Hello, Blockstack Tutorial

In this tutorial, you generate a simple application on Blockstack. The application is a single-page application (SPA) that runs completely client-side. The application has no backend API to talk to, other than the identity and storage API that the user provides. In this sense, the application is a completely decentralized, server-less application. You work through the following sections:

Note: This tutorial was written on macOS High Sierra 10.13.4. If you use a Windows or Linux system, you can still follow along. However, you will need to "translate" appropriately for your operating system. Additionally, this tutorial assumes you are accessing the Blockstack Browser web application via Chrome. The application you build will also work with a local installation and/or with browsers other than Chrome.

About this tutorial and the prerequisites you need

For this tutorial, we will use the following tools:

  • npm to manage dependencies and scripts
  • browserify to compile node code into browser-ready code
  • blockstack.js to authenticate the user and work with the user’s identity/profile information

The application you build is a React.js application that is completely decentralized and server-less. While not strictly required to follow along, basic familiarity with React.js is helpful.

When complete, the app is capable of the following:

  • authenticating users using Blockstack
  • posting new statuses
  • displaying statuses in the user profile
  • looking up the profiles and statuses of other users

The basic identity and storage services are provided by blockstack.js. To test the application, you need to have already registered a Blockstack ID.

The tutorial relies on the npm dependency manager. Before you begin, verify you have installed npm using the which command to verify.

$ which npm
/usr/local/bin/npm

If you don’t find npm in your system, install it.

Finally, make sure you have created at least one Blockstack ID. You’ll use this ID to interat with the application.

Use npm to install Yeoman and the Blockstack App Generator

You use npm to install Yeoman. Yeoman is a generic scaffolding system that helps users rapidly start new projects and streamline the maintenance of existing projects.

  1. Install Yeoman.

     npm install -g yo
    
  2. Install the Blockstack application generator.

     npm install -g generator-blockstack
    

Generate an initial Blockstack application

In this section, you build an initial React.js application called hello-world-tutorial.

  1. Create the hello-world-tutorial directory.

     mkdir hello-world-tutorial
    
  2. Change into your new directory.

     cd hello-world-tutorial
    
  3. Use Yeoman and the Blockstack application generator to create your initial hello-world-tutorial application.

     yo blockstack
    

    You should see several interactive prompts.

     $ yo blockstack
    
          _-----_     ╭──────────────────────────╮
         |       |    │      Welcome to the      │
         |--(o)--|    │      Blockstack app      │
        `---------´   │        generator!        │
         ( _´U`_ )    ╰──────────────────────────╯
         /___A___\   /
          |  ~  |
        __'.___.'__
      ´   `  |° ´ Y `
    
     ? Are you ready to build a Blockstack app in React? (Y/n)
    
  4. Respond to the prompts to populate the initial app.

    After the process completes successfully, you see a prompt similar to the following:

     ...
    create public/icon-192x192.png
    create public/index.html
    create public/robots.txt
    create public/manifest.json
    
    
     I'm all done. Running npm install for you to install the required dependencies. If this fails, try running the command yourself.
    

Depending on your environment you may have some problems with the npm packages. Go ahead and fix these before continuing to the next section.

Review the basic application structure

The initial application you create is a generic Javascript application you run with a local express node. Before you continue, take a moment to examine the structure of this generic application structure:

File Description
.editorconfig Sets universal values for editor.
.gitignore Git configuration file.
firebase.json Configuragion for mobile application.
package.json Specifies required packages.
requires.js A Javascript module loader.
server.js Simple static server configuration.

In the public folder you find these files:

File Description
app.css Contains application styles.
app.js Main application file.
boostrap.min.css Minifield css for production.
icon-192x192.png Application icon
index.html Single page.
manifest.json Tells the browser about the application and how it should behave.
robots.txt Configures crawling and indexing.

The simple static file server in the server.jsfile serves all of the files in the /public directory, including index.html, app.js, bootstrap.min.css and app.css. The main file of the application is in the app.js. It contains the majority of the application logic.

Start the server and view the application

When you start the server, it will create a Node.js server, start it locally, and open your browser ‘http://localhost:5000’. From the root of your new application directory:

  1. Start the application server.

     npm start
    

    The first time you run it, your system prompts you to accept incoming connections.

    Network Connection

  2. Choose Allow.

  3. Open your browser to http://localhost:8080.

    You should see a simple application:

  4. Choose Sign In with Blockstack.

    The application detects whether the user has the Blockstack client edition installed or not. This is done automatically by the Blockstack API, more about this later. What the browser displays depends on the users’ current state.

    Using web app Has client edition installed

    If the user logged into the Blockstack Browser but not reset it, the user can simply use the exiting identity.

    If the user chooses Deny, the Blockstack Browser displays its Home page but the user is not logged into the sample application.

  5. Leave your new application running and move onto the next section.

Understand the generated application code

In this section, you look at the basic application generated with the yo blockstack command. The generated code contains simple authentication methods that allow a user to log into the browser. The main application code is located in the public/app.js file. Open this file now.

All of the code in the file is wrapped in an event listener.

document.addEventListener("DOMContentLoaded", function(event) {
})

This listener that waits until the DOM content is loaded. Then, it creates an auth request and redirects the user to sign in:

document.getElementById('signin-button').addEventListener('click', function() {
  blockstack.redirectUserToSignIn()
})

You can find the redirectUserToSignIn() function is part of the Blockstack Javascript documentation. There is also a sign out button handler. This handler deletes the local user data and signs the user out:

document.getElementById('signout-button').addEventListener('click', function() {
  blockstack.signUserOut(window.location.origin)
})

The handlers are followed by a showProfile() function for showing the user’s profile:

function showProfile(profile) {
  var person = new blockstack.Person(profile)
  document.getElementById('heading-name').innerHTML = person.name() ? person.name() : "Nameless Person"
  if(person.avatarUrl()) {
    document.getElementById('avatar-image').setAttribute('src', person.avatarUrl())
  }
  document.getElementById('section-1').style.display = 'none'
  document.getElementById('section-2').style.display = 'block'
}

Each getElementById() function refers to elemments in the index.html file.

Once a user is successfully signed in, there is logic for loading the user profile and displaying the application. As illustrated earlier, there are several states the user can be in:

  • The user is already signed in
  • The user has a pending sign in request
  • The user is signed out

The application handles these situtations as followed:

if (blockstack.isUserSignedIn()) {
  var profile = blockstack.loadUserData().profile
    showProfile(profile)
} else if (blockstack.isSignInPending()) {
  blockstack.handlePendingSignIn().then(function(userData) {
    window.location = window.location.origin
  })
}

When the user is signed in, Blockstack loads the user data from local storage and displays the profile with the showProfile() function. When the user has a pending sign in request, the appplication signs the user in and redirects the user back to the home page.

Application manifest

The application’s /public/manifest.json file configures your app. The configurations dictate how the application is displayed in auth views and on user home screens. The contents are very simple:

{
  "name": "Hello, Blockstack",
  "start_url": "localhost:5000",
  "description": "A simple demo of Blockstack Auth",
  "icons": [{
    "src": "https://helloblockstack.com/icon-192x192.png",
    "sizes": "192x192",
    "type": "image/png"
  }]
}

Keep it as is or fill it in with new information that describes your app.

Save your application code

Complete the tutorial by storing your app code on GitHub. Before you begin, make sure you have a GitHub account and have configured your environment to use it.

  1. Initialize the application code as a Git repo.

     git init
    
  2. Add and commit all of the files:

     git add . && git commit -m "first commit"
    
  3. In GitHub, create a hello-blockstack repository.

  4. Back in your termininal window, add a remote for GitHub.

    Make sure to fill in your username:

     git remote add origin git@github.com:YOUR_USERNAME_HERE/hello-blockstack.git
    
  5. Push your new code to the master branch of the remote repo:

     git push origin master
    

You’re done! You just built your first Blockstack app and shipped the code. You’re well on your way to becoming a Blockstack app legend.