Advanced Block Behaviour

Some more extra things with Gutenberg that are on the wild side of advanced.

Making a straight forward block to insert content in Gutenberg is (relatively) easy. I hate using the word ‘easy’ here, because in order to do it you will need to master a whole new world of coding, but all things considered, yes. It is easy. In fact, Gary (aka Pento) wrote a sample plugin that will let you convert a shortcode to a Gutenberg Block.

I myself have written a mildly complicated Spoiler Block (there’s a new version of it I will share soon). But then the day happened that my cohort in lesbian TV crime, Tracy, expressed annoyance at how Gutenberg destroyed her listicle.

What is a Listicle?

Have you seen those posts that show you the top ten ways to LifeHack your used egg cartons? Those are listicles. They’re lists (list) articles (icle). Makes sense, right? Listicles have a pretty basic format as well, there will be a header with some sort of numerical mark, then content with images etc. This repeats for the number of times you have an article.

Most people make them by hand by manually editing the numbers in their header. That’s all well and good until you want to craft better formatting and have a listicle look somehow ‘different’ from the rest of your content. Maybe you want them to have a special background color, or a different design for the header. 

If we were doing this in the old, simple, HTML way, it would look like this:

<dl class="listicle">
    <dt>The Title</dt>
    <dd>The Content</dd>

Of course that doesn’t make anything look like a list until you put in some CSS magic:

.listicle {
  counter-reset: listicle-counter;

.listicle dt:before { 
    content: counter(listicle-counter);
    counter-increment: listicle-counter;
    margin-right: 6px;

What this does is create a CSS counter and increment it every time you use <dt> creating an auto incrementing list.

No HTML for Gutenberg

Now, if you know the HTML, you can still do this in Gutenberg in HTML by using the HTML block.

Example of summoning the Custom HTML block.

But if you don’t know HTML, then this is a bloody nightmare to handle. And part of the reason why I’m very pro-Gutenberg is that it’s 2018, and expecting people to know all the myriad magical steps of HTML, in order to create a webpage, feels passé. No, it feels restrictive. We can’t expect websites to advance and become more than just pages if we don’t give them the tools.

Complex Design

Unlike the relatively simple javascript I used to make my Spoiler Box block, to do this requires the use of a feature called ‘Inner Blocks‘ which is effectively putting a block inside a block. 

My original idea was to have a multiple nested block with the following:

  1. Listicle Block that calls a template of a list item
  2. ListItem block that calls a title and description
  3. ListDT block that calls the title
  4. ListDD block that allows you to add whatever more inner blocks you want

It sounds incredibly complicated, and sadly the perfect version was so difficult I actually started with a pared down version.

  1. Listicle block that sets up a template of title and description

The problem here is that I end up having a separate dl for each block. I can work around it with some CSS magic, but it’s not perfect. So I knuckled down and actually wrote the code that does exactly what I want. Whew.

Some Code

… Actually I’m going to do something I hate and that’s link to an external directory.

I’ve build out Listicles for Gutenberg for you to peruse and fork and enjoy. Or even use if you want, becuase it does work. But it’s big. No, it’s huge for an in-post example. And to explain everything line by line wouldn’t help.

If you go to the repository, the Gutenberg source code is located in /src/ – that’s where most (if not all) of your work will happen.

  • blocks.js – A list of all the separate JS files included
  • /block/listicle.js – The main listicle file
  • /block/listitem.js – Individual list items (this is only usable inside the Listicles block)
  • /block/listdt.js – The list title
  • /block/listdd.js – The list content (this allows you to add as many sub blocks as you can)

And yes, not only does it auto increment as you move the slider (or bump the counter), you can flip it into reverse mode:

The real trick of it all was the copious use of templates.

It’s all Complicated

Besides the fact that the blocks aren’t quite  where I want them to be, I also have to use a block builder to convert that javascript into my real files. I chose the Create Guten Block builder, instead of building out my own NPM build script.

That too illustrates some of the concerns people have, and rightly so, about blocks being incredibly more complicated than they need to be. And yet, having gone through the exercise myself, I think that it’s perhaps not going to be that much of a drama.

For those of use who generally just make new shortcodes, the world won’t change too much. Gutenberg supports inline shortcodes, after all, which is the majority of what people need from it. We want to be able to make our own embed blocks, which again isn’t terrible, and when someone gets to the complicated point of needing something advanced like a listicle, well eventually there will be a plugin that will handle this better than a shortcode.

Or you could just use that HTML block.

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