adding dark mode to your gatsby site with emotion js

March 23, 2019

adding dark mode and a toggle using emotion

In finalizing the current version of my portfolio, I wanted to offer a dark mode toggle as a proof of concept, practice working with emotion.js, and just for usability because my blog and portfolio are so light. To implement this, I utilize a toggle component to control state, emotion.js's <Global /> styles to inject some styles at :root, and browser supported variables to change everything from font color to backgrounds to link colors.

Set Up

Big picture things you'll need to do:

  1. Add state to your parent component/container
  2. Pass state down to a ThemeToggle and ThemeWrapper
  3. Use emotion.js to pass themes into :root in the ThemeWrapper component

I'm assuming you have Gatsby.js and have emotion installed. I'm also using browser variables to style text and background colors. You can read an excellent write up on theming with variables at CSS Tricks.

Adding State

I built my portfolio as a standalone component, so I'm just adding state to the upper most component:

class Portfolio extends React.Component {
  constructor(props) {
    this.state = {
      dark: false
    this.toggleTheme = this.toggleTheme.bind(this);
  componentWillUnmount() {
    this.setState({ dark: false });
  toggleTheme() {
    this.setState({ dark: !this.state.dark });
  render() {
    return (
          dark={this.state.dark} />
          dark={this.state.dark} />

Here, I'm initializing this.state.dark to false and binding a toggle function to state. I'm using componentWillUnmount() in case someone moves away from the portfolio to the rest of the site (which isn't set up for dark mode yet), and then using toggleTheme() to set dark to true or false. I'm passing state into ThemeWrapper as a prop so it knows whether or not to return our darkUI. Because ThemeWrapper is going to change :root level variables, we don't need to wrap the rest of the page in it, but keeping it near the top of the component makes it syntactically clear what it's for. I'm also passing our toggleTheme() function and state into the ThemeToggle component so we can visually render what state is set to.

Theme Wrapper and Themes

Before we build our ThemeWrapper, we need to have a javascript file with our themes. I wrote a module that exports two themes--lightUI and darkUI. lightUI repeats the variables I have in my global.css and functions as a fallback. darkUI repeats these variables with new colors:

  const lightUI = {
    textColor: `#333`,
    backgroundColor: `#fcfcfc`,
  const darkUI = {
    textColor: `#fcfcfc`,
    backgroundColor: `#333`,
  module.exports = {
    lightUI: lightUI,
    darkUI: darkUI

ThemeWrapper takes these themes and uses emotion.js's global styles to inject our theme at the :root level:

import React from 'react';
import { Global, css } from '@emotion/core'
import { darkUI, lightUI } from './styles/themes'
const ThemeWrapper = props => {
  const { dark } = props;
  return (
        :root {
          --textColor: ${dark ? darkUI.textColor : lightUI.textColor};
          --backgroundColor: ${dark ? darkUI.backgroundColor : lightUI.backgroundColor};
export default ThemeWrapper;

Here, we're importing Global and css from @emotion/core as well as our themes. We've passed state into our ThemeWrapper as a prop that's either true or false. We return a Global component with a style that initializes, at root:, our variables. We then use a ternary operator to return the associated variable depending on whether dark is set to true or false. You can read more about Global here.

Theme Toggle

So far we've set up state, written some themes, and a component that will render our theme based on state. The last thing to do is provide a toggle that users can actually press to change the theme.

import React from 'react';
const ThemeToggle = props => {
  const { toggleTheme, dark } = props;
  return (
    <button onClick={toggleTheme}>
        ? `light`
        : `dark`}
export default ThemeToggle;

Remember that we've passed our toggleTheme() function and state into this component. So we're returning a button that, when clicked, toggles state and, based on the state, toggles the words light and dark. This is a very minimal implementation--you could add a sun and moon icon to signify the same thing.

Wrapping Up and Further Thinking

You can check out my implementation here and the source code on GitHub. There's more thinking to be done here about translating variables from dark to light UI. For example, the slider navigation could be tweaked a bit more for better contrast in dark mode, but this would require renaming or adding variables. As I note above, we could also simplify state by using hooks, but that might be for another weekend.

If you have different, better, or slicker implementation, I'd love to hear about it on twitter or via email (alexj [dot] christie [at] gmail [dot] com).