Visual Studio Code Support and Debugging for a Gatsby Project

July 03, 2023 - 7 min read (1317 words)

Despite being a long-term and professional user of the full version of Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code quickly became my IDE of choice. It is light weight, cross platform and has an exceptional extension ecosystem.

Visual Studio Code, also commonly referred to as VS Code, is a source-code editor made by Microsoft with the Electron Framework, for Windows, Linux and macOS. Features include support for debugging, syntax highlighting, intelligent code completion, snippets, code refactoring, and embedded Git. (Wikipedia)

When I started working on this blog and implemented it in Gatsby, it was important to develop good support in the project for VS Code and to be able to effectively debug issues as they arose and edit content using that tool.

Visual Studio Code Screenshot

The evolving GitHub repository storing this blog and its implementation can be found here.

Table of Contents

The .vscode Folder

The .vscode directory is generally found at the root of a mulit-repo pattern. In a mono-repo pattern, it can be found or extended in the root folder for each sub-project. Details on the files commonly found there are documented in this article.

In the GitHub repository storing this blog implementation, the directory can be found here.

The launch.json File

The launch.json file controls the Run and Debug functions in VS Code.

Gatsby offers a guide to debugging in VS Code. I adapted its suggestions with some modification here. For example, I utilize a prelaunch task to ensure a clean prior to running either a build or develop command.

There are some notable elements in this file. Firstly, through environment variables, the normal multithreading of Gatsby is limited to make debugging easier. Secondly, --nolazy is passed to the Node runtime ease breakpoint setting per the VS Code documentation.

For performance reasons Node.js parses the functions inside JavaScript files lazily on first access. As a consequence, breakpoints don’t work in source code areas that haven’t been seen (parsed) by Node.js.

  "version": "0.2.0",
  "configurations": [
      "name": "Gatsby develop",
      "type": "node",
      "request": "launch",
      "program": "${workspaceRoot}/node_modules/.bin/gatsby",
      "args": ["develop"],
      "env": {
        "PARCEL_WORKERS": "0",
        "GATSBY_CPU_COUNT": "1"
      "runtimeArgs": ["--nolazy"],
      "console": "integratedTerminal",
      "preLaunchTask": "npm: clean",    },
      "name": "Gatsby build",
      "type": "node",
      "request": "launch",
      "program": "${workspaceRoot}/node_modules/.bin/gatsby",
      "args": ["build", "--verbose"],
      "env": {
        "PARCEL_WORKERS": "0",
        "GATSBY_CPU_COUNT": "1"
      "runtimeArgs": ["--nolazy"],
      "console": "integratedTerminal",
      "preLaunchTask": "npm: clean",    }

The tasks.json File

The tasks.json file controls integration with external tools.

These tools are mostly run from the command line and automate jobs inside and outside the inner software development loop (edit, compile, test, and debug). Given their importance in the development life cycle, it is helpful to be able to run tools and analyze their results from within VS Code.

Here I integrated the clean script from package.json as a task so that it could be used as a prelaunch task in launch.json as highlighted above.

    "version": "2.0.0",
    "tasks": [
        "type": "npm",
        "script": "clean",
        "isBackground": true,
        "problemMatcher": {
          "owner": "typescript",
          "pattern": "$tsc",
          "background": {
            "activeOnStart": true,
            "beginsPattern": {
              "regexp": "(.*?)"
            "endsPattern": {
              "regexp": "Successfully deleted directories"

The settings.json File

The settings.json file defines project level settings that apply specifically to the open workspace.

Here I have specified prettier as the default code formatter and provided several editor settings that apply to it.

  "editor.tabSize": 4,
  "editor.formatOnSave": true,
  "editor.codeActionsOnSave": [
  "editor.defaultFormatter": "esbenp.prettier-vscode"

The extensions.json file includes a series of recommended VS Code extensions for the project.

The extensions.json File

To make things super easy, the extensions.json file in the .vscode directory includes the keys for each extension and integrates with the IDE to make the suggestions upon opening the repository.

    "recommendations": [
Visual Studio Code Extensions Screenshot

Using the VS Code Markdownlint Extension

When building this implementation, I went to a great deal of trouble to use the gatsby-plugin-mdx plugin to make authoring content in markdown with extensions for React components a first class citizen in the project. My extension of choice for markdown editing and linting in VS Code is davidanson.vscode-markdownlint. However, I was unable to find settings for it that would extend its use to .mdx files. Technically, the markdown that powers this blog is MDX though leaving the files with a .md file extension allows that VS Code plugin to do its magic. As a result, I simply modified the options of the gatsby-plugin-mdx plugin to look for .md files as well.

  resolve: `gatsby-plugin-mdx`,
  options: {
    extensions: [`.mdx`, `.md`],    ...

Traditional markdown files disallow inline HTML tags and the linter has a rule to enforce this: MD033. MDX file, on the other hand, needs what looks like inline HTML tags to allow React components to be included. As a result, I created a .markdownlint.json file at the root of the project to configure the linter extension to ignore that rule.

  "MD033": false

Using the VS Code Prettier Extension

Per the settings.json file, the Prettier extension is set as the default code formatter for the project. On file save, it is configured to work its magic: correcting quality problems, reformatting tabs, organizing imports and sorting members. In combination with the format script in the package.json file, this makes things fairly easy to maintain nice code quality for the project.

I am a big fan of the import organization feature. However, use caution with it on certain files. For example, in the gatsby-browser.js file, unlike most sets of import statements, order matters here. If you are not paying attention, the Prettier plugin can reorder your CSS and SASS imports in way creates unexpected styling behaviors.

Pro Tip: Prettier will alphabetize and organize import statements within groups. The behavior can be controlled by separating groups of import statements with either new lines or comments.

// normalize CSS across browsers
import "./src/styles/normalize.css";

// global styles
import "./src/styles/global-style.scss";

// prismjs highlighting theme for code blocks
import "prismjs/themes/prism-coy.css";
// prismjs highlighting plugins for code blocks
import "prismjs/plugins/command-line/prism-command-line.css";
import "prismjs/plugins/line-numbers/prism-line-numbers.css";

// custom component and page level styles
import "./src/styles/bio.scss";
import "./src/styles/blog.scss";
import "./src/styles/cookie-consent.scss";
import "./src/styles/post-summary.scss";
import "./src/styles/prism.scss";
import "./src/styles/tags.scss";

Debugging Gatsby with VS Code

With the VS Code support files in place, most elements of the Gatsby build process and develop mode runs can be debugged with standard features in the IDE. From the Run and Debug tab, Gatsby can be launched in either develop or build mode and breakpoints set. This works for nearly all cases.

Visual Studio Code Debugging

Outstanding Debugging Issues

The main debugging issue that I have uncovered working with this setup on the project is the inability to set breakpoints in templates loaded by the createPages method in the Gatsby Node API using the createPage action. These templates are loaded dynamically at runtime from a path. As such, the debugger has no access to them and debugging must be performed from the Gatsby error messages. I have yet to find a workaround which would very much come in handy when building new features.

export const createPages = ({ graphql, actions, reporter }) => {
  const { createPage } = actions;

  const blogPost = path.resolve(`./src/templates/blog-post.js`);  ...
  posts.forEach((post, index) => {
      const previous =
        index === posts.length - 1 ? null : posts[index + 1].node;
      const next = index === 0 ? null : posts[index - 1].node;

        path: `blog${post.node.fields.slug}`,
        component: `${blogPost}?__contentFilePath=${post.node.internal.contentFilePath}`,        context: {
          slug: post.node.fields.slug,
          previous: previous,
          next: next,

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Written by J. Patrick Fulton.

gatsbyjs Visual Studio Code debugging blog