Static File Blogging

July 21, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Important

I’ve since switched over to using Pelican. Maintaining your own static generator is not something I set out to do though I did learn a lot along the way.

I previously mentioned that I am working on redesigning the root landing page. What I may have not mentioned is that I am also working on revamping my blogging platform.

Taking influence from other static content generators (like Jekyll) I’m writing my own simplistic version. There are a few key points I want to hit:

  • Takes JSON files and parses them. This allows me to include specific date information, time
  • Fast. I mean fast. The rsync up should be the longest part of the op.
  • 100% static files. Nothing dynamic apart from a few Apache rewrites.
  • Built from scratch. I understand the principals behind reinventing the wheel, but there are things I believe take time to do yourself and there is immeasurable satisfaction in doing so.

Flexible Writing Style

One of the main goals in this conversion was to make writing more flexible. Here is the “stack” I’ve selected for writing a new blog post:

Very simple stuff. Writing should be simple. I no longer need to fuss with wmd because I’m able to write on any computer at my leisure. I can outline something in OmniOutliner, sketch notes in iA Writer, then dump it onto Dropbox to sync with my computer before I do fine tuning in TM or Sublime. This kind of flexibility should not involve more work the necessary. Maintaining and adding features to a web interface is not my idea of a fun time when I would rather jot a note here, a few sentences here, and then push it together.

Remove the Database

Databases are really good at two things. Searching for large amounts of information and storing disjointed bits of information. They are not good at serving web pages.

Let us take a look at a request for a particular blog post with a database in the mix.

First the Client has to send a request. Then it goes over the wire (Sea of Network Latency) before hitting my server. On the server it locates the Apache process and spins up a PHP instance to parse and handle the request. It checks to see if we have a primed cache (Disk I/O). If it finds a valid cache file then it returns that. If there is no cache then it sends a request to the database server, again going over the wire (Sea of Network Latency). The database munches on the request before regurgitating a sticky blob of data to return. The PHP process (still all PHP here!) examines this gooey data before deciding that it can manage parsing it. It rolls it through a few processes to template and format everything before caching it and send it back to the client.

Now if we remove the dynamic portions (PHP) and the slow portions (Database) we get something cleaner and more manageable.

First the Client has to send a request. Then it goes over the wire (Sea of Network Latency) before hitting my server. On the server it locates the Apache process and (Disk I/O)[,] finds a file and send[s] it back to the client.

Some formatting in []’s added for clarity.

A database has no place in serving static content except as a convenience. If you can’t map out a workflow to refresh that static content when changes are made then the next best thing is to roll into a purpose built language that will roll those changes for you at the additional CPU cycle expense.

Features

Typical blog features:

  • Posts
  • Pages
  • Tags
  • Comments
  • Feeds
  • Trackbacks

Features I want:

  • Posts
  • Feeds

Comments are a headache. With the amazing amount of spam I still get using reCaptcha I don’t think it’s worth the headache anymore. Like it enough and you will hit me on Twitter or by email. Pages are just more pieces of static content. Tags are next to useless and maintaining them is a nightmare.

So, how is it?

Frankly? Horrible right now. I am using Apache to generate all the indexes, but the HTML is there and the posts are being reshuffled nicely into directories. I will be making incremental improvements over the next few weeks. Hopefully something production-ready will be good to go before the Fall.

While still extremely bare-bones, you can take a look at the generated site over at joshuakehn.com/new. Site is now live!

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July 2011

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