Writing plugins

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This plugin development reference will walk you through starting with a simple local plugin and finishing with a flexible multi-option plugin that follows best practices, ready for publishing on NPM. Feel free to drop out at any time or jump to the sections that you need.

Writing a quick local plugin

Writing a plugin is super-simple! A metalsmith plugin is just a function that is passed the Files object and the Metalsmith instance. even console.log can be a plugin:

metalsmith.js
const Metalsmith = require('metalsmith')

Metalsmith(__dirname)
  .use(console.log) // logs files, then metalsmith
  .build((err, files) => {
    if (err) throw err
    console.log('Build success!')
  })

Let us give our plugin a more fitting name, snapshot, because it takes a snapshot of the files’ state at a given moment in the plugin chain.

metalsmith.js
function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
 console.log(files, metalsmith)
}
const Metalsmith = require('metalsmith')

Metalsmith(__dirname)
  .use(snapshot)
  .build((err, files) => {
    if (err) throw err
    console.log('Build success!')
  })
metalsmith.js
+ function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
+  console.log(files, metalsmith)
+ }
  const Metalsmith = require('metalsmith')

  Metalsmith(__dirname)
-   .use(console.log) // logs files, then metalsmith
+   .use(snapshot)
    .build((err, files) => {
      if (err) throw err
      console.log('Build success!')
    })

Run it on replit.com

If you run this code with node metalsmith, you will see the Metalsmith instance with plugins: [ [Function: snapshot] ]. It is important that the plugin is a named function. The function name is the plugin’s name. It is good practice to use a named function for your plugin:

Cool, cool. But the snapshot plugin is pretty limited. We would like to be able to re-use it to target only certain files, and only certain metadata properties. And perhaps also write the results to a file.

Adding options to a plugin

To pass options to a plugin we simply wrap and return the plugin body in a closure function, — an initializer —, then call it in our plugin chain. Mind that code in the initializer runs before the plugin is passed to metalsmith.use. In the initializer you can pass, map & validate options and run other setup logic that doesn’t need metalsmith build info.

metalsmith.js
function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
  // code in the initializer runs before metalsmith.build()
  return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
    // code in the plugin oody runs as part of metalsmith.build()
    console.log(files, metalsmith)
  }
}
const Metalsmith = require('metalsmith')

Metalsmith(__dirname)
  .use(initSnapshot())
  .build((err, files) => {
    if (err) throw err
    console.log('Build success!')
  })
metalsmith.js
+ function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
  // code in the initializer runs before metalsmith.build()
-   function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
    // code in the plugin oody runs as part of metalsmith.build()
+   return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
      console.log(files, metalsmith)
    }
+ }
  const Metalsmith = require('metalsmith')

  Metalsmith(__dirname)
-   .use(snapshot)
+   .use(initSnapshot())
    .build((err, files) => {
      if (err) throw err
      console.log('Build success!')
    })

Run it on replit.com

As the snapshot plugin becomes more powerful and reusable, we move it to its own file snapshot.js in a plugins folder next to metalsmith.js, and const snapshot = require('./plugins/snapshot') in metalsmith.js.

We also add a default options object in case none are passed to the plugin. We define the (glob) pattern option, so we can target specific files to log, and default it to '**' (= all files). We also define the keys option, so we can target specific file metadata to log)

./plugins/snapshot.js
const defaultOptions = {
  pattern: '**',
  keys: null
}

function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
  return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
    options = { ...defaultOptions, ...options }
    // do stuff with options
    console.log(files, metalsmith)
  }
}

module.exports = initSnapshot
./plugins/snapshot.js
+ const defaultOptions = {
+   pattern: '**',
+   keys: null
+ }
+ 
+ function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
+   return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
+     options = { ...defaultOptions, ...options }
+     console.log(files, metalsmith)
+   }
+ }
+ 
+ module.exports = initSnapshot

Run it on replit.com

We passed options to the plugin but we’re not doing anything with them yet.
We need to know how to manipulate files, file paths and metadata first. The following sections Manipulating filepaths, Manipulating files, and Manipulating metadata provide general info about how to use JS Object & array methods, the NodeJS path library, and the metalsmith instance inside a plugin. If you would rather skip right to the rest of the implementation of the snapshot plugin, go to The plugin body

Manipulating file paths

Inevitably when working with a filesystem, metalsmith works with file paths. Windows has different directory separators \ (backslash) than other systems’ / (forward slash). With the metalsmith.match(pattern) method, you can use forward slashes for both. However, be aware that when you modify file paths and write them back to the Files object, you need to use the OS-specific path separators.

NodeJS includes a handy standard path module that you can use for this: require('path').
Inside a plugin you can use the path module to get all variations of a path. The plugin below will attach different types of path data to each file in the metalsmith build:

./plugins/paths.js
function getPaths(filepath, metalsmith) {

  // get the absolute path of the metalsmith working directory
  const msDir = metalsmith.directory() // => '/home/user/metalsmith'
  // get the absolute path of the metalsmith source directory
  const msSource = metalsmith.source() // => '/home/user/metalsmith/src'

  // get the relative path of a file
  filepath // => 'blog/index.html'

  // get the directory of a file relative to metalsmith.source()
  const dirname = path.dirname(filepath) // => 'blog'

  // get the filename of a file without the directories
  const basename = path.basename(filepath) // => 'index.html'

  // get the extension of a file
  const extname = path.extname(filepath) // => '.html'

  // get the filename of a file without the directories & extension
  const barebasename = path.basename(filepath, extname) // => 'index'

  // get the absolute path of a file (relative to filesystem root)
  const absPath = metalsmith.path(msSource, filepath) // => /home/user/metalsmith/src/blog/index.html

  // get the path of a file relative to metalsmith.directory()
  const msDirRelPath = path.relative(msDir, metalsmith.path(msSource, filepath)) // => src/blog/index.html

  return {
    filepath,
    dirname,
    basename,
    extname,
    barebasename,
    absPath,
    msDirRelPath
  }
}

// usage: metalsmith.use(paths())
module.exports = function initPaths() {
  return function paths(files, metalsmith) {
    Object.keys(files).forEach(key => {
      Object.assign(files[key], getPaths(key, metalsmith))
    })
  }
}

Manipulating files

Looping over files

You can use any of the Object static methods to easily loop over metalsmith files inside a plugin and apply manipulations to them with the Javascript Array methods. Metalsmith#match is a helper to loop over a subset of normalized (i.e. Windows & Linux-compatible) file path matches.

./plugins/loop-over-files.js
function loopOverFiles(files, metalsmith) {
  // useful if you only need access to the file
  Object.values(files).forEach(file => { /* ...code */ })

  // useful if you need access to both filepath & file
  Object.entries(files).forEach(([filepath, file]) => { /* ...code */ })

  // alternative if you need access to both filepath & file
  Object.keys(files).forEach(filepath => {
    const file = files[filepath]
    /* ...code */ 
  })

  // same as previous but with normalized glob filtering
  const all = '**'
  metalsmith.match(all).forEach(filepath => {
    const file = files[filepath]
    /* ...code */ 
  })
}

Matching subsets of files

You can use any of the Object methods described above and then array-filter or slice them before applying manipulations, or you could use metalsmith.match to target them easily with a glob pattern:

./plugins/loop-over-files.js
function matchFiles(files, metalsmith) {
  // match files using array filter
  Object.entries(files)
    .slice(0, 10)  // only apply to the first 10 files
    .filter(([filepath, file]) => !file.draft) // filter out files with draft:true
    .forEach(([filepath, file]) => { /* ...code */ })

  // 
  metalsmith.match('**/*.js')
    .forEach(filepath => {
      const file = files[filepath]
      /* ...code */
    })
}

Adding, updating, renaming, moving and removing files

Add a file dynamically by assigning a File object to a key in the Metalsmith Files object
Update a file’s metadata by re-assigning its keys.
Remove a file simply by deleting its key from the files object.

./plugins/file-action.js

function fileActions(files, metalsmith) {
  const name = 'index.html'
  const file = {
    contents: Buffer.from('Hello world'),
    mode: '0664'
  }
  // check if a file is included
  Object.prototype.hasOwnProperty.call(files, name)

  // add a file
  files[name] = file

  // change the file's metadata
  files[name].description = 'I\'s about saying hello to the world'

  // change the file's contents
  files[name].contents = Buffer.from(files[name].contents.toString().replace('world', 'plugin author'))

  // rename a file
  const newName = 'newindex.html'
  files[newName] = files[name]
  delete files[name]

  // move a file to a subdirectory
  const newPath = require('path').join('blog', newName)
  files[newPath] = files[newName]
  delete files[newName]

  // remove a file
  delete files[newPath]
}

Manipulating metadata

Plugins can read and make changes to the metadata specified with Metalsmith.metadata much like they can with files. They can add metadata, update, rename, or remove metadata, and they can also make metadata available to files or make files available in metadata! A plugin like @metalsmith/collections does both. Below is an example of how plugins can implement most of these:

function plugin(files, metalsmith) {
  // read metadata
  const metadata = metalsmith.metadata()
  
  // add a metadata key:value
  metadata.buildTimestamp = Date.now()

  // add multiple metadata key:value's
  Object.assign(metadata, {
    // make all html files available on metadata as "pages"
    pages: metalsmith.match('**/*.html').map(key => files[key])
  })

  // pass global metadata to all files in the "globalMetadata" key (not recommended)
  Object.keys(files).forEach(filepath => {
    files[filepath].globalMetadata = metadata
  })
}

The plugin body

Armed with enough info about how to manipulate files, paths, and metadata, we can now continue writing the snapshot plugin. To be able to get metadata at any.key.path, we will use lodash.get and lodash.set (install it with npm i lodash.get lodash.set). A code snippet is worth a thousand words, so here we go:

./plugins/snapshot.js
const get = require('lodash.get')
const set = require('lodash.set')
const defaultOptions = {
  pattern: '**',
  keys: null
}

function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
  return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
    options = { ...defaultOptions, ...options }

    const matchedPaths = metalsmith.match(options.pattern)

    const fileData = matchedPaths.reduce((result, filepath) => {
      const file = files[filepath]
      
      result[filepath] = file
      if (options.keys) {
        const filtered = {}
        options.keys.forEach(key => {
          set(filtered, key, get(file, key))
        })
        result[filepath] = filtered
      }

      return result
    }, {})

    console.log(fileData)
  }
}

module.exports = initSnapshot
./plugins/snapshot.js
+ const get = require('lodash.get')
+ const set = require('lodash.set')
const defaultOptions = {
  pattern: '**',
  keys: null
}

function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
  return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
    options = { ...defaultOptions, ...options }
-   // do stuff with options
+
+   const matchedPaths = metalsmith.match(options.pattern)
+ 
+   const fileData = matchedPaths.reduce((result, filepath) => {
+     const file = files[filepath]
+     
+     result[filepath] = file
+     if (options.keys) {
+       const filtered = {}
+       options.keys.forEach(key => {
+         set(filtered, key, get(file, key))
+       })
+       result[filepath] = filtered
+     }
+ 
+     return result
+   }, {})

-   console.log(files)
+   console.log(fileData)
  }
}

module.exports = initSnapshot

We can now run this plugin to provide different outputs:

const Metalsmith = require('metalsmith')
const snapshot = require('./plugins/snapshot')

Metalsmith(__dirname)
  // log all file data
  .use(snapshot()) 
  // log each .html file's last modified date
  .use(snapshot({ keys: ['stats.mtime'], pattern: '**/*.html' }))
  .build((err, files) => {
    if (err) throw err
    console.log('Build success!')
  })

Run it on replit.com

Let’s also add an extra option to write the metadata to a log file in the build directory, that will be write: true || false. We will output the files as <filename>.snapshot<index>.json in the build directory, right next to the file itself. We add an index to the snapshot so we can see how the file metadata evolves after each plugin:

./plugins/snapshot.js
const path = require('path')
const get = require('lodash.get')
const set = require('lodash.set')
const defaultOptions = {
  pattern: '**',
  keys: null,
  write: false
}

// get the matching snapshot path for a given filepath
function getSnapshotPath(filepath, index) {
  const name = path.basename(filepath, path.extname(filepath))
  const dir = path.dirname(filepath)
  return path.join(dir, `${name}.snapshot${index}.json`)
}

function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
  return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
    options = { ...defaultOptions, ...options }

    const matchedPaths = metalsmith.match(options.pattern)

    const fileData = matchedPaths.reduce((result, filepath) => {
      const file = files[filepath]
      
      result[filepath] = file

      if (options.keys) {
        const filtered = {}
        options.keys.forEach(key => {
          set(filtered, key, get(file, key))
        })
        result[filepath] = filtered
      }
      
      // handle new write option
      if (options.write) {
        let count = 1, snapshotPath
        do {
          snapshotPath = getSnapshotPath(filepath, count)
          count++
        } while (files.hasOwnProperty(snapshotPath))
        files[snapshotPath] = {
          contents: Buffer.from(JSON.stringify(result[filepath], null, 2))
        }
      }

      return result
    }, {})

    console.log(fileData)
  }
}

module.exports = initSnapshot
./plugins/snapshot.js
+ const path = require('path')
  const get = require('lodash.get')
  const set = require('lodash.set')
  const defaultOptions = {
    pattern: '**',
    keys: null,
    write: false
  }
  
+  // get the matching snapshot path for a given filepath
+  function getSnapshotPath(filepath, index) {
+    const name = path.basename(filepath, path.extname(filepath))
+    const dir = path.dirname(filepath)
+    return path.join(dir, `${name}.snapshot${index}.json`)
+  }
  
  function initSnapshot(options = {}) {
    return function snapshot(files, metalsmith) {
      options = { ...defaultOptions, ...options }
  
      const matchedPaths = metalsmith.match(options.pattern)
  
      const fileData = matchedPaths.reduce((result, filepath) => {
        const file = files[filepath]
        
        result[filepath] = file
  
        if (options.keys) {
          const filtered = {}
          options.keys.forEach(key => {
            set(filtered, key, get(file, key))
          })
          result[filepath] = filtered
        }
        
+       // handle new write option
+       if (options.write) {
+         let count = 1, snapshotPath
+         do {
+           snapshotPath = getSnapshotPath(filepath, count)
+           count++
+         } while (files.hasOwnProperty(snapshotPath))
+         files[snapshotPath] = {
+           contents: Buffer.from(JSON.stringify(result[filepath], null, 2))
+         }
+       }
  
        return result
      }, {})
  
      console.log(fileData)
    }
  }

  module.exports = initSnapshot

Run it on replit.com

Let us now quickly race through a boring but very important part: handling errors

Handling errors

Until now the snapshot plugin has used 2 parameters: files and metalsmith; but as you can see from the API docs, there is a third, done callback. To let the user decide what to do with errors, it is a good idea not to throw an error that occurs during the plugin’s run, but instead pass it to done(error).

For demo purposes, here is an abort plugin that will stop the build by throwing a custom error unless you pass false to it:

./plugins/abort-plugin.js
/**
 * A plugin that will conditionally abort the build
 *  @param {boolean} [confirm=true]
 *  @example metalsmith.use(abort())
 **/
function initAbort(confirm = true) {
  return function abort(metalsmith, files, done) {
    if (confirm) {
      const error = new Error('Build aborted')
      error.name = 'EBUILD_ABORTED'
      error.code = 'build_aborted'
      done(error)
    }
    done()
  }
}

module.exports = initAbort

The plugin also demonstrates how you can create a custom error in a simple way. Note that you can also return a promise if you prefer:

./plugins/abort-plugin.js
/**
 * A plugin that will conditionally abort the build
 *  @param {boolean} [confirm=true]
 *  @example metalsmith.use(abort())
 **/
function initAbort(confirm = true) {
  return function abort(metalsmith, files) {
    if (confirm) {
      const error = new Error('Build aborted')
      error.code = 'build_aborted'
      return Promise.reject(error)
    }
    return Promise.resolve()
  }
}

module.exports = initAbort
./plugins/abort-plugin.js
/**
 * A plugin that will conditionally abort the build
 *  @param {boolean} [confirm=true]
 *  @example metalsmith.use(abort())
 **/
function initAbort(confirm = true) {
  return function abort(metalsmith, files) {
    if (confirm) {
      const error = new Error('Build aborted')
      error.code = 'build_aborted'
-     done(error)
+     return Promise.reject(error)
    }
-   done()
+   return Promise.resolve()
  }
}

module.exports = initAbort

For static options validation (=options which don’t require extra metalsmith build info) you may choose to throw an error immediately in the initPlugin wrapper:

function initMyPlugin(options) {
  if (!options.requiredOption) {
    throw new Error('requiredOption is required')
  }
  return function MyPlugin() { ... }
}

Adding debug logs to the plugin

In the Usage guide we saw that debug logs can be enabled by defining the DEBUG environment variable (via metalsmith.env('DEBUG') since Metalsmith 2.5.0). For the snapshot plugin, we only need to add this line in the plugin body:

const debug = metalsmith.debug('metalsmith-snapshot')

We can now log regular logs or info’s, errors, and warnings:

debug('Running with options: %O', {}) // will log "metalsmith-snapshot {}"
debug.info('FYI') // will log "metalsmith-snapshot:warn FYI"
debug.warn('Careful!') // will log "metalsmith-snapshot:warn Careful!"
debug.error('Oops!') // will log "metalsmith-snapshot:error Oops!"

debug provides some handy formatters for objects and JSON logging. Here are some usage examples:

// Pretty-print an Object on multiple lines.
debug('Running with options: %O', { pattern: '**' })
// log JSON.stringified version
debug('Metalsmith.metadata: %j', metalsmith.metadata())
// log buffer file contents truncated at the 250 first chars (metalsmith-specific)
debug('file contents: %b', { contents: Buffer.from('Hello world')})

Things that are generally interesting to log are:

Asynchronous manipulations

If a plugin does some manipulations asynchronously, it needs to notify metalsmith when it’s done by calling done() or returning a promise.

plugins/add-external-file.js
const { basename } = require('path')

function initAddExternalFile(filepath) {
  return function addExternalFile(files, metalsmith, done) {
    metalsmith.readFile(metalsmith.path(filepath), (err, file) => {
      if (err) done(err)
      files[basename(filepath)] = file
      done()
    })
  }
}

module.exports = initAddExternalFile

Manipulations within a plugin can happen in parallel, but the plugin should only call done when all manipulations of the plugin are done. To such effect we can use Promise.all. Below we change the addExternalFile plugin from the previous example to handle multiple files:

plugins/add-external-files.js
const { basename } = require('path')

function initAddExternalFiles(filepaths = []) {
  return function addExternalFiles(files, metalsmith) {
    return Promise.all(filepaths.map(filepath => {
      return new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
        metalsmith.readFile(metalsmith.path(filepath), (err, file) => {
          if (err) reject(err)
          files[basename(filepath)] = file
          resolve()
        })
      })
    }))
  }
}

module.exports = initAddExternalFile
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