In the ever-evolving landscape of web development, the pendulum of preference has swung back and forth between static and dynamic websites. It's a journey that reflects the industry's relentless pursuit of speed, security, and simplicity.
Not too long ago, dynamic websites ruled the internet. These sites, built on Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress and Drupal, offered unparalleled flexibility and interactivity. However, they also introduced complexity, vulnerabilities, and a significant trade-off in terms of speed. The world craved something faster, something that could blend the best of both worlds.
This is where the renaissance of static websites began. This article explains Static Site Generators (SSGs), how to choose an SSG, and how to deploy your static sites to Kinsta's Static Site Hosting for free!
The early days of the Internet were marked by simple static HTML pages. These sites were incredibly fast but lacked the interactivity that modern users have expected. As the web matured, CMS like WordPress and Joomla emerged, ushering in the era of dynamic websites.
Dynamic sites offered powerful features like user-generated content and real-time updates. They became the default choice for businesses and bloggers seeking a dynamic online presence. However, this progress came at a cost.
Dynamic websites rely on server-side processing to generate pages on the fly, introducing latency and security concerns. The more complex the site, the more sluggish it became.
Additionally, hosting dynamic websites often comes with higher costs compared to hosting static sites, making it less accessible for smaller websites and projects. This led to a search for alternatives, which birthed a new approach: Static Site Generators.
Static Site Generators are powerful tools used in web development to create websites with a unique blend of dynamism and speed.
However, according to JAMStack.org, we have 360 SSGs — how can you then choose the best SSG for your site?
Before we explore some factors to consider when choosing an SSG, let's first understand the components of an SSG and the two types of SSG.
Here's a brief explanation of the key components of an SSG:
Templating engine: SSGs rely on templating engines to define the structure of web pages. These engines enable developers to create reusable templates and incorporate dynamic content. Popular templating engines include Liquid, Handlebars, Mustache, EJS, ERB, HAML, and Slim.
Markup language: Markup language is used to write documents in a way that distinguishes them from plain text. Most SSGs utilize lightweight markup languages, such as Markdown. However, alternatives like AsciiDoc, Textile, and ReStructuredText are also used. These lightweight languages simplify content creation and are converted into HTML during the site generation process.
There are two major types of SSGs:
Framework-based SSGs: These SSGs are tightly integrated with a specific framework, which may have a steeper learning curve but can provide additional features and pre-built templates. A popular example of this is Gatsby, an SSG closely aligned with the React framework.
Framework-agnostic SSGs: These SSGs offer more flexibility but might require more configuration. They can work with a wider range of frameworks and templates. For example, Hugo, an SSG that doesn't favor any particular framework; instead, it relies on Go templates, allowing developers the freedom to adapt it to their specific needs.
It'd make sense if you could look at your project needs and then say, "X is the best SSG for your project," but that's unrealistic. Instead, let's review some guidelines to help you choose the best SSG for your project.
Obviously, this article doesn’t mention all SSGs when citing examples, only the most popular. You can always check this list to know about other SSGs.
Here are essential factors you should take into consideration:
Before choosing an SSG, define your project's specific requirements and objectives. Consider the type of website you're building, such as a blog, e-commerce site, or portfolio. Your SSG should align with the purpose and features your project demands.
When it comes to crafting blogs, e-commerce websites, or portfolios, all SSGs can be a good fit. However, there are other crucial factors to consider, such as the type of content, website interactions, editor experience, and more.
Some SSGs allow for easy interaction with APIs, blog styling, and more. The more vividly you can envision the experience you wish your visitors to have, the easier it becomes to pinpoint the SSG that offers the feature set most aligned with your vision.
Assess your and your team's technical skills and familiarity with an SSG, framework, or language. You'll find options in nearly every programming language and framework conceivable. The question here is whether you're keen to delve into a new language or prefer the comfort of working with a technology you're already familiar with.
For instance, here are some SSGs and the programming languages or frameworks they align with:
- Next.js, Docusaurus, and Gatsby are ideal for React developers.
- Nuxt.js and Gridsome are tailor-made for Vue.js developers.
- SvelteKit is a top pick for Svelte developers.
- Hugo is a perfect match for Go developers.
- Jekyll is a great choice for Ruby developers.
- Pelican is a preferred option for Python developers.
It's important to note that while these SSGs are associated with specific languages or frameworks, it doesn't mean you can't use them if you're unfamiliar with these technologies.
However, having prior knowledge of the language or framework can significantly enhance your ability to leverage the capabilities of the SSG. Many SSGs offer themes and plugins, which brings us to the next point.
It's crucial to consider the community and ecosystem surrounding the SSG. A robust and active community provides vital support, offers plugins, and serves as a rich resource pool.
The size and vibrancy of the SSG's community can be indicative of the level of support and development potentially available. Many SSGs offer starter repositories and sample sites for hands-on experimentation and use with different features.
In terms of GitHub stars, SSGs like Next.js, Hugo, Gatsby, Docusaurus, Nuxt.js, and Jekyll top the list. Some popular SSGs even host conferences and workshops, providing resources and networking opportunities for those looking to explore more advanced topics in depth.
- Next.js organizes Next.js Conf
- Gatsby organizes GatsbyConf
- Nuxt organizes Nuxt Nation Conference
- Hugo organizes Hugo Conf
Every SSG has its unique flair, making it suitable for various use cases and individuals. This distinctiveness might be rooted in the framework it employs, a special feature inherent to its templating language, or even the size of its installation binary.
Whether you're looking to embark on microblogging, showcase an academic portfolio, or establish a web presence for your business, there's an SSG tailored to your specific needs.
For instance, SSGs like Hugo and Jekyll are ideal for creating simple sites such as blogs and portfolios. SSGs like Docusaurus and VuePress excel at handling documentation needs. Additionally, SSGs like Gatsby, Astro, Next.js, Nuxt.js, and Gridsome are versatile options for a wide range of static site projects, especially when you are familiar with the framework that powers them.
Content management involves the creation, organization, and publication of digital content, encompassing text, images, videos, and multimedia, on websites or applications. A well-managed content strategy ensures that information is readily available, up to date, and presented in a user-friendly manner.
There are two primary content management approaches: traditional content management systems (CMS) and headless CMS. A popular choice for SSGs is the headless CMS, which separates content creation and storage from presentation, delivering content through APIs for versatile SSG integration.
When deciding between a traditional CMS and a headless CMS, consider the impact on your SSG selection. Some SSGs seamlessly integrate with specific CMS platforms, while others offer flexibility to accommodate various content management needs. Make your choice based on what best aligns with your content creation and management requirements.
After considering the factors discussed earlier, you should now understand what to look for when choosing an SSG. To wrap things up, here are some recommendations:
- Beginner-friendly options: If you're new to JAMStack and programming languages in general, there are several beginner-friendly SSGs to consider, such as Jekyll, Hexo, VuePress, and Hugo. These SSGs are straightforward to set up, offer a wide range of themes and plugins, and require only a basic familiarity with Markdown to get your site up and running.
- Advanced programming and JAMStack knowledge: For those with advanced programming and JAMStack knowledge, there are additional SSGs like Pelican, Scully, RedwoodJS, Sapper.js, Middleman, and many more that you can delve into.
Now, let's tailor the recommendations for specific use cases:
- Blogging: If your goal is to run a blog, beginner-friendly SSGs like Jekyll, Hexo, and Hugo are excellent choices. You can easily integrate services like Disqus or other comment systems to engage with your audience.
- E-Commerce: For an e-commerce website, consider more advanced SSGs like Gatsby or Next.js, and use a payment gateway for checkout functionality. These SSGs allow you to build dynamic and interactive online stores.
- Documentation site: For creating documentation or knowledge base sites, consider SSGs like Docusaurus and VuePress, which are specifically designed for this purpose. It offers features for structured content, search functionality, and versioning.
- Portfolio or business site: If you want to create a simple descriptive site, such as a portfolio or a business website, you have the flexibility to choose from a wide range of SSGs based on your familiarity with programming. Beginner-friendly options work well for simple sites, while advanced SSGs can provide more customization and interactivity.
When it comes to hosting, static sites have a significant advantage, thanks to the wide array of hosting platforms available today. Kinsta is one such platform — it allows you to host up to 100 static websites for free.
With platforms like Kinsta, there's no need to build your static files locally and then upload them using an FTP client. Instead, we leverage Git with your preferred Git provider (such as Bitbucket, GitHub, or GitLab) to deploy your site directly from your repository.
Once your Git repository is ready, follow these steps to deploy your static site to Kinsta:
- Log in or create an account to view your MyKinsta dashboard.
- Authorize Kinsta with your Git provider.
- Click Static Sites on the left sidebar, then click Add site.
- Select the repository and the branch you wish to deploy from.
- Assign a unique name to your site.
- MyKinsta will detect the build settings for the SSG automatically or check our documentation for the build setting information.
- Finally, click Create site.
Currently, Kinsta's Static Site Hosting only builds SSGs built in Node.js. If you're using other SSGs like Jekyll or Hugo, you need to build your site first and then deploy the static files to Kinsta. There are a couple of methods to streamline this process. One of them is implementing CI/CD (Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment) to automate the build and deployment stages. Another is pushing your static files directly to the Git repository you want to deploy from.
As an alternative to Static Site Hosting, you can opt for deploying your static site with Kinsta's Application Hosting, which provides greater hosting flexibility, a wider range of benefits, and access to more robust features. For example, scalability, customized deployment using a Dockerfile, and comprehensive analytics encompassing real-time and historical data.
It's important to note that numerous excellent choices are available, making it challenging to make a poor selection. Over the years, various SSGs have shown that almost all options are capable of creating sites effectively.
Ultimately, choosing an SSG boils down to personal preference and how open you are to learning something new.