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Chris Biscardi

Component Shadowing in Gatsby Child Themes

Today on stream I worked through the final steps for implementing Child Theming for Gatsby. The interesting outcomes of this are that

  1. Themes can now depend on other themes as "parents"
  2. Component Shadowing works across all ancestors and has been moved to the root of the src directory.

In this post I'll be referencing work from the gatsby-theme-examples repo

Multiple Themes

The way I chose to split up the original gatsby-theme-blog was into two basic pieces. gatsby-theme-blog-core would hold the data structures while gatsby-theme-blog would handle the UI layer. Since this isn't a post about child theming itself but rather Component Shadowing, that's really all you have to know for now.

Component Shadowing

The idea behind Component Shadowing is fairly small. If we have some file in our theme theme/a/b.js, then we can replace this component at build time by creating a different file in our own site at our-site/a/theme/b.js. This means that themes can take advantage of Component Shadowing for replacing brand colors, the way a blog post renders, or anything else that can be represented as a file.

Until now, Component Shadowing was only enabled for files placed in src/components. This choice was made to limit the blast radius while we evaluated the feature itself. As it turns out, people start putting everything in src/components to take advantage of Shadowing. As a result we've moved the supported directory up one level to src.

The impact of this change is that Shadowing is enabled by default for the entire src/ directory. Since gastby-theme-blog-core is a parent of gatsby-theme-blog we have the following set of files.

  • gatsby-theme-blog-core
    • src/components/blog-post.js
  • gatsby-theme-blog
    • src/gatsby-theme-blog-core/components/blog-post.js
  • blog-b-core (a user's site)
    • src/gatsby-theme-blog-core/components/blog-post.js

Remember that the order for how this file gets resolved is the same order that we use for composition. In our case, it is [gatsby-theme-blog-core, gatsby-theme-blog, user-site]. The last entry in the array wins.

gatsby-theme-blog-core offers a shadowable component that handles rendering for a blog post page template at src/components/blog-post.js. The only thing this component does is dump the props onto the page inside of a <pre> tag.

import React from "react";
export default props => (
<pre style={{ whiteSpace: "pre-wrap" }}>
{JSON.stringify(props, null, 2)}

gatsby-theme-blog, being responsible for the UI layer, shadows this component by using a file at src/gatsby-theme-blog-core/components/blog-post.js. This file includes a React component, set of styles, and a much nicer rendering of the props we have. Because gatsby-theme-blog is included "later", it's version of the blog-post rendering wins.

Then, when we used gatsby-theme-blog in our own site, we decided we wanted the blog post to render differently than the child theme, so we created a new file in our site at src/gatsby-theme-blog-core/components/blog-post.js. This is a very similar location to when we shadowed the blog post component in the child theme. Because the user's site is always included last, the new blog post file wins over both themes.


Component Shadowing is a powerful way for people who are unfamiliar with GraphQL to get started building out their own sites. A child theme could be a collection of these shadowed components that use any set of technologies without needing to worry about writing new GraphQL queries to get data: The page structure and content is already well-defined.