Building a developer blog with Next JS

July 19. 2019
by Christian Alfoni
I have been waiting for an opportunity to combine looking into new technology and building a new blog. Next JS version 9 was this opportunity. Let me tell you about it!

Next JS version 9 was just released. With me going 100% freelance it opened up a great opportunity to do another iteration on my blog. My previous iteration was really about server side rendering, deploying on Heroku and creating a markdown converter called marksy, which also powers this site.

With version 9 of Next JS I got the stuff I want. Things like dynamic routing, Typescript support, API routes and other general improvements. I was super excited to see how little work it required to get my blog up and running.

And so my journey began:

npm install react react-dom marksy @types/react @types/node 

Rendering markdown from a file

What I first wanted to know is if I was able to create markdown files and produce an article output. I really enjoy using markdown when writing articles and with Marksy I am able to enhance my markdown with custom components.

First I created my article page with dynamic routing at /pages/articles/[name].tsx.

import { NextPage } from 'next';
import marksy from 'marksy'
import { createElement } from 'react';

// 1. We create our marksy instance using the
// element factory from React
const compile = marksy({ createElement })
const Article: NextPage<{ article: string }> = ({ article }) => {
  // 3. Here we get the article as a string and we compile it into
  // virtual dom
  return (
// 2. When Next prepares the component we go
// grab the markdown based on the name query
Article.getInitialProps = async ({ query }) => {
  const article = await import(`../../articles/${}.md`)

  return {
    article: article.default,

export default Article;

Now running the Next JS development flow and hitting http://localhost:3000/articles/some-article grabs and shows the converted markdown located in articles/ Great! My proof of concept was done and I could continue building up my blog.

By default Next does not handle .md files. With a quick webpack configuration you get it up and running though.

Code highlighting

An important feature of a developer blog is code highlighting. Marksy has en option to use any highlighter, where Prism.js is currently my favourite. The reason simply being that it handles Typescript. The highlighting is implemented simply as:

import { NextPage } from 'next';
import marksy from 'marksy'
import { createElement } from 'react';
import Prism from 'prismjs'

// 1. We create our marksy instance using the
// element factory from React
const compile = marksy({
  highlight(language, code) { 
    return Prism.highlight(code, Prism.languages.javascript, language);

Now I am able to write markdown code examples with whatever language I have activated in my Prism.js babel preset. You simply just install it an add a .babelrc file to your project, where mine looks like:

  "presets": ["next/babel"],
  "plugins": [
    ["prismjs", {
        "languages": ["javascript", "typescript", "jsx", "markup", "tsx"],

Next JS has its own css-in-js solution and if you are using that make sure you use the global style approach documented here.

Publishing Management

What I needed to decide upon is how publishing should work. Having a bunch of markdown files in a folder is not enough. I would have to manage the following:

  • Is the article published or not? So that I can work on drafts, but still deploy changes to the blog
  • When is the article published? So that I can have an archive and show the latest article
  • How do I define title, tags, tldr and other meta data? So that I can show details about the article, without loading the whole thing

Being a developer I can just deploy a new site whenever I want to update the contents of it, meaning all I really need is a file where I define this meta data. And here it is, publisher.json:

  "articles": {
    "building-a-developer-blog": {
      "title": "Building a developer blog with Next JS",
      "tldr": "I have been waiting for an opportunity to combine looking into new technology and building a new blog. Next JS version 9 was this opportunity. Let me tell you about it!",
      "published": "10.02.2019",
      "tags": ["typescript", "next", "marksy"],
      "heroUrl": ""

The great thing is that if I do not add my article to this file I can still open it is a draft during development. This file also allows me to define other publishing data, like what ko-fi video updates I want to add, and really whatever my heart would desire.

import { NextPage } from 'next';
import marksy from 'marksy'
import { createElement } from 'react';
// 1. By default you can import JSON files
import publisher from '../../publisher.json'
Article.getInitialProps = async ({ query }) => {
  const article = await import(`../../articles/${}.md`)
  // 2. We grab the publishing details of the article requested
  const publishingDetails = publisher.articles[];

  return {
    article: article.default,

export default Article;

Using a JSON file to handle this does not scale very well, but it is good enough. It is not a publishing platform, it is just a blog :-)

RSS Feed

For people interested in your content it is nice to provide an RSS api. You can very easily build this api endpoint using the new api routes. All we have to do is create a file named pages/api/rss.ts, install the feed package and insert something like the following code:

import { Feed} from 'feed'
import { NextApiResponse } from "next";
import publisher from '../../publisher.json'
import { createDate } from '../../utils';
import { Article } from '../../types';

// 1. We define a new feed
const feed = new Feed({
  id: '',
  title: 'Christian Alfoni',
  description: 'Freelance developer blog',
  link: '',
  image: '',
  copyright: 'All rights reserved 2019, Christian Alfoni',
  author: {
    name: 'Christian Alfoni',
    email: '',
    link: ''

// 2. We give it a category

// 3. We add the published articles
Object.keys(publisher.articles).forEach((articleName) => {
  const article: Article = publisher.articles[articleName]

    title: article.title,
    link: '' + articleName,
    description: article.tldr,
    date: createDate(article.published)

// 4. We create the result to be used on any requests for it,
// as it does not change during the lifespan of the application instance
const feedString = feed.rss2();

// 5. We return the rss string
export default (_, res: NextApiResponse) => {
  res.setHeader('Content-Type', 'application/rss+xml');
  res.statusCode = 200;

Now you can create links taking the user to /api/rss where you will get an RSS result to be used with any RSS reader.

Automatic deploy

The great thing about Next JS is that it can be integrated with Github using the Now Github Integration. That means you deploy a new version of your site when pushing to the repo. Follow these steps:

  target: 'serverless',
  • Create a now.json file.
  "version": 2,
  "builds": [{ "src": "package.json", "use": "@now/next" }]
  • Push to the master branch
  • Go to your dashboard on
  • Click the latest release and go to the domains tab at the top to add a new production domain
  • Push a new version of your blog to master

By going to the commits tab on your Github repo you will see the Now deployments indicated with a success or error. Click it to get more information.

Designing A Blog

Now, I am no designer. To get anything to look pretty okay I need to look at existing solutions and just steal as much as I can. What I have learned though is that small things like paddings and margins is the key to get a good feel for a site. I checked out this talk on how developers can get some insight into creating an okay design. As you can see I am stealing shamelessly from the examples there. Here is a short summary of what I did:

  • Choose two font families from Google. Search the web for good combinations. There are several articles rating font combinations.
  • Line length of text should be no longer than 700px. This is just a fact. People loose track of which line they are on if any longer than that.
  • Line height gives breathing space and it should be between 1.4 and 1.8. That is just how it is.
  • General spacing with margins and paddings needs to be consistent. Use rems to ensure this. I only use 0.5rem, 1rem, 1.5rem etc.
  • Keep articles interesting by not having too big paragraphs. Make sure you split up in multiple paragraphs, separate with new headers and code examples.


I hope this gave you some insight into how Next JS works and how you can quickly and easily get a custom built developer blog up and running. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me or look into the source code of this blog, it is open source on Github. Thanks for reading!