At the beginning of July last year, I started to create my devblog.
At that moment, everything web-related was completely out of my world. I could
code a bootloader or a real-time OS in C/C++, yet I wouldn't be able to
make even a basic website. So I took the easy way. I registered my domain,
bought three years of the cheapest VPS provider I could find, and installed a
ready-made blog solution, the ubiquous Wordpress.
The only real customization I did, was to write a theme - or should I say,
download an existing one, and rewriting the CSS part.
It was running well, until it did not anymore. I'm new to this, so I
didn't know that it is a terrible idea to buy three years worth of VPS
service to a company that nobody knows. It turns out the provider, Hiformance,
went bankrupt (or just ran away with the money), shutting down all the servers
So my blog was gone. Of course, I didn't have any backup. I could
thanksfully recover most of it with the help of my browser cache, and the
Wayback Machine. I got back the
blog posts, comments, images, and CSS stylesheet. I don't like doing the
same thing twice, though, so I decided not to buy another VPS service just to
run a Wordpress instance. This time, I would write my website from zero, and
learn in the process.
One of the less-known features of Github / Gitlab, is that these code hosting
services can host for free a simple static website. It's as simple as
pushing your HTML and assets to a branch named 'gh-pages' (or simply
'pages' on Gitlab). Then, your website appears at
https://myname.github.com/myproject/. Very useful for hosting simple web pages
for your projects. It is, however, much harder to have it host complex websites,
such as a blog, for the simple reason that you cannot run a server language
like PHP or a database on their servers. You're just left with HTML and
In a nutshell, Jekyll can be described as
a static website generator. Write up rules about how your pages should look,
give it text written in Markdown or plain HTML, and it will generate a static
website from that. New blog post? Add the text of the post to a Markdown or HTML
file, regenerate the website, push the generated HTML files to Github, and your
new blog post is live. Actually, it's even simpler than that: Github's
simple hosting service supports Jekyll natively, so just push your sources to
the gh-pages branch instead of the generated HTML, and Github will auto-generate
the static website from your Jekyll sources. How cool is that?
One last part that's left to do: comments. The first problem: this
requires a server-side program to get the data submitted by the user through the
HTML form. The second problem: How do you get this data integrated into your
website, if your website is a set of static pages generated from a git
Staticman is a tool that has been designed
specially for the purpose of handling comments in generated static websites.
The way it works: you setup your blog post reply form to send the comments to
the public instance of Staticman that they graciously offer free of charge
(alternatively, you can also run your own instance on your server). Second step,
you add 'staticmanapp' as a collaborator to your website git
repository. Then, everytime someone posts a comment, 'staticmanapp'
will send you a pull request, adding the new comment in a file stored in a
preconfigured directory. Merge it, let Github automatically regenerate the
website, and your new comment will appear. Pretty nice, right?
So it took a bit of effort, but now my devblog is live again. It looks the
same, but has been entirely written from scratch this time, not by just tweaking
a Wordpress theme. And you know what? I'm glad I did. I learned a lot in
the process. Also, I really got used to write my blog posts the same way I write
my code. Fire up VIM, write some text, git-add, git-commit, git-push. Tweak the
look-and-feel and content by writing code, instead of clicking buttons.
The best thing about that? You can now send me guests posts in pull requests