There are two main parts of website building. The first one revolves around creating the content, and the second is all about using the preferred Content Management System (CMS). The CMS unifies your content with the chosen templates and themes. The result is the website, which the readers can see, read and go through.
This is where a static site generator (SSG) is required. It takes all of the source files and creates a completely static website out of them. Originally, creating, maintaining, and updating websites were done individually by hand. Over time, though, a system has been developed, which lets a website creator use certain code sections repeatedly and easily.
Using a static site generator is beneficial for a number of reasons. The static site generator has all of the computer codes for your website and runs on your personal computer. This means it is not accessible for anyone else and is not easy to hack. There is no need for security updates, so you do not have to deal with annoying pop-ups reminding you of updates for your CMS, plugins, and website. In addition to that, your website performs better as it loads faster compared to when all the content and themes need to be combined every time a visitor enters the site.
The worldwide web offers a multitude of options when it comes to static site generators. Going through all of them can be quite a headache for you, so we have taken care of it. We have reviewed and come up with the best ones.
Below are the top picks for the best static site generators for you to choose from:
- Also check out our roundup of the best website builder
One of the static site generators that is easy to set up and use is Hugo. It currently has a Gilab rating of more than 30,000 stars. It works by taking content and templates and turning them into a complete and working HTML website.
Hugo is currently used by 243 companies including Braincube, Bypass Censorship, and Pharma Seal. They have documentation on installing Hugo and running it, which is quite extensive. It offers a wide selection of prebuilt themes, so you simply pick the design you like for your site.
One of the best aspects of Hugo is how it runs anywhere. All it takes is to download the software and make it run. There is no need for administrative privileges, databases, external libraries, interpreters, or runtimes. Hugo-built sites can be used on Dropbox, Github, Pages, S3, and other web hosting services.
Hugo is also blessed with flexibility and designed to work the way you do. You can use any URL structure for organizing your content. You can declare the types of content and even define your own metadata in JSON, TOML, or YAML. Hugo can be integrated into different tools such as Buddy, DatoCSMS, Gitlab Pages, Go, and Markdown.
When it comes to performance and speed, Hugo’s build time has been invested to be as short as can be. It can take only milliseconds for an entire site to be built up in some cases. It is designed to make the process of rebuilding a site very quick. In fact, it is considered to be the fastest SSS at the present.
For sites that are built from existing data, Hugo offers its data-driven content, which is a feature that allows ease in creating the site as long as you have the contents ready in CSV or JSON format. With this feature, presenting the data to the audience can be done conveniently, and your site’s visitors do not have to use Excel or Google Sheets when browsing and navigating through your presentation.
The downside of using Hugo is that it uses the Go programming language which is not very common in the web development world nowadays.
Pelican is written in the Python programming language and Jinja2 for its templating language. Both languages are liked by many users. The Python language comes with a lot of potential for expanding your website in any way.
Importing of site data from WordPress is supported by Pelican, so moving from an active WordPress site to static site generation is a piece of cake compared to other SSGs. You do not have to worry about the possibility of losing or destroying your current site’s setup. In addition to that, it can deal with a complete website and is not limited to blogging only.
There is a bit of a challenge in dealing with Pelican if you are not yet familiar with the Python language. More so, Python has to be installed on your computer in order to work with Pelican. Unfortunately, there is not much available guidance about Python for those who are not developers. Pelican is a really good starting place though if you have some experience and skills as a developer using the Python language.
It takes less than 30 minutes to get your site built, which is a very big consideration for developers. Delays in build time are a common disappointment when it comes to larger dynamic frameworks. Eleventy, on the other hand, is lean. When you build your SSG on top of a framework, it naturally adds to your build time because the frameworks have to be built as well, which takes additional time
Eleventy has a strong take on website performance. It even has a performance leaderboard display of all the websites that are built on 11ty. It is a preferred choice for many web developers and professionals who build and curate websites.
Referring to itself as a progressive web app, Gatsby is able to work offline and be added to your mobile home screen, to name a few of its features. Other websites have this capacity even when they use a different SSG. However, Gatsby does supply this out of the box.
If you have some level of familiarity with the web component library React, you certainly have an advantage with Gatsby because it is built around React. Being more familiar with the environment can make your work much easier. In fact, the website of React was built with the use of Gatsby.
Both Node.js and the git version control system are required by Gatsby. It is very helpful to know that Gatsby has well-detailed documentation pages about setting the Gatsby environment up. You have to have some familiarity with the command line because the process is quite involved. A downside is how the documentation for Windows, Mac, and Linux are all mixed together, so it has proven to be confusing for some people.
Gatsby also uses GraphQL, which is a famous tool. It is used for managing data all throughout the application. You have the option to use Gatsby minus GraphQL, but this technology adds an intuitive and declarative nature to application development. In addition to that, Gatsby works reasonably well with Netlify and similar platforms. This allows you to set up your site so it builds and deploys each time you push and commit to GitHub.
It also offers a wide selection of plugins for different purposes. They can let you source data from Content Management Systems such as Contentful and WordPress, promote integration with Algolia and similar tools as well as handle image management through lazy-loading and optimizing.
You also get access to numerous APIs with Gatsby. They help make it way easier to develop static sites. An example is the Create Page API, which creates static pages from markdown files easily and in a timely manner. More so, Gatsby is equipped with handy elements that make things simpler such as in handling images, linking, and routing. These are not available in the core React library.
Nikola comes with a very comprehensive package when it comes to static site generation. It includes everything a user might need including highly detailed templates to support both blogs and full websites as well as image galleries. Its pack of themes and plug-ins is also quite impressive.
However, it works with Python, and you need to go beyond the basics of the language to be able to deal with Nikola. It does not provide any solution to the lack of Python as well. This SSG can give you a lot of places to explore compared to its competition as long as you are a little bit more technical than most people.
When it comes to the themes, the ones from Nikola are not as extensive as that of other SSGs. This might prove to be a limit to your creativity, so if you wish to come up with something that competes aesthetically, you should check out other alternatives as well. You can rely completely on Nikola though when it comes to the rebuild speed as its one of the faster options nowadays.
Jekyll was one of the first static site generators and its success made way for the influx of innovation in these tools we see today. It continues to be further developed. It was started in 2008 by Tom Presto-Werner, who is also the founder of GitHub. It currently has more than 41,000 stars owing to its simple nature and how well it integrates with GitHub.
Basically, Jekyll takes the static HTML from your website and converts it using a simple templating library into a working static site. Setting up Jekyll is not the easiest thing to do especially if you are on Windows. This is because it is built with the Ruby programming language and therefore requires the sid environment to be installed on your computer. It is a good thing that Jekyll offers reliable documentation on its installation.
Your content in Jekyll is in text files and stored as such. There is no need for a database, and you get to work on your content directly and simply by accessing your files in your preferred text editor. The content can be stored with Jekyll in the simplest form such as in HTML or Markdown.
It offers a large number of themes, both free and paid ones. They can be installed by downloading and adding them to a project or by installing them as plugins with the use of RubyGems. Its themes are built with the Liquid templating engine from Shopify, which is a safe one. It runs untrusted code on its server, which means it can do most of what you need it to do minus the need to run custom code.
Because it is built into the code hosting service that is GitHub, you can keep your content in a Github repository, which is basically a code cloud drive. With this, you do not have to run any code anymore because GitHub will run it for you and transform the content into an actual website. GitHub Pages ends up becoming your website’s host for free. It also offers clear documentation that is easy to understand and follow.
Publii is different from most static site generators because it is a desktop application instead of a command-line tool. It works with Linux, Mac, and Windows. Publi is almost like WordPress but while WordPress is a website, Publii is an application that runs on your computer and generates a static website using your content.
It is equipped with publishing tools that are built into it and work to push the static website to different hosts and cloud hosting locations. It comes with an import system that allows you to convert your current WordPress site to Publii. It also serves as a marketplace for professional paid themes.
It is, however, free as an application and supported by a group of users who are working with each other and supporting one another through a discussion forum. Compared to its alternatives, Publii is the least technical SSG but it still has mostly everything you need. It is particularly beneficial and the best option for those who are not interested in coding or getting into the command-line approach.
A new player in the SSG playing field, Statiq Web is still going through major developments. It is best for those who are interested to participate in that process by working with the community to provide feedback on how it can further improve.
Its strongest point is the fact that it is written in .NET. This brings a great advantage to those who have knowledge of that programming tool. It is a sample output of the Statiq Framework, which is a more general and larger framework. Experienced programmers are able to come up with a more comprehensive output from this.
Picking the best static site generator for your site
These are the top options available today. Each one comes with a set of positive and negative points. One of the most important things to consider when choosing one of them over another is your own technical abilities.
If you are more knowledgeable than some, then you will definitely be disappointed in the less technical SSGs. If you are interested to learn, your best option is one with a medium level of technical difficulty paired with dependable documentation to guide you through the process.
You should also take into account the speed you prefer for your website. It is natural for developers to go with the faster ones. Another consideration is the programming language. You should go with the SSG that is written in the language that you are most skilled with. Otherwise, you will have to start by learning the language, which can take a lot of time and you may end up losing energy or interest in building your site afterward.
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