João Freitas

In the following article the author explains how having a project template ready to hack on is the primary key for winning an hackathon, since that will enable quick feedback and velocity towards shipping the project.

Hackathons are a great way to learn random stuff, meet new people, and build cool projects. I met some of my best friends at hackathons and financed my college degree just with prizes. What I realized you need most to win are two things: a fast feedback loop and velocity. Let me show you how I try to optimize for both, including a nice open-source starter template that you can use for your next hackathon 👀

Fast Feedback Loop

The feedback loop is the time between you writing a line of code and your team shouting out of joy (or despair 🫠). Making your feedback loop faster keeps your team motivated and allows you to iterate faster.

Moving from dev to prod is usually the biggest bottleneck during development, be it because of slow deployments or the need for approval. Luckily, this is not the case for hackathons! Your dev can be prod, and your deployment can be your local machine. The best way to do this is to have a live preview of your app. This completely removes the need for a deployment and allows you to iterate as fast as possible. (This also removes the need for your non-techies to replicate your dev environment!)

While there are a few ways to do this, I enjoy using Livecycle. Livecycle has a Docker extension that enables you to share your docker-compose apps with a single click (even easier than something like ngrok!). It’s free and can be installed in less than 2 minutes. Install the Livecycle Docker Extension and you will find this new page in your Docker Desktop Dashboard:

Livecycle Dashboard

Livecycle Dashboard

Simply click on “Share” and you will get a unique URL per Docker container that you can share with your team. Each URL tunnels to your local containers, making it super easy to share your progress! 🚀

Shared Apps

Shared Apps


In a setting where time is the major constraint, you obviously want to move as fast as possible. When wasting time to set up your project could lose you a lot of money, having a great template is crucial. I have a template that I use for most of my hackathon projects. It is a monorepo with a Next.js frontend, a Hono backend, and a Postgres database. It is completely dockerized and can be started with a single command. It also includes a few other goodies such as Tailwind, ShadcnUI, and Prisma. In combination with Livecycle, this allows techies in my team to get started in less than 5 minutes, and non-techies to see the progress in real-time.


The setup is pretty straightforward if you have docker and docker-compose installed.

First, clone the repository and change your directory to the root of the project:

git clone
cd hackathon-starter

Rename packages/database/.env.example to packages/database/.env and start everything with docker-compose:

docker-compose watch

PS: docker-compose watch is basically docker-compose up, but with hot reloading for the api and the web app!

Push database schema:

pnpm turbo db:push

And you are ready to go! Let’s take a closer look at what the template offers:

Next.js Frontend

Using a mainstream framework with a great ecosystem and many developers capable of working with it has many advantages, especially if there isn’t any time to teach your teammates a new framework.
You can find the entire frontend in /apps/web. To get started the index page contains a simple CRUD table that allows you to create, read, and delete users from the database:



Most hackathon apps are completely different, which is why I have kept the frontend as lean as possible. The index page only contains the table and data fetching:

import { User, columns } from "./columns";
import { DataTable } from "./data-table";

async function getData(): Promise<User[]> {
  const data = await fetch("http://api:3000/users").then((res) => res.json());
  return data as User[];

export default async function Page() {
  const data = await getData();

  return (
    <main className="flex flex-col items-center py-4">
      <DataTable columns={columns} data={data} />

Most notably, the fetching of the data is done with fetch("http://api:3000/users"). This is because the frontend and the backend are running in separate docker containers. The api container is reachable from the web container on the api:3000 address.

ShadcnUI component library

ShadcnUI is an awesome open-source component library that has a few very high-quality components. You can find all components on this page. If you find something that you want to use, you can either add it manually by copy-pasting into /packages/ui or by running:

pnpm turbo ui:add <component-name> # for example, accordion

Using ShadcnUI is completely optional but it can save you a lot of time if you find something that you can use. If you don’t want to use it, simply ignore it 🫣

Postgres Database

As a database, I am using Postgres. Not because it is the best database, but because it is the one that I am most familiar with. Feel free to use whatever you want! The database is started with docker-compose and can be accessed on localhost:5432. The credentials are defined in docker-compose.yml and are hardcoded for simplicity. You can change them if you want to, but you probably have better things to do!

If you want to use something else, you will need to change it in the docker-compose.yml file as well as in the packages/database/.env, and in the packages/database/schema.prisma file.

Everything else should still work!

Prisma ORM

Prisma is an ORM that allows you to interact with your database in a type-safe way. It is very easy to use and has a lot of cool features. You can find the entire database schema in /packages/database/schema.prisma. To use it, simply import like this:

import { PrismaClient, User } from "database";

If you create a new app/package, you need to add it to your package.json first:

  "dependencies": {
    "database": "workspace:*"

If your types are not working in your editor, you might need to run pnpm install in the root of the project. For some example code on how to use Prisma, check out the next section!

Hono Backend

Although you can do 99% of the backend things with Next.js server actions, having a ready-to-go backend is still nice. Hono is a super lightweight and easy-to-use backend framework, making it instantly usable, even if you have no experience in it.

You can find the entire backend in /apps/api. All routes are defined in /apps/api/src/index.ts. Remember, this is for a hackathon and not for production. Feel free to put everything in one file if you want to (I won’t tell your boss, I promise)

import { serve } from "@hono/node-server";
import { Hono } from "hono";
import { cors } from "hono/cors";
import { PrismaClient, User } from "database"; // our own database package (/packages/database)

// Connect to the postgres database with prisma
// The connection string is defined in docker-compose.yml in the api service.
// This should work out of the box unless you change the postgres setup
const client = new PrismaClient();

const app = new Hono();

// No one likes cors errors
    origin: ["http://localhost:3000"],

// Get all users
app.get("/users", async (c) => {
  const users = await client.user.findMany();
  return c.json(users);

// Create user"/users", async (c) => {
  const data = await c.req.json();
  const user = await client.user.create({ data: data as User });
  return c.json(user);

// Delete user by id
app.delete("/users/:id", async (c) => {
  const user = await client.user.delete({
    where: { id: Number(c.req.param("id")) },
  return c.json(user);

// Start nodejs http server. Change this if you want to use something like cloudflare workers

As you can see, it is pretty straightforward. You can use the client object to interact with the database. The app object is a Hono app, which is basically a collection of routes. You can define routes with app.get,, app.delete, etc. The c object is the context of the request. It contains the request and response objects, as well as some helper functions such as c.json to send a JSON response.

You could of course have the exact same functionality in Next.js, but some hype-driven development is part of the fun right? 🙃

Docker 🐳

I’m usually not the biggest fan of using Docker for quick-and-dirty hackathon projects because I feel like it slows me down. However, ever since Docker released docker-compose watch, I’ve changed my mind! It basically allows you to have a very uncomplicated development setup with hot-reloading out of the box. Let’s take a look at the specific Docker setup:

# docker-compose.yml
  web: # Next.js Frontend
      dockerfile: web.Dockerfile # Path to web Dockerfile
      - "3000:3000" # Reachable on localhost:3000
      - api # Start after the API
        - action: sync # Synchronize the files on your host ./apps/web with your containers /app/apps/web when any file changes in that path
          path: ./apps/web
          target: /app/apps/web
            - node_modules/
        - action: sync # Same as above but with component library
          path: ./packages/ui
          target: /app/packages/ui
            - node_modules/
        - action: rebuild # Rebuild if the package.json changes
          path: package.json
        - action: rebuild
          path: ./apps/web/package.json
      dockerfile: api.Dockerfile # Path to API Dockerfile
      - "3001:3000" # Reachable on localhost:3001, or api:3000 from within the Docker network
      - postgres # Start after the database
      - DATABASE_URL=postgres://postgres:postgres@postgres:5432/hackathon # Hardcoded database credentials are usually a no-go, but totally fine in this situation
        - action: sync # Synchronize the files on your host ./apps/api with your containers /app/apps/api when any file changes in that path
          path: ./apps/api 
          target: /app/apps/api
            - node_modules/
        - action: rebuild # Rebuild container if the package.json changes
          path: package.json
        - action: rebuild
          path: ./apps/api/package.json
  postgres: # Postgres Database
    image: postgres:latest
      - "5432:5432" # Reachable on localhost:5432 if you want to connect with something like DataGrip
    environment: # Again, usually not a good idea to use these hardcoded credentials but okay for a hackathon
      POSTGRES_USER: postgres
      POSTGRES_PASSWORD: postgres
      POSTGRES_DB: postgres

TL;DR: We define the frontend, backend, and database as a service. In addition to the normal docker-compose setup we also add the config for docker-compose watch that enables us to have hot-reloads!

Both Dockerfiles (api.Dockerfile and web.Dockerfile) are in the root of the project and are optimized to be used for developing, not as production build.

You shouldn’t need to touch them, but here is a quick explanation:

# You might want to use a different node version if you need any special libraries
FROM node:20.5.1-alpine AS base

FROM base AS builder
# not necessarily needed but often the cause for weird bugs
RUN apk add --no-cache libc6-compat
RUN apk update
# Set working directory
# We need turbo to work with the monorepo
RUN npm install -g turbo
COPY . .
# remove everything from the monorepo that is not needed
RUN turbo prune --scope=api --docker

# Add lockfile and package.json's of isolated subworkspace
FROM base AS installer
RUN apk add --no-cache libc6-compat
RUN apk update

# First install the dependencies (as they change less often)
COPY --from=builder /app/out/json/ .
COPY --from=builder /app/out/pnpm-lock.yaml ./pnpm-lock.yaml
RUN corepack enable && corepack prepare [email protected] --activate

RUN pnpm --version
RUN pnpm install --frozen-lockfile

# Build the project
COPY --from=builder /app/out/full/ .
# We could properly build the project here, but we don't need to because this isnt for production we want hot reloads :)
CMD pnpm dlx turbo run dev --filter=api

The Dockerfile might seem a bit complicated (it is), but the reason for that is mostly just turborepo and the need for good caching. Realistically, you will only need to change the last line, if at all. It is based on this awesome Github Issue.


As already mentioned in the beginning, Livecycle allows us to share our docker-compose apps with our team and judges by creating ✨tunnels✨. This is super useful because it allows us to share our progress in real-time, without having to deploy anything. It also allows non-techies to see the progress and give feedback. Since it’s “just” a Docker extension it is not part of the repo. Instead, you can simply install it from the Docker Hub.


Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that you move quickly and have fun. Build your own template, and use tech that you are already familiar with. Create some cool stuff!

Until next time,

Jonas :D

#reads #jonas scholz #docker #hackathon #nextjs #postgres