Michael Crump

Senior Developer Advocate

Michael Crump works at Vonage on the Developer Relations team and is a coder, YouTuber, and frequent speaker of various .NET and cloud/communication development topics. He’s passionate about helpin...

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Create a Static Site using VitePress for Beautiful Help Documentation

Last updated on Nov 10, 2022

Introduction

I've always been a fan of static site generators as a way to create an HTML website based on text (typically in Markdown) with community-theming support. This allows you to spend more time writing content than managing the infrastructure for a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, which requires a database and a front-end UI to enter content. If I could sum up my three reasons why I like static site generators, it would be:

  • Performance (pages are pre-rendered)
  • The ability to have themes
  • They don't require code to run on the server side

Let's jump into a popular one called, VitePress.

VitePress Home Page
VitePress Home Page

A Primer on VitePress

VitePress is VuePress' little brother, and it is powered by Vite and Vue.js. For those that don't know, Vite is a build tool that aims to provide a faster and leaner development experience for modern web projects, so it might make sense to pair it with a static site generator such as VitePress. Vue.js is a progressive JavaScript framework for building web user interfaces. One of the original problems with VuePress was that it was a Webpack app, and it took a lot of time to spin up a dev server for just a simple doc. VitePress solves these problems with a nearly instant server start, an on-demand compilation that only compiles the page being served, and lightning-fast HMR. Let's get started!

Starting From Zero to a Working Static Site

First, create a folder where you'll be developing your static site.

mkdir static-starter
cd static-starter

Then, initialize it with Yarn or NPM. For this example, we'll be using Yarn. If you don't have Yarn installed, you can install it on the downloads page. For those using NPM, the VitePress documentation is located here.

yarn init

You will be asked a series of questions, and you can either fill in the details here or leave them blank, as I did.

yarn init
yarn init v1.22.19
question name (static-starter):
question version (1.0.0):
question description:
question entry point (index.js):
question repository url:
question author:
question license (MIT):
question private:
success Saved package.json
Done in 26.93s.

Note: You can always fill these in later when configuring the site.

At this point, you'll only have a single package.json file. You now should add VitePress and Vue as dev dependencies for the project.

yarn add --dev vitepress vue

Now we need a place to store the documents we will create and add a sample document.

mkdir docs 
cd docs
touch index.md

Edit the contents of index.md to include the following text:

# Hello VitePress.

You should have the following files and folders now:

docs 
├── index.md
node_modules 
package.json 
yarn.lock 

We need to add the following scripts section to our package.json.

{
  "name": "static-starter",
  "version": "1.0.0",
  "main": "index.js",
  "license": "MIT",
  "devDependencies": {
    "vitepress": "^1.0.0-alpha.21",
    "vue": "^3.2.41"
  },
    "scripts": {
      "docs:dev": "vitepress dev docs",
      "docs:build": "vitepress build docs",
      "docs:serve": "vitepress serve docs"
  }
}

That will allow us to have different profiles depending on the situation.

You can deploy the server by running yarn docs:dev as shown below.

yarn docs:dev
yarn run v1.22.19
$ vitepress dev docs
vitepress v1.0.0-alpha.21

  ➜  Local:   http://localhost:5173/
  ➜  Network: use --host to expose

VitePress supports "hot-reloading," which means that after you save a file in the project, you won't have to rebuild the site to see your changes.

You should now have a server running, and it typically runs on the following location: http://localhost:5173.

First Launch of VitePress
First Launch of VitePress

Congrats! Our app is running now, and you can already notice some of the features and functionality we received using VitePress, such as:

  • Responsive site with animations
  • Build using the 'Mobile-first' philosophy
  • Built-in dark and light mode

Adding More Pages and Understanding the File Structure

Let's add another page the end user can navigate to once the site loads. First, create a file named another-page.md inside the docs folder. Add the following text to the contents of the file # Another Page.

Now your docs folder should look like this.

docs
├── index.md
├── another-page.md

You will not find it if you try to navigate to another page.md inside your web browser. You can access the page manually by following the URL: http://localhost:5173/another-page.

Note: Notice that the directory structure corresponds with the URL path.

So how can we fix this?

Adding Navigation

We have the basics of a website, but it lacks navigation capabilities to find the other pages. Typically, the sidebar menu is used for documentation sites. To add them, we need to do a few things first.

To customize and add navigation to your site, let's first create a .vitepress directory inside your docs directory. Once completed, add another file called config.js. This folder is where all VitePress-specific configuration files will be placed. Your project structure should look like the following:

docs
├── index.md
├── another-page.md
└── .vitepress
    └── config.js

Open your vitepress/config.js and add the code below:

export default {
  title: 'VitePress',
  description: 'Vonage Loves Developers.'
}

This will provide a default title and description for the site, which search engines will index.

Next, we'll configure our top-level navigation bar to have two additional items for our Roadmap and ways for our users to Feedback. Add the following to your vitepress/config.js file after the description field.

themeConfig: {
 nav: [
  { text: 'Roadmap', link: '/roadmap' },
  { text: 'Feedback', link: '/feedback' }
]

Top Level Navigation in VitePress
Top Level Navigation in VitePress

Great! Our site is taking shape! Now, let's add our Sidebar underneath the nav element we just created.

export default {
  title: 'VitePress',
  description: 'Vonage Loves Developers.',
  themeConfig: {
    nav: [
      { text: 'Roadmap', link: '/roadmap' },
      { text: 'Feedback', link: '/feedback' }
    ],
    sidebar: [
      {
        text: 'Guide',
        items: [
          { text: 'Introduction', link: '/introduction' },
          { text: 'Getting Started', link: '/getting-started' },
        ]
      }
    ]
  }
}

Now our site is starting to take shape! We have a top-level and sidebar navigation added. We also have a Next page button that will go to the Introduction page (once we create it).

Side bar Navigation in VitePress
Side bar Navigation in VitePress

Let's go ahead and add in all the pages that we just created:

Create the following files called roadmap.md, feedback.md, introduction.md and getting-started.md in the docs folder and give them a header with the same name.

For example, # Roadmap would be entered inside the roadmap.md file. Do that for all the files.

Once everything has been saved, return to your site to test that all the links now work as intended.

site Working with Navigation
site Working with Navigation

Other Notable Features

You can create a link automatically on each page to let your readers help contribute to the accuracy of the page through Git management services such as GitHub or GitLab. To enable it, add themeConfig.editLink options to your config as shown below:

export default {
  themeConfig: {
    editLink: {
      pattern: 'https://github.com/vuejs/vitepress/edit/main/docs/:path',
      text: 'Edit this page on GitHub'
    }
  }
}

Now, each rendered page will have a link back to GitHub (or GitLab) for the user to perform a pull request.

GitHub or GitLab edit links
GitHub or GitLab edit links

Custom Containers

There is built-in support for custom containers when you want to call out something to a reader, for example, info, tip, warning box, etc.

::: info
This is an info box.
:::

::: tip
This is a tip.
:::

::: warning
This is a warning.
:::

::: danger
This is a dangerous warning.
:::

::: details
This is a details block.
:::

This renders as:

Custom Containers
Custom Containers

Syntax Highlighting in Code Blocks

Syntax Highlighting in Code Blocks is supported in a variety of ways. See this example of how you can highlight a line in a code block:

export default {
  data () {
    return {
      msg: 'Highlighted!'
    }
  }
}

Syntax Highlighting in Code Blocks
Syntax Highlighting in Code Blocks

Deploying Your App

Now that we've developed our static site, and added pages to it along with a rich navigation bar, let's deploy our app. You can do so by running the following command yarn docs:build.

If everything works properly, then you'll see the following:

yarn docs:build
yarn run v1.22.19
$ vitepress build docs
vitepress v1.0.0-alpha.21
✓ building client + server bundles...
⠋ rendering pages...(node:3164) ExperimentalWarning: The Fetch API is an experimental feature. This feature could change at any time
(Use `node --trace-warnings ...` to show where the warning was created)
✓ rendering pages...
build complete in 8.29s.
Done in 8.97s.

The rendered files will default go to your project page under dist. For example, my files were rendered here: C:\Users\mbcru\source\static-starter\docs\.vitepress\dist

Deploying Your App
Deploying Your App

Wrap-up

Now that your static site is running, you could add specific communication features that Vonage offers, such as the Video, or Messaging, etc. capabilities!

If you have questions or feedback, join us on the Vonage Developer Slack or send me a Tweet on Twitter, and I will get back to you. Thanks again for reading, and I will catch you on the next one!