What are Static Site Generators

What are Static Site Generators?

In order to implement static websites, developers often use Jamstacks with Static Site Generators, which greatly simplifies the programming process and allows rapid deployment.

Also, all dynamic functions are outsourced to a distributed architecture while the client-side JavaScript communicates with microservices APIs and provides the necessary dynamics.

What are Static Site Generators?

Static Website Generators are ready-to-use code structures onto which static web pages can be grafted. Unlike content management systems that retrieve content from databases, static site generators use a script to create a page’s HTML files from input files stored in a file system.

This process also takes place when changes are made to the code and content, rather than when the user uses his browser to access the page.

The static site builder script for converting input files to output files can be written in a variety of languages. However, alternatives such as PHP, Python, Ruby or Go could equally be used.

Installing and using a static site builder often works with the help of the command line. The content of the website itself is written in markup languages such as Markdown.

Markdown documents can easily edited on GitHub or any text editors/special Markdown editors. The presence of metadata at the beginning of the files (often referred to as “Front Matter”) enables the generator to ensure that the website is displayed in the browser.

What are the benefits of a static website?

In some cases, such as blogs or company portals, the primary goal is to convey information. Although content management systems and homepage authoring tools could be used for such projects, static site builders have a couple decisive advantages over traditional solutions:

  • Speed: Projects created with a Static Website Generator are very fast from the user’s point of view.
  • Content versioning: While content in dynamic Web projects is stored in separate databases from the code base, content in a static Web site is typically located in simple text files. Therefore, the content elements are not structurally different from the other components of the code base, so that versioning can be implemented without difficulty. For example, you can manage not only the code structure of a blog in a GitHub repository, but also the various contributions of the blog.
  • Security: Another advantage of websites created using static site builders is that they offer a low attack surface, unlike content management systems such as WordPress, which natively come with security vulnerabilities and need to be updated regularly. The potential risk is limited to individual access by the customer when accessing the page. Since only structured HTML pages are usually provided, if not more, the probability of unwanted access is reduced to the minimum amount.
  • Simple server maintenance: A static site builder also has dependencies as a software kit, which must be satisfied. The number of required components is relatively small, but these are only relevant during the development process. While other solutions require various modules, databases, libraries, structures and packages for live operation (and therefore also regular updates), static pages are linked only to a functional web server from the moment they are published.

What is the difference between a static site generator and a traditional CMS?

Content management systems have revolutionized the art and way of building websites. Thanks to these systems, the large manual effort put into programming classic static websites is now a thing of the past.

The decisive innovation and major evolution compared to the old approach is the storage of content in databases and the associated ability to assemble and present pages adequately only when requested by users.

Static site builders bridge the gap between the classic static website and content management system projects. As with the classic programming approach, pages and their content are generated in advance before being called by users. Like content management systems, static site builders allow developers to leverage templates and automatically generate pages.

Content management system and Static site generator can also complement each other: more concretely, it is the combination of the headless CMS and the generator, where the latter is used as a lever to link code and content.

The major difference between the static site generator and the CMS therefore lies in the moment when the sites are created: in the case of the former, it is during the development process, while in the case of the latter, it is at the request of the user.

In addition, dependence on databases or another external data source as well as server-side data processing when accessing the website are all aspects that disappear with the generator. It is equally possible to integrate external data sources with an API if necessary.

Why use a static site builder?

Using static site builders to build your own web project can pay off for many reasons. The excellent loading times, which result from the generated content, promote a positive user experience.

Since all website files are stored centrally at one point, projects based on a static site builder also offer optimal conditions for flexibility and availability. Administrative tasks are also kept to a minimum.

On the other hand, if it:

  • has regularly reviewed content,
  • processes user input,
  • has to undertake visual adaptations at any time with few skills,

Solutions such as authoring tools and content management systems are preferable.

The weaknesses of static site generators

Although the advantages of static pages (such as speed or high security) are undeniable, there are many disadvantages that make a static site builder unsuitable for larger projects.

Not only do generators require extensive knowledge of Markdown and HMTL, but many automations that are taken for granted in content management systems as well as homepage authoring tools are also lacking.

The following weaknesses may also appear when using static website generators:

  • No real-time content: A static site builder offers no ability to create dynamic content (such as recommendations, price updates, full-text search, etc.). Automatically user-tailored elements that are analyzed in real time can only be implemented using client-side scripts (especially JavaScript).
  • Time-consuming use of user input: Another problem with missing server scripts occurs when the Web project must also allow user input in certain situations (for example, when filling out a contact form). Once again, JavaScript or support for third-party services is required. The DISQUS platform can also be used, for example, to add a comment function (including content moderation and spam management) to website builder projects.
  • No standard user interface: Like Headless CMS, static site generators do not have a native state interface, which would allow you to add content or modify and delete existing content but are operated in the terminal. WYSIWYG editors help write the necessary Markdown code and inspect the result in advance using the preview function, but do not eliminate the need for manual downloads of prepared files to the server.

In summary, projects based on static sites have weaknesses, especially when it comes to up-to-date data, changes, and user interactions.

What are the known static website builders?

The number of static site generators has increased significantly in recent years. GitHub contains project directories of many open-source solutions, which can be used for free to create your own website and adapted as needed.

staticgen.com provides an overview of the most popular generators: the page lists the different options alphabetically or sorted by stars, forks, or GitHub issues (suggestions/optimization tasks). It is also possible to filter website structures according to the programming language (among others Ruby, JavaScript, Go…).

The following table lists some of the most important generators based on StaticGen information:

 LicenseLanguageModel EngineWebsite/project page
HugoAPL 2.0GoGogohugo.io
EleventyMITJavaScriptLiquid, Nunjucks u.a.11ty.dev
HexoMITJavaScriptEJS, Pug u.a.hexo.io
MetalsmithMITJavaScriptHandlebars, Any JSmetalsmith.io

Providing a static site builder via GitHub: How to do it

You can easily store and manage static site builder code, including content, resources, and scripts responsible for generating output, in a GitHub repository. This way, you can associate your project with version control and simplify collaboration around code.

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