Adventures in modern web programming

At this point, I’ve fallen so far behind of where JS developers are that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure out what’s going on. However, Vercel is a portfolio company of GV’s, so I decided to give it a valiant effort.

Thus, I started at I went through their deploy flow for a Gatsby template, linked my GitHub account, and ended up with a static webpage. This created a new Gatsby repository on my GitHub account. Unfortunately, I also have no idea how to use Gatsby. However, I’ve also been meaning to learn Gatsby, so let’s dive in.

I cloned the repository and opened up in Visual Studio Code. Unfortunately, I’m not super familiar with VS Code, either, so then I had to look up how to add the damn folder to my workspace. (The weird thing about working at Google is that I have the best tools in the world at my disposal… just not the ones anyone else in the world uses.)

One quick StackOverflow search later, I’m suspiciously inspecting index.js in VS Code. This seems to be the business end of the app, but unfortunately I’m not familiar with React nor Helmet, both of which seem to be doing some lifting here.

Usually I’ve found the best way to learn a new thing is to mess around with it, so let’s start by changing the front end. I change the h1, commit, and push.

I head to the Vercel equivalent of the github page (e.g., my repo is, so my Vercel dashboard for it is Nice. After a second, it updates and shows my new commit as the deployed version. Very nice. It also has been emailing me about its actions each step, which is a bit much for a personal project but would be nice in general.

Okay, time to get serious. How do I actually connect Vercel to a backend? Googling around for this, it looks like I’m going to be writing serverless functions. Guess what else I’m not familiar with? However, this looks interesting. Basically I can put node.js functions in files like api/foo.ts and this becomes a server request my app can make (/api/foo). I rename date.ts to hello.ts and push it out.

Vercel displays “Build failed.” Clicking on it, It gives me the build logs:

I take a look at index.js and realize that there’s some code that calls the backend function and loads it into a variable, which I completely neglected to change. Well, that’s good, just having {hello} work would be a bit too magic for my blood (and how would nested directories in /api be specified?). I update index.js and this time, cleverly, run yarn run build before pushing.

Sigh. Fine. I install yarn. Then I run yarn. It immediately fails because I needed to run npm install first. So I install dependencies, then I run yarn. Success! A push later, a successful build, and:

Verdict: Vercel is very cool. And I feel a little less behind the curve.

See the actual code behind this paragon of frontend programming at

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