called notes/ with some YAML frontmatter predefined.

You can see the full code for this script here.

Final thoughts

Vitepress is primarily designed for documentation websites, but with a little bit of tweaking I'm finding that it works well for a personal blog too. I'm pleased with the current setup that I've been able to achieve here so far. Most importantly, I'm confident that I'll be able to continue to customize things in order to suit my needs as I build out this site over the next few months.

All views expressed are my own