Static website generators – part 3

After a long break let’s take a look at another Static Generator – Hexo.

Hexo is powered by Node.js and is mostly aimed at blogging. It has a deploy integration for GitHub which makes it a great fit to build a documentation site for a GitHub project as well. If you are a JavaScript developer, the setup should be relatively easy. Like many other general purpose generators, you’ll probably want to write your content in Markdown. The default templating engine is Swig, which is once again well suited for JavaScript developers. However, Hexo is extensible to allow other templating engines to be used if you want.

The Hexo website includes a range of pre-built themes for you to try out, and one especially popular feature of the tool is its support for single-command deployment.

Installation of Hexo

Installing Hexo is quite easy. However, you do need to have a couple of other things installed first:

This link provides details to install Hexo. Just follow the steps.

Static Website Generator vs WordPress

We reviewed static site generators when we began this series of articles. If you need a quick review – a static site is a collection of pages contained in basic HTML files.  A static site generator (SSG) is a compromise between using a hand-coded static site and a full CMS. You generate an HTML-only website using raw data (such as Markdown files) and templates. The resulting build is transferred to your live server. Static site generators are systems that compile templates into static HTML pages. There is no server processing or rendering, so static websites tend to be very fast and lightweight, saving you and your users precious time and bandwidth. This increased efficiency is reflected in lower costs (including lower maintenance costs) and, potentially, higher revenues.

What is the difference between WordPress and Hexo?

When talking about performance, one must think about caching. Although there are multiple techniques for caching WordPress, this is not usually a straightforward task, unlike caching static files. Serving cached files is more performant than serving actual files from the server and it can save time when loading websites.

Advantages of Hexo

Hexo has many pros:

  • it is blazing fast,
  • it is easy to deploy to GitHub pages or any other host with one deploy command,
  • it is powerful with solid Markdown support,
  • it is highly extensible,
  • it is open source and there are many open source themes, and
  • there are available free plugins.

With Hexo, one can create markdown files and HTML layouts which will be converted to static HTML files when deployed. Hexo provides a deploy configuration which builds our static files into a GitHub branch. This means one can maintain documentation as markdown in our project’s master branch and deploy it, with one command, to gh-pages.

My experience working with Hexo

I decided to create a blog post for Hexo without any graphics. I found creating the blog post in Hexo to be easier than Jekyll. Readers may recall that I discussed Jekyll as part 2 of this series. The default theme also looks good on the site. I decided to just run the site locally. If time permits, I may post some of these examples on a Web Professionals server and link to them. In the interim, here is a screen capture of the results. I did not encounter any major issues when working with Hexo locally.

Screen capture of simple Hexo blog post.
Example of Hexo blog post

Final Thoughts

During my course of study as a Web Developer I tried many CMS systems and installed a lot of software. I found working with Hexo a little easier than most. It also has a little learning curve. One must use the command prompt to run different commands. I was able to get desired output to display locally with not that much effort. Each time I made changes I had to run ‘hexo server’ command on command prompt. That is the essence of static site generators (one must remember to constantly update the resulting web pages when changes are made).

One may find it simple and easy to build sites using Hexo or one may face problems initially installing and running and deploying. It all depends how the computer configuration/set up is. I am curious as to your experiences with Hexo. What did you like/ dislike? Please update the comments with your experiences.

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