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Static Site Generators – Beginner’s Guide

If you are a web developer, you always need to keep up with new design standards, methodologies, and stacks. After the web is evolving, and you need to as well.

Jamstack and static site generators are the new buzzwords that you should know about. In this article, we are going to learn a lot about static site generators. We will also cover Jamstack and why it is vital to know about them.

Jamstack stands for JavaScript, APIs, and Markup. Jamstack is recently gaining popularity and developer’s choice to create modern web applications.

Statis Site Generators - Beginner's Guide

So, what is Jamstack? According to the official Jamstack website, it is a “modern” way to create web applications. Jamstack aims to improve better performance, stability, security, and developer experience.

The sites created via Jamstack are static in nature. They are pre-rendered static pages that are served over CDNs. Also, developers can configure the website to get data from multiple sources. The approach is unique as it replaces traditional databases. Here, the static site utilizes microservice APIs.

And that’s where the static site generators(SSGs) comes in.

The Role of Static Site Generators(SSGs) And What it is?

Static site generators give the developers a quick and efficient way to generate sites. There are plenty of SSGs for different programming languages, including Ruby, Go, and JavaScript.

You can find a lot of SSGs online, specifically on the Jamstack official website.

Before we move forward and list a few of them ourselves, let’s explore static site generators in more detail. To understand SSGs, let’s look at how traditional sites are rendered.

Let’s take the example of content management systems(CMS). In the case of CMS, the site is rendered dynamically when a user requests the site. Initially, the server accepts the requests and then uses the available information to process the content. It then goes through a template engine and generates the page.

As for static site generators, a static site generator processes the page even before the request is made. The processed site is stored online and delivered through CDNs—the approach results in faster sites that take less to load.

SSGs also work with CMS. However, there is one caveat. The developer needs to use headless CMS to make it work. Headless CMS only has a backend and no front-end. This means it works with APIs to deliver data to the requests.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Static Site Generators

SSGs come with tons of benefits. This benefit stems from the fact that there is no server-side processing required as the pages are already pre-compiled and stored in CDNs for distribution purposes.

The advantages of static site generators include:

  • Fast loading time
  • Better performance
  • Fewer security issues as static content are served
  • Better scalability and maintenance
  • Simple server-side setup
  • Cost benefits

SSGs also come with some disadvantages. Let’s discuss them below.

  • You require a good amount of technical skills to work with static site generators.
  • Other roles working on-site would require significantly higher skills, including editors and content managers. However, the problem can be overcome by using headless CMS solutions.
  • Developers can have a hard time adding interactivity and dynamic elements to the web page. They need to use Jamstack solutions to overcome it.
  • You may also struggle to choose the right SSGs for you. At the time of writing, there are more than 600+ SSGs options available — which can make decision-making tough.

Choosing the Right Static Site Generator

With plenty of choices, it is important to choose the right static site generator for your project. The choice, however, depends on your project needs, the team experience, programming language, and the feature-set that you are going to implement.

What do you aim to build?

Not all SSGs offer the same value and usefulness. That means that some SSGs are great for back-end development while others are good for front-end. That’s why you need to understand the features you want to include in your project.

For whom is it intended to?

Each site has different intended users. For instance, some sites need only to deliver content that needs to be managed by the content manager. In those cases, you need to use SSGs that let you do that. You can also opt to use headless CMS to solve the problem.

Which programming language or framework are you going to use?

Lastly, your choice of SSG also depends on the framework or programming language you want to use. Most static site generators come with a wide programming language support. However, choosing an SSG for that particular programming language can ease the whole process.

For example, you need to choose Gatsby or Next.js if you are going to use JavaScript. In case you are using Vue, then Nuxt.js is your thing — and so on.

Best Static Site Generators

Now that we understand static site generators, it is time to list a few of the well-known SSGs that you can take for a spin.

  • Jekyll: Jekyll is a popular SSG. It offers markdown support and uses the Liquid templating engine. Jekyll powers GitHub pages. Moreover, you also get GitHub Pages free hosting, simplicity, and a great community.
  • js: Next.js is a React framework for production. With it, you can create statically JavaScript apps. Some of its best features include better performance, no setup required, excellent documentation, access to tons of example apps, and built-in CSS support.
  • Gatsby: Gatsby lets you create apps and static websites. It uses React underhood and also leverages GraphQL. Some of its strong points include support for the latest web technologies, a rich plugin ecosystem, faster deployment, and scalability. It is also a progressive web app (PWA) generator.
  • js: With Nuxt.js, you can create production-ready apps. It is built with Vue.js and is a high-level framework. It offers server-side rendering along with static site generation. Moreover, you can also build single-page apps(SPAs) with it.
  • Hugo: Another popular SSG is Hugo. It has 49k stars on GitHub. If you are new to SSGs, then you should try out Hugo. Hugo is optimized for speed and also doesn’t require extra plugins.

Other notable mentions include VuePress and Eleventy.

This leads us to the end of our beginner’s guide on static site generators. So, what are you going to build and using which SSG? Comment below and let us know.


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