Setting up a Node.js Environment on Windows without the Linux Subsystem is not bad at all

I failed a lot trying to use WSL to replicate the dev environment I use on my Mac. Then something weird happened: I ditched the fancy subsystem and now I'm happily doing dev things on my PC.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash (Cropped)

TL;DR

Working without Bash and Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is totally fine and I'm really happy with the minimal setup that I have going on. Here's what I did:

Install the following:

  • git-bash for using git everywhere
  • vs code for text editing
  • nvm-windows for installing and managing node
  • npm i windows-build-tools -g for python and other dependencies that usually come with your Mac

What changed? Why Now?

Two things changed.

  1. I wanted to write more blog posts
  2. I started to really enjoy typing on my mechnical keyboard.

Gotta love that clickity-clack!

I was more motivated to make this whole "doing dev stuff on PC" a real thing and I knew I would be writing more markdown than actual frontend code.

Even with that said, my writing and publishing workflow still relies on Node.js and Git.

  • When I merge code into master, Netlify publishes a new version of my site
  • I got really used to having my website hot-reload on one side of my screen with gatsby develop while I write my blog on the other side.

In other words, I didn't need to do as much

When I want to write new blog posts on my Gatsby website, I'm not just editing markdown files:

  • I'm automatically formatting my markdown files with Prettier.
  • I'm also committing updates to GitHub using git.

Deciding to try again without WSL

Not to say that the Windows Subsystem for Linux is bad because it's not. It's a real thing and it's amazing that it exists as an option.

My problem was that I got pretty confused about the different file systems shared between Windows and the Linux subsystem.

This time around, I wanted to keep things simple and see if I could be happier with less. I just wanted start with the essentials for writing and publishing blogs and take things one step at a time from there.

Install git-bash and VS Code

Git is the main thing I need to publish to my Gatsby website.

The easiest way I know how to setup Git on Windows is installing git-bash. This is the main terminal where I can git clone my repo, open my project with code and git push my work.

Speaking of code, you can download VS Code for Windows here.

And just like on any other OS, you can setup your SSH keys so that you can clone your projects without passwords. All of the listed steps can be executed in the git-bash terminal.

Install nvm-windows

I usually install node with nvm because node packages from npm have varying levels of compatibility depending on what node version you're running. This is the first time I tried using nvm-windows. It doesn't do everything that the original nvm does, mainly it doesn't know how to use a project's .nvmrc file.

Installation just uses an installer and you can access nvm, node, npm and npx in git-bash or any other terminal like command prompt or powershell.

If you notice that npm install will hang or stall during installation processes, close and re-open your terminal. Maybe restart your computer.

Learning Basic commands in Command Prompt

I only needed to know a few commands for navigating in command prompt or powershell on Windows.

Moving up and down directories with cd is still cd but uses \ instead of / between folders

For example:

cd Users\brian\dev\my-project
cd ..

Listing files in directories is dir on Windows, which is equivalent to ls.

When I want to create new blog files, I can just run my hygen script and generate blog files that way, which I wrote about here.

Globally install windows-build-tools

npm install windows-build-tools -g

A lot of the node dependencies that are used in projects are more likely written with Mac compatibility first or exclusively. A lot of binaries and runtimes that are usually installed on Macs by default like python are just assumed to be there.

To ensure that npm install runs correctly, you can globally install windows-build-tools, which I learned about courtesy of the Gatsby on Windows docs.

As pointed out in the docs, I experienced a stall during the installation, but I simply restarted my terminal and re-installing the package worked.

Resolving errors with pngquant

There are some binaries that are used in Gatsby dependencies that may throw errors. For me, it was a package called pngquant.

I was able to resolve this for myself by installing pngquant-bin to my project. You can read this issue for more details.

Next Steps

Everything I mentioned in this article is about all I really need for most of my projects.

The only nitpicky things I find with working on Windows is that the vs code keybindings are different than what I'm used to. Also, the terminal options I have available to me aren't super attractive or helpful. I might give hyper terminal a try now that I'm a little more comfortable in command prompt.

As always, hope this was helpful and thanks again for reading!