This website is a static site, by which I mean, it is a folder of files on my hard drive . 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, format everything as HTML files your browser can understand, then copies those files to the hard drive of a server somewhere. After that, I am free from any further responsibility for its upkeep. Your browser downloads stuff and renders it. The server that hosts this stuff can be extremely dumb and simple, which means I do not need to spend much effort on security or configuration, or hosting fees etc. Best of all, I do not need to worry about manually copying my notes from my hard drive to the website. My notes are my website. This is a high performance, low-friction way of doing things, at least for me.
The main pain point of static sites IMO is that there are many systems for making them, each pitched at a highly particular level of nerdiness. Also they 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.
This article is the prequel to academic blogging workflow, wherein I mention plain text static-site blogging choices for researchers, 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 matheamtical markup and more monetization, try the blogophere.
This workflow is well-documented by various people with various priorities on the internet. This documentation is oriented to my priorities. If you would like to find some extra hyped-docs by startups, try googling JAMstack.
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lineage is ancient, including such the original World Wide Web and its progenitors, travelling via the primordial (and no longer active) static site generators such as the venerable bloxsom into the current day when it is also terribly hype-cycle. 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:
- Good graphical preview in an editor.
- Intuitive handling of images and other media.
- 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.
- Next.js by Vercel has huge momentum and is beloved of people building rich interactions and sites that transcend the feeling of 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.
- Pelican (python), the previous engine for this blog is pretty easy to adapt 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
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.
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.
publii is a desktop-based CMS with integrated site generator for Windows, Mac and Linux. Seems to be based on Electron/node.js.
RStudio has sophisticated integration with blogdown blogs.
NetlifyCMS is Netlify’s generic CMS client for various static site backends offering a friendly, integrated CMS workflow.
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.
cactus, below, features a GUI app too.
Hokus is one just for Hugo sites.
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
Websites that edit your website for you.
forestry seems popular. It has a rather good interface and I quite like it, but it has some alarming signs of decrepitude (does not support recent hugo versions) and also it wants aggressive repository permissions (it seems to demand write access to all my private github repos?)
Tina, by the creators of forestry.io, specialises for NextJS in particular but adds extra features by being tightly-couple instead of generic
gitbook is a markdown website GUI and publishing toolchain.
“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.
Draft is a collaborative frontend for document editing although not AFAICT publishing.
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.
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).
github incidentally hosts sites as part of their
They have a local dev server which makes stuff convenient.