On Static Site Generators

Peter Zignego writes about his experience with Swift static site generators:

After a bit of spelunking, I realized that it had been built with some beta version of Xcode long since lost to the sands of time — I was stuck with a binary I couldn’t run.

Luckily most of this is behind us now. Prior to 4.0, this was a major drawback of using the language for general purpose programming.

Over the course of the week I spent converting this site to use Publish, I was frustrated by a lot of the built-in assumptions and general inflexibility. While I am sure that it is a great Swift by Sundell generator, it is not (yet) a great general-purpose static site generator.

As a Website maintainer, finding a static site generator that works exactly the way you want is no small feat. I used a handful in the past 10 years, across personal and client projects, and I still haven’t found the one. Plugins and extensions do help, but there will always be a set of assumptions that are not true for every project.

But the beauty of open source is exactly that, so I forked it and fixed my two biggest issues.

If you’re going to use a static site generator, use one written in a language you are comfortable with. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself in a position where you need to patch the build system to add new functionality or modify existing one, especially if you are making Websites for a living.

In practice I found [using an HTML DSL] to be more clunky and mistake-prone than just writing HTML with Mustache templates, which is what I was converting from.

Couldn’t agree more as someone who always preferred templating languages (Mustache, Liquid, etc) to DSLs. The latter often introduce friction that seems unnecessary if you are already comfortable with HTML and CSS.

I‘m not head over heels in love with Gatsby, but it’s versatile and battle-tested. I‘ll eventually look into migrating to a Swift build system, but I can’t afford the time to do so for the time being.

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