Introducing Bytes

Today, I’m very proud to unveil Bytes, my collection of short-form posts, tips, and things I learn as I build software! I’m super excited about this new section of my website both from a technical standpoint as it was a great deal of fun to build, but I’m more excited about being able to use Bytes to more frequently share small snippets of useful information with you all. To kick of this launch, I wanted to write up in a bit more detail both the inspiration and reason for building Bytes, but also how I built it to make it extremely easy to maintain.

What is Bytes?

The idea of Bytes is short blog posts that can be written in around 3-5 minutes. Typically blog posts take a lot more time to write as they tend to dive more deeply into a particular topic and explain it in depth. Bytes on the other hand intends to document and share small learning moments I have throughout the day. This might include such topics as:

  • Shell scripts I build to simplify workflows
  • Vim/Neovim tips and tricks
  • Lesser known JavaScript APIs or CSS features
  • How to use Git more effectively
  • And much more!

Small learning moments

The idea of small learning moments is part of my overall philosophy on how to improve as a software engineer. Many software engineers will face the same challenges over and over again because they do not take the time to improve their workflow in small ways, each and every day. Instead of assigning a keyboard shortcut to that command you run several times a day in VS Code, you keep opening up the command palette, searching for the command, and running it manually. You keep typing the same boilerplate for a unit test instead of building a snippet to add it with a few keystrokes.

These moments are critically important to improving your developer workflow and recognizing them is the first step in the process. One thing I’ve seen happen very consistently with junior and mid level engineers is that they want to improve and become more efficient, but they often don’t know where to start. I understand that feeling, we’ve all been there! It feels quite daunting when you see other engineers who are highly productive and you wonder, “how will I ever” become that good?

The truth of the matter is taking advantage of small moments consistently is one of the keys to success in software engineering. There is so much more I would love to say about this, but it’s best left to a dedicated post I plan on writing in the future. For now, let’s move on and talk a bit more about Bytes, and how I built it!

The tech stack

My website is built using Next.js using the App Router that was introduced in Next.js 13. I love the simplicity that React Server Components brings apps like my website where you can do data fetching directly in your components and let Next.js deal with all the hard stuff. Not having to worry about API endpoints, data fetching libraries, and caching makes development feel like a dream.

For the majority of my website’s content, I use MDX with a fair number of plugins, some pre-built and some custom plugins to make it super simple to author content for my website. As I was planning on Bytes, I had three main goals.

  1. Make it effortless to create new bytes in a matter of minutes.
  2. Publish new Bytes without redeploying the entire site.
  3. Make it easy to search through what will become a fairly large collection of content.

With these goals in mind, I decided that it would make the most sense to host the content for bytes in a separate repo. These files get indexed into a SQLite database (backed by LiteFS) which makes it very simple to search and reduces the dependency on using the GitHub API for requests. Not to mention that searching through raw files on GitHub is kind of tricky if you want to build any kind of search experience.

Now with the contents of the bytes repo being indexed to the website, I then setup a webhook so that new commits pushed to the would be sent to the website. The website takes these commits, and based on what files were added, removed, or modified, updates the database accordingly fetching the latest data from GitHub. This worked great, and gives me basically immediate publishing anytime I push content to the bytes repo.

I thought about doing this in the main website repo and just ignoring specific paths from builds, but I worried that doing so would make it difficult to add or update bytes if I’m simultaneously working on a branch that is not yet ready to push. This is part of that first goal of making it effortless to add bytes, I don’t want to think about switching branches, merge conflicts, or any similar nonsense. Just let me push content and let it just work.

The last piece of this all is not yet finished, but I’m working on building a simple Go CLI tool that will allow me to add bytes directly in the command line. Basically it will create a temporary file for you to add the content, then once you save and exit your editor (in my case Neovim), it will automatically push that byte to the bytes repo which will trigger the webhook.

The beauty of this setup is that even without this CLI tool, I can still add bytes since I’m just committing files to a GitHub repo. Plus, I don’t need to worry about database backups or anything, if for some reason I nuke the database I can just run my pnpm db:reindex script which will pull all the content fresh from the bytes repo and add it to the database.

More to come

I’m super excited to launch bytes today and start this journey with you all! While there are only a few bytes published so far, expect many more to come in the coming days and weeks. I’m also hoping this will help me to be more active in content writing that I can get a few other longer blog posts out the door that I’ve been chewing on for a while. Cheers!