I rebuilt my website the hard way

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31 Dec 2019

Static site generators, Nunjucks, Git, Jekyll, Terminal, code editors... my knowledge of this sort of thing has been lacking. I thought I'd be a better designer if I knew about it, so I decided to rebuild my website (formerly in Wordpress) the hard way.

What I did #

  • Came up with a project to focus my efforts - rebuilding my personal website
  • Updated my 10-year-old CSS knowledge by learning about CSS grids. CSS Grid Garden was a fun way to learn the basics, then I messed around with it using Glitch (here's my test site).
  • Downloaded Visual Studio Code
  • Using Terminal, I installed Jekyll, a static site generator, and everything it needs (Ruby, etc). Jekyll seems to be the prevalent static site generator and a good place to start.
  • Ran through all of this step by step Jekyll tutorial to learn the basics
  • Switched to a different static site generator - Eleventy - because I understand from Charlotte Dann that it's what the cool kids are using
  • Downloaded the Eleventy base blog and began tinkering
  • Copied the content from my Wordpress blog posts and used an online converter to change it to markdown (which is what Eleventy uses), then added the images manually
  • Deployed my site to GitHub Pages, which turned out to be quite tricky
  • Pointed tomhiskey.co.uk to my GitHub Pages site

โ˜๏ธ All this took time and effort.

The good stuff #

  • It was hard and I came across lots of minor problems - by solving them, I learnt a lot
  • I loved the challenge and to be doing some proper (albeit very basic) coding - it's been a lot of fun
  • Glitch was easy and fun
  • I've ended up with a faster, better website
  • It's great to move away from Wordpress, which I've increasingly found to be slow, bloated and susceptible to hackers (not to mention it's very uncool for a designer's website)

Website speed test - Wordpress vs Eleventy static siteWoah, that's quick. Google speed test on my site before (left, using a custom installation of Wordpress on a shared server) and after (right, static site built with Eleventy on GitHub Pages)

The bad stuff #

  • Using a code editor / Terminal / static site generator is such a unintuitive way to build a website - probably not worth it unless you want to learn how things work under the hood or you're already working in this way
  • There's lots to remember, e.g. every time I load the project in Visual Studio Code I had to type "Eleventy --serve" into Terminal
  • It's a shame I won't be able to write blog posts using my phone - I'll have to launch Visual Studio Code on my Mac every time I want to write something
  • Git feels like a black box that I don't yet feel comfortable enough with
  • It was painful trying to deploy my Eleventy site to GitHub Pages (I've written about it here)

Building my website - Visual Studio CodeThe murky (but fun) world of code editors and Terminal - this is what I'm looking at while I write this blog post

Something I'd do differently #

Eleventy and GitHub Pages don't slot together seamlessly, but it looks like Jekyll and GitHub Pages do. So if I was doing it all again I'd probably stick with Jekyll, particularly as for my meagre needs there seemed to be no discernible difference between that and Eleventy.

Too Long Didn't Read #

I'm glad I made the effort to rebuild my website the hard way. It was fun and I learnt a lot.

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