Static websites

Websites that are just files on a server, which is I need

This website is a static site, by which I mean, it is a folder of files on my hard drive .

Screencap of me editing this site

When I want to publish new content, I run these files through a static site generator, which bundles them up, generates an index and a content page, formats everything as HTML files a web browser can understand, then copies those files to a server somewhere. After that, I am free from any further responsibility for its upkeep. The server that hosts this content can be extremely simple, which means I do not need to spend much effort on security or configuration, or hosting fees etc.

This is a high performance, low-friction way of doing things, at least for me. I do not need to worry about manually copying my notes from my hard drive to the website. My notes are my website.

The main pain point of static sites IMO is that there are many systems for making them, each pitched at a particular level of nerdiness, but there are few methods targeted at non-nerds. Also, yak shaving risk: Such sites are highly customisable, and so cry out for automation and macros and setting up just how I like it, which is probably not how other people like it. Any static site generator which is too nerdy seems incomprehensibly idiosyncratic. Any static sit generator which is not nerdy enough seems tediously menial. The upshot is that these things are great for personal use but can be tricky for collaboration.

The academic blogging workflow is a sequel to this one, targeted to researchers wherein I recommend plain text static-site blogging. Here I do not worry so much about certain features which are important mostly to academics, e.g. mathematical equations, graphs, citations…

Bloggers might have less academic priorities. If you want less mathematical markup and more monetization, try the blogophere.

This documentation is oriented to my priorities, but you can find a lot of stuff googling JAMstack, which is the hype name for this static setup.


The static site generator. The core bit. The software that takes my plain content files and turns them into friendly websites with all the nice decorations around the edges and colour schemes and indexes and stuff.

As mentioned, there are hundreds — maybe thousands — of static site generators. The lineage is ancient, including such the original World Wide Web and its progenitors, travelling via the primordial (and no longer active) static site generators such as the venerable bloxsom into the current day See the About page to see which one(s) I am (currently) using for this site.

TODO: AFAICT there is not much to choose between the various site generators I mention below as far as the base functionality goes (taking some files and making them look acceptable on the internet). There are some advanced features which would be distinguishing, if I had treated them more thoroughly:

  1. Good graphical preview in an editor.
  2. Intuitive handling of images and other media.
  3. Ease of collaboration on content via a CMS of some kind.

Some interesting ones:

  • Hugo (go) is a popular system. Its R companion, blogdown, is probably ascendant for academics.
  • Docusaurus is a facebok-supported one.
  • quarto is basically a reinvention of blogdown, but cleaner and easier.
  • Next.js by Vercel has momentum and is beloved of people building rich interactions and sites that feel like they transcend being a “static” site. If I wasn’t trying to be an academic this would be an interesting thing to try out simply because the tooling is good.
  • Gatsby (javascript) is another hipster JS one, probably slightly past Next on the hype curve. Acquired by Netlify, which also means lots of momentum.
  • Eleventy happens to be javascript but claims to be the least obtrusive static site generator. Introducing Eleventy, a new Static Site Generator mentions “While Eleventy uses JavaScript in node.js to transform templates into content, importantly (by default) it does not recommend nor force your HTML to include any Eleventy-specific client-side JavaScript. This is a core facet of the project’s intent and goals. We are not a JavaScript framework. We want our content decoupled as much as possible from Eleventy altogether, and because Eleventy uses templating engines that are Eleventy-independent, it gets us much closer to that goal.”
  • Pelican (python), the previous engine for this blog, is easy to hack if you use python.
  • Jekyll (ruby) is the default for github, although I personally could never make it work for me because of something about forking and plugins and other stuff that was so boring that I erased it from my brain.
  • Hakyll is a haskell variant of jekyll one with good pandoc integration.
  • Neuron (also haskell) is noteworthy because it puts Zettelkasten online, which is nice if that is your thing.
  • There are some extra ones, below, that integrate specialised editor apps, a.k.a. CMSs.
  • Not quite a static site, but org2blog publishes org mode notes to a website, even a “non static” one. As seen in Nick Higham’s Blog Workflow

Some, like jekyll or hugo are opinionated and provide a featureful setup per default. Others, like lettersmith take a DIY route where they provide the libraries to build something minimal, but it is up to you.

For my part, I used dokuwiki for a while (no longer recommended), then switched to Pelican (fine), and have now settled upon blogdown (i.e. hugo+RMarkdown) which has better support for academic blogging.

Local editors

If your static site system comes with some kind of app that will edit that site it is called a CMS, for content management system. There is a continuum between that and an editor with integrated static site generator capabilities. Also there is no sharp distinction truly between online and offline editors, for all that I have tried to make one below for the sake of simplicity. Sometimes the local CMS can run on the internet, sometimes that would be unwise or inconvenient.

If you use markdown, which is the de facto standard markup for plain text blogging it might be a good start to simply preview that in the old code editor. If you are using some other weirder specialised markup, good on you but I will not cover that complexity. Presumably if you know enough to do that, you know the consequences.

For a combination blogging tool and encrypted markdown edition note storage you might want to use something like standard notes, which costs some money when you use the bells and whistles, although might be worth it if your notes include confidential ones.

Preview tools, that show you plain text as rendered web-style HTML, make it all nicer.


Lektor is a static site generator with an integrated local CMS that looks Wordpress-like. For people who are comfortable installing local python apps, and doing command-line stuff, but after that things are easy.


publii is a desktop-based CMS with integrated site generator for Windows, Mac and Linux. It is great that you can just download and go; it sidesteps the git-based workflows. However, things seem to get rather complicated if the blog is shared between people; at that point it starts to feel that the simplicity is rather complicated; sharing stuff via google drive is crap compared to git. Concealing the complexity does not eliminate it.

Misc editors

  • Text editors Atom and vs code have built-in markdown preview, which is rough but often helps.

  • RStudio has sophisticated integration with blogdown blogs.

  • (USD4/month)

    A blogging platform with no interface

    Why a blogging platform with no interface? So you can blog with your favorite tools. Blot turns a folder into a blog. Drag-and-drop files inside to publish. Images, text files, Word Documents, Markdown and more become blog posts automatically.

    Support mathematical markup.

  • Hokus is one just for Hugo sites. (Untouched for two years).

  • As mentioned above, Caddy has a built-in automatic hugo editor.

  • marked is cheap macOS markdown editor/previewer…

  • restview is a previewer for an alternative markup called ReST

  • mou is cheap and looks nice.

  • and (free! open source! mou-like design): Macdown

  • livereload turns any browser into a preview tool.

  • Experts can run a localhost dev server which will host a local copy of the website

Online editors

Websites that edit my website for me.



Decap CMS (formerly Netlify CMS) is an open source content management system for your Git workflow that enables you to provide editors with a friendly UI and intuitive workflows. You can use it with any static site generator to create faster, more flexible web projects. Content is stored in your Git repository alongside your code for easier versioning, multi-channel publishing, and the option to handle content updates directly in Git.


Tina, by the creators of, specialises for NextJS in particular but adds extra features by being tightly-coupled instead of generic. User experience at this stage is ungainly; there is a lot of logins to various different static site providers and the default config didn’t actually set up a working site for me, and now I cannot work out how to even delete it. But the demos look impressive. Maybe it will get better?

Tina is a Git-backed headless content management system that enables developers and content creators to collaborate seamlessly. With Tina, developers can create a custom visual editing experience that is perfectly tailored to their site. Advantages of Tina Backed by Git

  • Both developers and editors collaborate on a single source of truth making site management harmonious.
  • Collaborate on content in real-time with live multi-user editing and change tracking.

Visual Editing

  • Get instant feedback with Tina’s intuitive sidebar editor. Allow your editors to preview their changes before publishing live to your site.
  • Select and build using your predefined components. Edit text. Adjust the style. Empower editors to edit.


Prose provides a beautifully simple content authoring environment for CMS-free websites. It’s a web-based interface for managing content on GitHub. Use it to create, edit, and delete files, and save your changes directly to GitHub. Host your website on GitHub Pages for free, or set up your own GitHub webhook server.”

It is indeed lovely and minimalist. The subset of markdown that it supports is also minimalist, so this blog looks funky if I edit it in prose. If you do not need mathematics and citations this might be a simple option?


forestry seems popular. It has a rather good interface and I quite like it, but there are red flags Discontinued.



Gitit is a wiki backed by a git, darcs, or mercurial filestore. Pages and uploaded files can be modified either directly via the VCS’s command-line tools or through the wiki’s web interface. Pandoc is used for markup processing, so pages may be written in (extended) markdown, reStructuredText, LaTeX, HTML, or literate Haskell, and exported in ten different formats, including LaTeX, ConTeXt, DocBook, RTF, OpenOffice ODT, and MediaWiki markup.

Misc editor apps

  • gitbook is a markdown website GUI and publishing toolchain.
  • Draft is a collaborative frontend for document editing although not AFAICT publishing.
  • Commercial option Cosmic can do lots of stuff, but for multiple users is expensive (USD99/month)
  • Wagtail plus django-bakery together render static sites from a dynamic database. One could fashion an UI out of these parts if enthusiastic.
  • cactus is a plain website generator, that features a GUI-ish client, cactus for mac
  • classeur attempts to be friendly for more than nerds.


Try JAMstackthemes for a smörgåsbord of themes for various software.


Here are some hosts I have auditioned to host my main static site (i.e. this blog).


Instant site publishing from a folder of files: Netlify drop.

Want to host your own? Get some of the conveniences with and automated deploy workflow via Coolify, which support way too much, but in particular, static sites.


See static site comments.

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GitHub-flavored Markdown & a sane subset of HTML is supported.