Andrew Duthie

Static Site Generators

As web developers, we most often work with dynamic web content. These days, it’s rare to come in contact with plain old HTML files. That said, there are a growing number of tools which assist in the creation of static sites, aptly named static site generators. To cite a recent example, Kyle Rush published an article explaining how Obama’s campaign team used Jekyll, arguably the most popular static site generator, to improve the performance of their $250 million fundraising platform. In this article, I will discuss the purpose of these tools, the benefits they provide, and several popular options to choose from.

An overview

For a simple site or blog, it is not uncommon to create a basic web application consisting of two primary components: (1) a page layout (i.e. header and footer), and (2) a small collection of database tables to manage content. There really isn’t a whole lot going on here, and the whole application server + database + hosting solution can become a real pain for such a simple project. If the goal is to simply wrap written content within the context of a master layout, this is hardly the simplest solution.

Static site generators are able to satisfy the same needs without the unnecessary complexity. As part of the build process, layouts are combined with content to generate simple HTML files. Layouts are likely to have some variation of a templating syntax, and content files can be written in Markdown or other familiar writing formats. As a result, you avoid the headache of the overhead which can accompany dynamic sites.

Primary benefits

Popular Static Site Generators

Depending on your development environment, you may want to choose from one of the popular options below:

Conclusion

This blog itself was previously maintained using a custom static site generator. It’s fairly basic, but the source code is available at the GitHub repository in case you’re curious about the project structure of a simple static site. Since this is a custom generator, it may be more relevant to refer to the source of some of the many sites which use Jekyll.