The Evolution of My Website: How I rebuilt it with Next.js

Jabriel,ยท9 min read

I have been blogging since 2017 when I was young. Over the years, I have used many blogging systems, some dynamic ones mostly written in PHP, such as WordPress and Typecho, and some static ones like Hexo and Hugo. The two approaches have their own pros and cons. Ultimately, I transitioned from dynamic blogging platforms to a static website (well, it's not static build, we require server-side rendering).

I love exploring new things, and recently I have been delving into React, and Next.js (open in a new tab) , a React framework dedicated to web development. I think it's the time to build a brand-new website based on it.

The initiative#

For the past six years, I've had an online blog that has remained largely neglected. Rather than actually blogging, I found myself endlessly tinkering with the system itself - switching between platforms and themes, tweaking servers and plugins. As I delved deeper into the world of web technologies, I started to care more about user interface, website accessibility, and performance. My latest iteration was built with Hugo (open in a new tab) , though I hadn't actually updated the content since 2020.

Lately, it dawned on me that none of these technical optimizations mattered if I wasn't actually expressing myself. A blog, after all, should be an outlet to share your voice, not just a platform to endlessly experiment on. I realized it was time to get back to basics and build a space for recording my experiences, sharing insights from work and life, and simply writing with purpose again.

So I made the decision to start from scratch. Build a new blog, with a renewed vision - a place to discover and nurture my own voice. The technology powering it almost seems secondary now, but I still wanted to build something that was fast, accessible, and easy to maintain. This new blog represents a fresh start on a journey to rediscover myself. The blog I always meant to have, beyond any flash or fanfare, with writing at its heart.

But let's talk about the tech first anyway.

Dynamic vs. Static#

The new website is not a static-build website, it's a server-side rendered static website, that means we still need a node server responding to the requests, but we will have static optimizations that makes the experience fast and smooth.

I'm loving life with a static website now after switching from those dynamic ones like WordPress. Sure, those had their perks:

  • Easy to set up and use, just install on VPS and you are ready to go
  • Tons of plugins and themes with many free options
  • Supported by a huge community
  • Just write and publish

However, dynamic websites also came with some significant downsides:

  • Costly to maintain over time, with recurring VPS and domain fees
  • Potential security vulnerabilities required constant updates to fix
  • Backups and disaster recovery were complicated by the database-driven structure

After digging in some static site generators (SSG) such as Hugo, Astro, VuePress, I found that they are much more suitable for my needs:

  • Free to host on GitHub Pages (only for static build), Vercel, Netlify, or any other static hosting service
  • No database means increased security and no backend to maintain
  • Full autonomy over my site and content, I do what I want
  • Easy to backup and restore using Git
  • Some of them supports SSR (Server-side Rendering)

What I deprecated and Why#

Hexo and Hugo are both excellent static site generators. They export static builds of pages. Hexo suits blogs well, while Hugo is more versatile and faster than Hexo (Hugo allegedly the world's fastest SSG). Initially, I was content with Hugo. However, I found it difficult to customize themes and work within the constraints of its templates, I don't feel the full control of the website. I also became enamored with the idea of Frontend Engineering, and wanted to build a website with React.

Why React and Next.js?#

React aims at user interfaces while Vue is versatileImageReact aims at user interfaces while Vue is versatile

Ok, to be honest, I love Vue.js as well as React, Vue.js feels more intuitive and easier to learn, Vue 3 is fantastic. However, React is more widely used and has a larger community, and I'm keen to dive deeper into React (๐Ÿคฉ go to see their latest doc here (open in a new tab) ). I also looked at VuePress, Gatsby, Astro, and Svelte, but Next.js is the most mature with the best documentation, whether you're just getting into web dev or you've been doing it for years. Next.js also provides many out-of-box optimizations, here are some ideas I love:

  • Next.js pre-renders pages ahead of requests (SSR) which provides fast and responsive blog site experience
  • It also supports Hybrid Rendering (SSG + SSR) which is the best of both worlds
  • Images optimization next/image and lazy loading components
  • Built-in Sass support and component-level styling
  • File-system based routing and intuitive URLs organization

Looking for solutions#

A great way to begin a new project is researching existing solutions - they may have already solved issues you'll face. Pliny (open in a new tab) is one option for a Next.js CMS, using Contentlayer for modeling. Check out Spencer's blog (open in a new tab) for inspiration.

Ultimately, I chose Nextra (open in a new tab) - another reason I stuck with Next.js. It bridges Next.js and MDX (Markdown with React components). Many docs sites are built with it, such as Turbo (open in a new tab) and SWR (open in a new tab) . Though Nextra supports basic blogging features, I customized it extensively for my needs.

The new website#

The new setup is Next.js + Nextra with a few extra goodies sprinkled in. Let's take a quick look under the hood!

Building the next blog siteImageBuilding the next blog site

Project Structure#

This is a typical Next.js project which incorporates spices of TypeScript, UnoCSS and other customizations that I will discuss later.

โ”œโ”€โ”€ public
โ”œโ”€โ”€ src
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ components
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ data
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ layouts
โ”‚ย ย  โ”œโ”€โ”€ pages
โ”‚ย ย  โ””โ”€โ”€ styles
โ”œโ”€โ”€ lefthook.yml
โ”œโ”€โ”€ next-env.d.ts
โ”œโ”€โ”€ next.config.js
โ”œโ”€โ”€ package.json
โ”œโ”€โ”€ pnpm-lock.yaml
โ”œโ”€โ”€ theme.config.tsx
โ”œโ”€โ”€ tsconfig.json
โ”œโ”€โ”€ unocss.config.ts
โ””โ”€โ”€ vercel.json
  • The layout and styles directories contain styling and layout components for the blog theme.
  • The pages holds the posts and pages in MDX format. MDX allows writing markdown seamlessly with interactive react components.
  • The components enabled by MDX are used to enhance the content within pages and posts. (For example, Friends page uses a custom component within Markdown.)


Nextra (open in a new tab) provides the static site tooling, including:

  • MDX integration and LaTex support
  • Advanced syntax highlighting with Shiki (open in a new tab)
  • Links and images optimization for Next.js

Even though it only has basic support for blog site - it was designed for documentations, so I did some decorations for it.

Theme and UnoCSS#

The styling of the blog was initially inspired by Anthony Fu (open in a new tab) , who is a talented frontend developer dedicating to Vue ecosystem. His minimal and elegant design resonated with me, so I set out to achieve something similar with React and Next.js.

Anthony's Blog HomepageImageAnthony's Blog Homepage

UnoCSS (open in a new tab) is an atomic CSS Engine that generates styles on demand instantly, it's fast and atomic. After using UnoCSS for a while, you may find it differs from WindiCSS and TailwindCSS in impactful ways.

Read more about Atomic CSS: Reimagine Atomic CSS (open in a new tab) by Anthony Fu

UnoCSS is loaded with @unocss/webpack for Next.js, and I could rewrite my blog's theme easily with the help of UnoCSS intuitive directives. Here's an example for code syntax highlighting:

code {
    @apply bg-red-100 dark:bg-red-900;
    box-decoration-break: clone;
    font-feature-settings: 'rlig' 1, 'calt' 1, 'ss01' 1;
    .line {
        &.highlighted {
            @apply bg-blue-600/10 text-blue-600/50 shadow-[2px_0_currentColor_inset];
        .highlighted {
            @apply rounded-sm shadow-[0_0_0_2px_rgba(0,0,0,.3)];
            @apply bg-blue-800/10 shadow-blue-800/10;
            @apply dark:bg-blue-300/10 dark:shadow-blue-300/10;

Or use in components:

export default function NavBar(): ReactElement {
    const { opts, config } = useBlogContext();
    const { navPages } = collectPostsAndNavs({ opts, config });
    return (
        <div className="flex items-center z-40 py-8 sm:mx-7">
            <div className="logo w-[7rem] h-10 absolute lg:fixed select-none outline-none">

Post Management#


The whole blog is developed with Git, so it's easy to have the idea to manage the posts in the Git, that is my current way to keep the things tidy. I have different Git branches for the blog feature development and writing blogs, finally they will be merged into main branch and ship and deploy to Vercel.

I developed this entire blog using Git for version control, so managing posts through Git as well seemed a natural fit. Git branches helped me keep everything tidy:

  • The main branch for the live blog site currently deployed to Vercel.
  • The blog branch is where I draft new posts and write content in MDX.
  • The dev branch contains features and bugfix for the blog system, the isolation between blog and dev allows me to test the changes without impacting the live branch or in-progress writing.

Online Editing#

Writing my blog posts locally in Markdown (MDX) files on my machine has been simple enough so far. However, what if I want to write or make edits when I'm on the go using mobile devices or while traveling, and still preview how the posts will look? Maintaining a local-only workflow wouldn't allow for that level of flexibility and continuity, until I found this:

Decap CMS (formerly Netlify CMS) is an open source content management system for your Git workflow that enables you to provide editors with a friendly UI and intuitive workflows. You can use it with any static site generator to create faster, more flexible web projects. Content is stored in your Git repository alongside your code for easier versioning, multi-channel publishing, and the option to handle content updates directly in Git.

Sounds pretty cool, right? Decap can be integrated into my GitHub repository with github backend (open in a new tab) . For this moment, I am still working on this. Check out thier official demo (open in a new tab) .

Another option to consider is GitHub Codespaces, you can launch a web VS Code development environment and start composing on the fly. However, a full-featured IDE for editing may feel rather heavy-weight.

Asset Management#

Nextra uses Next Image to wrap each <img> from MDX files, all links and images will be optimized automatically by Nextra,

[Learn more](/more)

the above code will automatically be transformed into component syntax:

<Link .../>
<Image .../>

Grouping all images for a post is efficient and orderly. Nextra's Static Next Image (open in a new tab) lets me consolidate media in one directory along with the post content:

โ”œโ”€โ”€ antfu.me_posts.png
โ”œโ”€โ”€ index.mdx                # the post MDX file
โ”œโ”€โ”€ mindmap.png
โ””โ”€โ”€ react-vs-vue.png

Nextra uses a MDX plugin to parse all images into statically imported images enveloped by next/image. But there are some issues for the image handling by Nextra, it's not easy to customize an MDX image component, since it will disrupt the static-import workflow. Fortunately, I can patch the package to work around this issue (see this commit (open in a new tab) ) for now. Additionally, The relative URLs are not handled for the Open Graph Image (og:image) in meta. I'm still working to reconcile these issues.

Comment System#

A comment system is not an absolute must-have for my needs. Adding a comment system isn't high in my to-do list as I'm pounding out words here, but I believe providing a way for readers to interact and share their thoughts on posts can be valuable.

Having a comment system which requires a database for comments, here are some considerations:

  1. Cusdis (open in a new tab) is a lightweight open-source comment system, out-of-box with Nextra Blog Theme.
  2. giscus (open in a new tab) , comment system powered by GitHub Discussions.


Nextra didn't come with a multifaceted blogging framework, so I built (or building) upon it to enhance its functionality.

  • Custom Blog Theme with UnoCSS
  • Table of Contents
  • Pagination of Posts Page
  • Customizing MDX img component
    • Caption
    • Lightbox

See Roadmap for more details.

Someday I will come for this section, stay tuned.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.02017 - 2024 ยฉ Jabriel