Piper Thunstrom

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A computer screen with CSS

Built With Statik

Now that it's been up for a while, I'd like to talk about the tool I used to build this site. It's another static site generator that is great for folks who like to DIY.

Why ANOTHER Static Site Generator

When you get into my specialties as a developer, I get opinionated. No surprise, we all do. So it should come as no surprise that as a dev who got my start building static websites in HTML and CSS, I have opinions on how I work with them.

Most static site generators are single purpose: Jekyll makes great pages and blogs, but building any other taxonomy is annoying. Lots of other ssgs have this problem, too. Sphinx is great for docs, but I wouldn't want to build a blog with it.

This limitation was one I'm never happy with, because I almost always want to run multiple things off the same site.

The other thing I dislike about most static site generators is that they're opinionated about their HTML. They have specific ideas about how you should go about laying out your templates, and how you invoke them. It's never sat well with me.

I Could Build My Own

It's a running joke that there's as many static site generators as there are developers. I was ready to go that route. After all, I knew a bunch of tools, it wouldn't be too difficult to glue them together in a way I could tolerate.

But in that thread, someone mentioned statik.

Models? Relationships? And you just point at a template in your view definition?

This was promising.

48 Hours Later

I went through the tutorial and got my first ugly version running inside an hour. From there, it was a matter of working out the various bits I knew I wanted:

  • It had to be responsive.
  • Needed to tell folks who I was.
  • Had to have a blog
  • Bonus if I could make it look good.

I dug in. Since statik supports Jinja templates, I used all that power afforded me: used includes to build with components. An about summary, and article, an author callout, the main header, and the main nav. Tiny, self-contained components I could use in my pages.

My pages are your typical Jinja fare: extensions to a base.html with specialized layouts.

All my styles are plain old CSS.

Just to make sure I'm clear here: I was building with a static site generator more or less how I wrote my earliest websites. I got the template working with some dummy data, and moved on to media queries. (Yes, I also like to hand roll my responsive websites.)

This all happened over about 48 hours. It went incredibly fast, and it's been really nice to work on one or two features a day as I go.

The Bad Parts

This isn't to say that this process was entirely without frustration. The errors from statik are often entirely opaque with not enough detail of what is being processed to debug effectively. I've dug into my installed version to add breakpoints to add that context.

Another downside is the activity on the project. The last commit was back in October, 2019. I'm not judging for the silence, but I'd love to see some work on the user friendliness of the project.

Lastly, there's a lot of features missing you get out of the box in other generators, like atom or rss feeds.

The Good Parts

The tutorial only included the basic blog functionality: Throwing a page up on the web. I added the header image and the author block below. Because it uses a database and that database is ephemeral from build to build, making a change like adding an avatar or header image only took about an hour. I spend way more time finding or writing content than adding the basic functionality for a new feature. (I then end up spending an hour testing the new feature at multiple breakpoints, but you could probably just use your favorite CSS framework.)

The next time you're thinking about a new static site generator, maybe give statik a look?