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Create Your First Basic 11ty Website

Posted on: Nov 26, 2020 by Stephanie Eckles
🍿🍿🍿 17 min. read

Begin from a blank directory and build up your first Eleventy site. Includes gotchas along the way, why they happen, and how to resolve them. You'll create essential layouts while learn the basics of using Nunjucks and Markdown for templating. And you'll learn to work with local data and external API data. As a bonus, get setup to deploy your final site to Netlify.

The following tutorial is based on a live stream I did with Eva on Twitch. If you prefer, you can watch the recording below, or read on for the step-by-step instructions for creating your first basic 11ty website.

Check out the final project on GitHub, and the deployed examply on Netlify.

#Begin the Project

Open a new directory in your editor of choice, and then in your terminal do the following command to start a brand new project:

npm init -y

Then, install Eleventy. For a basic site like this, eleventy itself is our only dependency!

npm install @11ty/eleventy

Once the installs complete, open package.json and update the default scripts section to the following. This enables a start command to run 11ty with hot-reload, which is provided by Browsersync that comes bundled as part of 11ty's --serve directive.

  "scripts": {
"start": "eleventy --serve",
"build": "eleventy"
},

#Add Eleventy Config

Next, we want to begin our Eleventy config. This initial addition is completely optional, but we will be adding more items to this config later.

Create the file .eleventy.js at the root of the project.

Then, add the following as the contents.

module.exports = function (eleventyConfig) {
return {
dir: {
input: "src",
output: "public",
},
};
};

The first change here is setting the input directory to src - as in, the directory 11ty will watch for changes and use to build for production. Then, we change the output directory to public which means that's where our production-ready files for use by localhost and a hosting server will be published.

Create .gitignore

At this point, you may want to take a minute to setup your .gitignore if you will be using version control. At minimum, here are the contents for that:

# dependencies installed by npm
node_modules

# build artefacts
public

#Run the Develop Server

We have our base in place, so let's try to run the project using our start command:

npm start

And... oops! You will get an error message: "Cannot GET /". That's because 11ty will literally only serve up what you give it. So, we first have to create an index file in our input directory, which we defined in .eleventyconfig would be called src.

Create the Site Index File

So, perform the following steps:

  1. Create src/
  2. Create src/index.md

If you like, add some content into the Markdown file.

Markdown is one of 11 available templating languages you can use to create your 11ty site. Check out the other options >

Then, refresh the browser page and you will see the content you just added or a blank page if you added no content.

However, Browsersync is not yet activating which is why you had to manually refresh. To understand why, trigger your browser's context menu to "View Source". As you'll see, there is no markup being rendered besides what's needed for the conversion of Markdown to HTML.

For Browsersync to run (and to keep inline with overall standards) we need to provide a way to generate what is often called the HTML5 boilerplate that includes <html>, <head>, and <body>. Once the rendered markup includes <head> then Browsersync will be injected and provide the hot-reload for future edits.

Troubleshooting tip - if Browsersync isn't working, this is a good sign that you've forgotten to supply the HTML boilerplate.

#Create the base Layout

To resolve needing to provide the HTML5 boilerplate, we'll use 11ty's concept of layouts.

One of the expected 11ty directories is called _includes and it's where you can add layouts.

You may also be familiar with the concept of templates, or template partials, and you may also place those in _includes.

A common 11ty convention is to create this essential HTML structure within _includes/base.njk.

If you are in a code editor that supports Emmet, you can use the command html:5 to instantly populate it with the HTML5 boilerplate.

Then, we'll prepare this base.njk to start accepting some Frontmatter values that we will add to our content. First, we'll plan for a title value.

Since we've created this as a Nunjucks template file (.njk), we can use the double-curly format to access the title Frontmatter variable, like so: {{ title }}.

We'll add it to the <title> and create it as an <h1> within the <body>.

Finally, we need to designate where the body of the markdown file should go. This is available in the Eleventy global page variable of content. In order to allow rendering of any HTML tags from the page content, we also use the built-in filter called safe which is added after placing a pipe - | - character.

This makes our full base.njk the following, with a bit of extra HTML semantics:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
<meta charset="UTF-8">
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
<title>{{ title }}</title>
</head>
<body>
<header>
<h1>{{ title }}</h1>
</header>
<main>
{{ content | safe }}
</main>
</body>
</html>

Then, we will go back to index.md and create frontmatter to designate the title and also to designate the layout value so that this page uses our base.njk template:

---
title: My first page
layout: base.njk
---

You will have to manually refresh the page one last time so that it loads the updated markup. Then, additional edits will begin to be picked up by Browsersync. You can test this by modifying the value for the title.

#Create the Blog

Next, we'll create a new content type for our blog. To do this, we'll create a new directory and a markdown file for our first post.

  1. Create src/blog/
  2. Create src/blog/my-first-post.md

Create the post Layout

Next, we'll create a dedicated layout to display our blog posts.

Back in the _includes directory, create post.njk with the following content:

<article>{{ content | safe}}</article>

Chain the post Layout to the blog Layout

We'll then use an Eleventy concept called "layout chaining". This will allow us to designate that the post layout should also inherit the base layout.

To do this, in post.njk add the following frontmatter:

---
layout: base.njk
---

At this point, you can try to visit the blog page in the browser. By default, 11ty will have created the page using the same structure as you used to organize it in your src directory. In other words, it will be located at http://localhost:8080/blog/my-first-post/.

However if you visit that, you should find that it's blank! Read on to learn why.

Create blog Directory Data File

The first reason that link shows a blank page is that we haven't designated that our new blog post should use the post layout.

Now, we could add this as frontmatter to every post as we've already learned about. But when you plan on having many files in the same directory inherit certain attributes such as the layout, we can instead create a directory data file.

The directory data file is expected to have the same name as the directory, and be formatted as JSON. So, create src/blog/blog.json and add the following:

{
"layout": "post"
}

At this point, you may still see a blank page if you have not added any content into the blog post πŸ˜‰ The other part we haven't added that our base template expects is frontmatter for the title, so go ahead and add that now based on what we've learned.

Once you've added both a title and some content, on save you should nearly instantly see Browsersync update the page and see that content rendered.

Optional: Modify the Blog Post Permalinks

One other way we can use our data directory file is to set an altered permalink structure. "Permalink" is the term for the URL path that follows your domain (maybe you've also heard this called a "slug").

Just as an example, let's use the 11ty supplied page variable of fileSlug and tell 11ty to drop the blog/ from the front of the URL and just use the file name as the permalink value. Here is the update ot our src/blog/blog.json file:

{
"layout": "post",
"permalink": "/{{ page.fileSlug }}/"
}

So, our previous blog page is now available at http://localhost:8080/my-first-post/.

Note: You will continue to be able to visit the old URL because it is currently cached in the public directory. You can delete the public directory to remove it, because that directory is completely rebuilt after each save when 11ty is in watch mode.

#Create posts Collection Via tags

Next, we'll explore an 11ty idea called collections. Collections are groups of related content created by adding tags.

We'll again make use of our directory data file and add a new key of tags with the value posts:

{
"layout": "post",
"permalink": "/{{ page.fileSlug }}/",
"tags": "posts"
}

And with that, 11ty will now have created a collection called "posts" which we'll learn how to display next!

Before you move on, it would be useful to create a second blog post to help see the effects of our next few steps on affecting the posts collection. You can simply duplicate the first post and change the file name and the title frontmatter value.

#Display posts Collection on Home Page

Often it is nice to display a list of your posts. Some times that's on the home page, and sometimes on an archive page. We will be adding it to our home page as a starting point, but you can customize this to display on any page.

Re-open index.md and add the following, then we'll review what's happening:

## Blog Posts

{% for post in collections.posts %}
{{ post.data.title }}
{% endfor %}

If you're wondering what those curly braces and percent signs are about, what we've done is created a for loop using the Liquid templating language (which happens to share this basic curly brace syntax with Nunjucks templating language).

We've defined a local variable of post to be the reference to an individual item in collections.posts. Thanks to adding our tag of posts, this collection was created by 11ty and is available throughout all site files.

Within the loop, we are simply retrieving the post's title, which is nested within data due to it being a frontmatter value.

Notice that the loop start and end uses the syntax of a single curly brace and a percent sign, while the portion retrieving the frontmatter variable is flanked by two curly braces. For both Liquid and Nunjucks templating, {% %} contains functions and {{ }} displays variables.

Create Linked List of Posts

We can modify our for loop to use semantic HTML and create a list of links to each post.

We've added one new variable, which is url. This is a page variable provided by 11ty for any paged piece of content, and so is available directly off of our local loop variable of post:

<ul>
{% for post in collections.posts %}
<li><a href="{{ post.url }}">{{ post.data.title }}</a></li>
{% endfor %}
</ul>

Have you realized we're doing all of this is a markdown file so far? That's right - we've mixed markdown, HTML, and Liquid and still had success rendering our outcome! This is part of the ✨ magic of 11ty!

If the previous example broke, it may be because you added spaces or tabs to indent and format the HTML - that's a pitfall of trying to mix templating languages which we'll sort out next!

#Create Template Include from Blog Post Links

Ok, while we can do all of this in markdown, it's not sustainable for all types of content - or, as noted, breaks when trying to add formatting to the HTML (read why on the 11ty docs).

Let's improve our solution, first by creating a template include (or "partial") to hold our post list. Includes will live in our - you guessed it! - _includes directory.

Create _includes/postlist.njk, and move the HTML with the for loop into it, removing it from the index.

In it's place in index.md, add {% include "postlist.njk" %} and save.

Oops! We've hit an error which should be visible in your Terminal. Let's find out why...

#Instruct 11ty How to Handle Template Processing

While we can do some template mixing, sometimes 11ty needs a little hint on our expectations of how to process the mix.

In the case of mixing templating with markdown, 11ty only allows either Liquid or Nunjucks.

What happened to cause our error had to do with order of operations, and in this case we need to add an 11ty-supplied frontmatter key to tell 11ty which order to process the templating vs. the markdown.

Add templateEngineOverride: njk,md to index.md frontmatter, which says to process the Nunjucks include first and then continue processing the markdown to render.

Hooray! The error is resolved, and we can again see our postlist being rendered on the home page.

#Create a CSS File

One big thing missing from our site is some style 😎

CSS is not yet a file type recognized for auto-inclusion in the build directory, so we need to do a few extra steps.

First, let's create a very basic starting point for our CSS.

Create src/css/style.css, and add:

body {
font-family: sans-serif;
}

Passthrough CSS

In order for 11ty to recognize our CSS file and include it in the build directory, we need to modify .eleventy.js.

As the first line inside of the module.exports function (before the return we had previously added), add:

eleventyConfig.addPassthroughCopy("./src/css");

This tells 11ty to "pass through" the CSS directory.

Watch CSS for Changes

In addition to the pass through, we also need to ask 11ty to watch the CSS directory for changes so that when we modify our CSS file it triggers a rebuild and refresh from Browsersync.

Still in .eleventy.js, add the following after our pass through line:

eleventyConfig.addWatchTarget("./src/css/");

When changes are made to .eleventy.js, it typically requires stopping the watch process and restarting. On both Mac and PC, use Ctrl + C in Terminal to stop the watch command, and then re-run npm start to start it again. When complete, the CSS directory should be present in public and if you test modifying style.css the changes should cause a rebuild and be updated in public/css/style.css.

Now, our CSS hasn't updated our site to a sans-serif font yet. Any guesses why?

Yup - we need to add the stylesheet link to our layout!

Within _includes/base.njk, add the following within the <head> section after the <title>:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="/css/style.css" />

And on save, once Browsersync refreshes, the page content should be using a sans-serif font.

🏁 Checkpoint: You have now created a successful 11ty starting point! Using what you've learned so far, you can continue making different content types and organizing them into collections. You know how to modify their permalinks, and chain layouts. And you know how to use Liquid and Nunjucks to display variables and leverage for loops. You can also mix templating languages and overcome templating pitfalls. And you can add and watch a CSS file. The last few sections show a bit more advanced features of 11ty that will help you take your project further!

#Custom Data

One of my favorite features of 11ty is custom data. One of the expected directories in the 11ty file system is _data, and any files you create here that are module.exports or basic JSON data is made availably globally to your pages and layouts.

So, let's create a simple (and silly) data file: src/_data/facts.json

[
"Did you know horses can swim?",
"Did you know that the average human can hold their breath for 2 minutes?",
"Did you know that we live on Earth?"
]

These are definitely true facts...maybe...

Add facts Loop to post Layout

For fun, let's add our facts after our blog post content.

Add the following after article in _includes/post.njk:

<aside>
{% for fact in facts %}
<p>{{ fact }}</p>
{% endfor %}
</aside>

This for loop should look pretty familiar, but instead of retrieving data from a collection we are requesting it from our facts. Recall that I mentioned that the output of files in _data is made globally available? This means that we can access the output of that data by referencing the filename, which is where facts comes from.

If you visit one of your blog posts, you should see each fact is output within a paragraph tag.

#Create randomItem Filter

Now, it's not very interesting to output all of our facts at once.

Let's add our first custom filter to help randomly pick one of the facts to display.

Open .eleventy.js, and add the following between the work related to our CSS, and the return:

eleventyConfig.addFilter("randomItem", (arr) => {
arr.sort(() => {
return 0.5 - Math.random();
});
return arr.slice(0, 1);
});

addFilter globally makes the "randomItem" filter available to any templating language. In this case, we expect that the data that will come into the filter will be an array, since we'll be using it on our facts array. The body of the filter is a very basic randomizing function written in JavaScript.

Add the Filter to facts Loop

Back in our post layout, we'll update our for loop to include our filter. If you recall from applying the safe filter, a filter goes after the variable or collection it is being applied to, with a pipe | character inbetween. The facts array is passed into the filter for processing.

{% for fact in facts | randomItem %}

On save, there should only be one randomly selected fact displayed on each blog post. Of course, there's a chance that the fact will be the same since it's a small pool to choose from ☺️

Important note: Since 11ty is a truly static site builder, the quote will be selected during build time and not on page load. This is an important difference from dynamic build tools like Gatsby. You can include JavaScript on your own to make this selection happen on page load, but using the filter method makes it part of the build process. If you have content that you want to update somewhere between statically and page load, you can use tools like IFTTT to trigger periodic builds if your site host supports webhooks.

#Create Data from API

11ty can use the output of Node modules as data, which also means we can use Node packages to help us retrieve data. And it means we can get external data at build time.

Let's explore this by retrieving a cat picture from an API using axios for fetching.

Create _data/catpic.js, and add the following:

const axios = require("axios");

module.exports = async () => {
const result = await axios.get("https://aws.random.cat/meow");

return result.data.file;
};

Note: You may need to add axios to your package for a local build to work: npm install axios

It's ok if you're not very familiar with Node! What we're doing here is fetching the result from the cat pic API. Then we are returning the file key that is present in that particular data set.

Add catpic to Home Page

Now we'd like to display the retrieved cat pic on our home page. Add the following to index.md:

## Cat of the Day

<img src="{{ catpic }}" />

Since the API includes an image URL within the file key, and we are directly returning that value out of our function within _data/catpic.js, and 11ty has made that output available globally via the filename - this makes including it in our image tag very simple!

Once again, remember that this fetch only happens at build time. Meaning, once your site is built on your hosting server, whatever cat pic is retrieved will be what is displayed until the next site build. However, for the duration that you are doing local development with npm start, a new build is generated each time you save a file, which will make it appear as though the catpic is changing more frequently.

🏁 Checkpoint: Congrats! You now know how to add local and external data to your 11ty site! With these fundamental concepts, you can really stretch 11ty to many use cases. To wrap up, read on to learn how to deploy to Netlify, or feel free to use the host of your choice.

#Bonus: Deploy to Netlify

Netlify is an excellent host for static sites - especially because you can start and stay free for basic needs.

Create a Netlify Config

If you choose to continue with hosting on Netlify, we can create a file to speed up your first deploy.

At the root of your project (outside of src), create netlify.toml with the following content:

[build]
# Directory (relative to root of your repo) that contains the deploy-ready
# HTML files and assets generated by the build. If a base directory has
# been specified, include it in the publish directory path.
publish = "public"

# Default build command.
command = "npm run build"

This is telling Netlify that our production-ready files post-11ty build will be located in public/ and that the command to produce that build is npm run build.

Push to Github

Netlify runs off of a continuous integration model, which allows any pushes to your main branch on Github to trigger a build.

Alternatively, you can drag and drop your site folder to deploy!

For the GitHub route, create a repo and push your project to Github (instructions outside the scope of these steps).

Connect to Netlify and Deploy

After pushing to GitHub, follow these steps, after which your new site will be live immediately at a temporary URL provided by Netlify!

  1. Create a Netlify account, using GitHub login for fastest deploy
  2. Select "Create from Git"
  3. Link to Github and select your repo
  4. Netlify will recognize the values in netlify.toml and you can deploy! πŸŽ‰

Next Steps: For a video walkthrough and slightly different way to get started with 11ty, including adding Sass for styling, check out my 20 minute egghead course: Build an Eleventy Site From Scratch