Hello, World!

Occasionally, I find something interesting worth sharing. But there is no ideal place where I can write it down, so I decided to create such a place.

There are a lot of blog platforms around. But I usually don't quite like some little details about them. I wanted something self-hosted, fast (in case I'll write something that will be on the Hacker News front page), simple and easy to maintain.

Once, I found the publishing tool, which is pretty nice, but isn't self-hosted. So, I figured, maybe I can build something similar myself.


Here is the list of requirements I had in mind, when I was thinking about what I want to see at the end. I wouldn't even call them requirements, to be honest, more like guiding principles.

Own Everything

The biggest thing I don't like about existing blog and publishing tools is I don't own and don't have a complete control for everything, starting from the domain name and ending with how URLs for posts will look like. This wish is motivated by the fact I want to have stable URLs that will not break in the future.

Moreover, I want to control the platform itself. This way it will last as long as I have a desire to support it and won't be shut down, because big company priorities shift. And there will be no unexpected policy additions that may cause content to be removed or changed. Not that I'm going to post anything controversial. But the concept of controversy is rather blurry nowadays.


A few things compare with static content serving in terms of speed. Therefore, I better serve static content then. It shouldn't be the problem, because I am going to share mostly texts anyway. Generate once, share many times. Seems like a good strategy for me.


I was thinking about a format for some time. I like LaTeX. A lot. Also, this would save me completely from web design (I don't know how to do a CSS properly for example).

But I am going to write primarily about computers with some code and to my shame for all these years I still didn't figure out a way to make code look at least bearable. Besides, I am not sure it is convenient enough to read something from the PDF. Of course, if you are going to read a research paper (this process will probably take a couple of weeks), then maybe, but not for some random text you just found on the Internet and not even sure you are interested in. I heard HTML is the right format for the Internet stuff, so HTML it is. Probably, one day I'll figure out a way to generate good looking PDFs and HTML pages at the same time, but not today.


So far probably every mature static site generator would be a good fit for me. I started playing with Hugo. But then I found this Twitter thread from Dan Luu, which decreased my enthusiasm for Hugo, because I hate fixing stuff, especially one I didn't break myself. Likely, the situation has already changed, but there is no guarantee there will be no other breaking changes in the future.


After I took a look at the list of the requirements, I decided to reinvent the wheel and write my own static site generator, tailored exactly for my needs.

I want to publish some text content and I am going to need the following to make it usable.

  1. Publishing interface.
  2. List of already published content.
  3. Pages with a content itself.

Separate web page for content publishing sounds cool, but looks like an unnecessary thing to have. I can use the usual text editor of my choice to write text, manually regenerate content and push updates to the server. I am too lazy to write HTML by hand, so Markdown seems like a reasonable tool for this job.

The picture is slowly coming together. I am going to have a bunch of Markdown files with content, then HTML pages will be generated out of this files and as a last step, everything will be pushed to the server. Code for content generation and raw content itself can be stored together in the version control system.

One more thing to think about is a directory structure. I don't want to have only text in the post. Sometimes there will be pictures (I hope). So, I need a place to store them. Naming is a hard thing to do and over time I'll for sure have a few files with the short name like algorithm.png, but with a different content. To avoid collisions and to save myself from future pain, it is better to store pictures for each post separately.

% tree posts
├── hashtables
│   ├──
│   ├── metadata.txt
│   └── picture.png
└── hello-world
    ├── metadata.txt
    └── picture.png

Furthermore, posts might have some metadata associated with them. For example, title, publish date, author etc. At the beginning, I was thinking to combine content and metadata together in one file, but all solutions I came up with were awkward (have necessary info on top of the md file as a comment or cut it out manually before pass it to Markdown parser), therefore I decided to abandon this idea. For that reason directory per post comes in handy with the idea of metadata and content separation.

Separation idea has some advantages.

One of the disadvantages is the necessity of two files editing for post creation. Over time, it will become clearer how much inconvenience this will bring.


The plan was to implement the following pipeline, which (I believe) is quite common for static sites at the moment.

.---------------.        .---------------.        .---------------.
|               |  (1)   |               |  (2)   |               |
|  Raw Content  | -----> |   Generator   | -----> |  HTML Content |
|  (Markdown)   |        |   (Python)    |        |               |
.---------------.        .---------------.        .---------------.
\                                       /                |
 \                 Git                 /                 |
  -------------------------------------                  | 
Remote server:                                           |
.---------------.                                        |  (3)
|               |                                        | Rsync
|     Nginx     | <--------------------------------------.
|               |
        | (4)


In this picture steps (1), (2), (3) are preparation steps to write, generate and sync content with a remote server and step (4) is a step to serve the site content to the happy user.

Almost all building blocks on this diagram are fairly common and well known tools. The only one custom component is a Generator (from Markdown to HTML) itself. It took less than 200 lines to implement desired logic with Jinja as a template engine and Markdown library for markup support.

% wc -l blog/*py
       0 blog/
      59 blog/
      14 blog/
      68 blog/
      16 blog/
     157 total

Only one thing made me worry - CSS and design overall. I want to have something simple, with a focus on the content itself. Luckily, I found Herman Martinus Bear Blog. It looks quite similar to what I want to have at the beginning (see text example here). I used Bear Blog Cascading Style Sheets as a starting point, made a couple of "improvements" here and there, removed things I don't understand and voilà.

The last thing I added was a feature to fire up a web server on localhost with a complete copy of the website to see how everything will look. This was a final touch, to simplify and ease the writing process for myself.

If you are interested in details, you can find the source code on Github.

Future Work

One thing I want to have and really missing compared with real blog platforms is some kind of statistics, at least the basic one: how often some page was viewed, how many unique visitors I had and where they are coming from.

I believe some (if not all) of this information can be extracted from the Nginx access logs, but I haven't come up with a good solution for this problem yet.