If you’ve been reading this site in the past, you may have noticed a face lift. This isn’t just a face lift, but a complete rewrite of the blog software that I use. I used to be hosting this site on wordpress, but I found I was battling the system too often and trying to find work arounds for the quirks. Now this site is just a bunch of static HTML files that were nicely generated using Octopress and Jekyll. This should significantly improve the speed of the site and allow me to write more often (with more code examples). I’m also finally able to host on “the cloud” using Amazon’s S3 service which finally allows me to do automated deployments. As an added bonus, it also increases my geek status.
So what real benefit does this give me? Well for one, I can write everything offline in markdown format without worrying about some converter messing up the formatting. I also have more control over the styling and layouts of the page and it greatly simplifies my setup.
Markdown and SASS goodness
Creating posts using only HTML tags can be time consuming and error prone. The problem is you have to force yourself to a subset of HTML which may be removed by the Wordpress editor anyway. Instead I can now use markdown, which is a simplified markup language that can be converted for me automatically and safely. I can also use SASS to drastically simplify my CSS code.
Markdown, at least with the extensions brought in from Jekyll, has the benefit of allowing me to insert code directly into the content. I’ve struggled getting code to properly format using Wordpress in the past, so this is a huge benefit.
As a new found ruby developer, I like the fact that Jekyll allows me to run arbitrary ruby code while generating the site. For example, I use this to insert the page links in the index pages. I don’t have to manually handle these housekeeping issues by handing them off to an automated process. The fact that it’s ruby is a bonus since this is what I work with daily.
The best part is that the Markdown is converted to static HTML files. That’s right, there’s absolutely no back-end for this site now. You’re downloading HTML files I generated on my computer directly without worry about putting things properly in databases. That means I can’t have downtime due to a database crash, and there’s no way I can lose data due to database corruption. No need to run multiple servers to handle the separation.
It’s also much more difficult to attack the site. The only point of attack is now the web server which will always exist. There’s no need to worry about patching wordpress anymore (which is still an ongoing battle) nor any other software. I just let Amazon worry about the server software and just worry about content.
That’s all I have to do to push the new content live. It’s a great feeling.
One of the issues I ran into a lot was that my wordpress site could not be accessed without an internet connection. I spend a lot of time on the train to and from work where I don’t have access to the internet. That means I could not see what the site would look like while making changes during that time. I’m sure I could have setup a LAMP server locally to do development, but it was more work than I wanted to put into it.
Instead, I can run the entire site locally by generating the site or running a rake task to run a WEBrick server. And, it will look and at exactly as I see it when I finally do deploy. There are a few external services that won’t work, such as my twitter feed, but that’s a minor issue since I don’t usually maintain that part of my site.
Version control that makes sense
As a software developer, I’m used to great version control systems that give me more than just history. I’m now storing the entire site in a github project. Since markdown files are just files, I can do diffs, branches, merges, even cherry pickings. You can’t even start to think about doing these things in wordpress, especially without some major modifications to the software.
If you’re interested in my setup, you can go to my github repository and download the entire thing onto your computer. In the future, I may talk about how I set the site up and my own customizations.