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Efficient Static Site Build with make

This article will dig a bit deeper about how I generate my static website. In a previous article I just gave the rationale and an overview to do it yourself.

A few goal reached by my current build system are:

  1. Source file format agnostic. You can use markdown, org-mode or even directly writing html.

  2. Support gemini

  3. Optimize size: minify HTML, CSS, images

  4. Generate an index page listing the posts

  5. Generate RSS/atom feed (for both gemini and http)

So make will just take care of handling the dependency graph to minimize the amount of effort when a change occurs in the sources. But for some features, I built specifics tools. For example to be absolutely agnostic in the source format for my articles I generate the RSS out of a tree of HTML files. But taking advantage of Make, I generate an index cache to transform those HTML into XML which will be faster to use to build different indexes. To make those transformations I use very short a shell scripts.

Makefile overview

A Makefile is constitued of rules. The first rule of your Makefile will be the default rule. The first rule of my Makefile is called all.

A rule as the following format:

target: file1 file2
	cmd --input file1 file2 \
		--output target

if target does not exists, then make will look at its dependencies. If any of its dependency need to be updated, it will run all the rules in the correct order to rebuild them, and finally run the script to build target. A file need to be updated if one of its dependency need to be updated or is newer.

The ususal case of make is about building a single binary out of many source files. But for a static website, we need to generate a lot of files from a lot of files. So we construct the rules like this:

all: site

# build a list of files that will need to be build
DST_FILES := ....

# another list of files
DST_FILES_2 := ....

site: $(ALL)

In my Makefile I have many similar block with the same pattern.

  1. I retrieve a list of source files

  2. I construct the list of destination files (change the directory, the extension)

  3. I declare a rule to construct these destination files

  4. I add the destination files to the ALL variable.

I have a block for:

  • raw assets I just want copied

  • images I would like to compress for the web

  • html I would like to generate from org mode files via pandoc

  • gmi I would like to generate from org mode files

  • xml files I use as cache to build different index files

  • index.html file containing a list of my posts

  • rss.xml file containing a list of my posts

  • gemini-atom.xml file containing a list of my posts


The rules to copy assets will be a good first example.

  1. find all assets in src/ directory

  2. generate all assets from these file in _site/ directory

  3. make this rule a dependency on the all rule.

SRC_ASSETS := $(shell find src -type f)
DST_ASSETS := $(patsubst src/%,_site/%,$(SRC_ASSETS))
_site/% : src/%
	@mkdir -p "$(dir $@)"
	cp "$<" "$@"
.PHONY: assets
assets: $(DST_ASSETS)
ALL += assets

OK, this looks terrible. But mainly:

  • SRC_ASSETS will contains the result of the command find.

  • DST_ASSETS will contains the files of SRC_ASSETS but we replace the src/ by _site/.

  • We create a generic rule; for all files matching the following pattern _site/%, look for the file src/% and if it is newer (in our case) then execute the following commmands:

    • create the directory to put _site/% in

    • copy the file

About the line @mkdir -p "$(dir $@)":

  • the @ at the start of the command simply means that we make this execution silent.

  • The $@ is replaced by the target string.

  • And $(dir $@) will generate the dirname of $@.

For the line with cp you just need to know that $< will represent the first dependency.

So my Makefile is composed of similar blocks, where I replace the first find command to match specific files and where I use different building rule. An important point, is that the rule must be the most specific possible because make will use the most specific rule in case of ambiguity. So for example, the matching rule _site/%: src/% will match all files in the src/ dir. But if we want to treat css file with another rule we could write:

_site/%.css: src/%.css
	minify "$<" "$@"

And if the selected file is a css file, this rule will be selected.


So to start I have a few predefined useful variables.

all: site
# directory containing the source files
SRC_DIR ?= src
# directory that will contain the site files
DST_DIR ?= _site
# a directory that will contain a cache to speedup indexing
CACHE_DIR ?= .cache

# options to pass to find to prevent matching files in the src/drafts
# directory
NO_DRAFT := -not -path '$(SRC_DIR)/drafts/*'
# option to pass to find to not match  org files
NO_SRC_FILE := ! -name '*.org'


So here we go, the same simple pattern for CSS files.

SRC_CSS_FILES := $(shell find $(SRC_DIR) -type f -name '*.css')
DST_CSS_FILES := $(patsubst $(SRC_DIR)/%,$(DST_DIR)/%,$(SRC_RAW_FILES))
$(DST_DIR)/%.css : $(SRC_DIR)/%.css
	@mkdir -p "$(dir $@)"
	minify "$<" > "$@"
.PHONY: css
ALL += css

This is very similar to the block for raw assets. The difference is just that instead of using cp we use the minify command.


Now this one is more complex but is still follow the same pattern.

EXT ?= .org
SRC_PANDOC_FILES ?= $(shell find $(SRC_DIR) -type f -name "*$(EXT)" $(NO_DRAFT))
DST_PANDOC_FILES ?= $(patsubst %$(EXT),%.html, \
                        $(patsubst $(SRC_DIR)/%,$(DST_DIR)/%, \
PANDOC_TEMPLATE ?= templates/post.html
MK_HTML := engine/
	@mkdir -p "$(dir $@)"
	$(PANDOC) "$<" "$@.tmp"
	minify --mime text/html "$@.tmp" > "$@"
	@rm "$@.tmp"
.PHONY: html
ALL += html

So to construct DST_PANDOC_FILES this time we also need to change the extension of the file from org to html. We need to provide a template that will be passed to pandoc.

And of course, as if we change the template file we would like to regenerate all HTML files we put the template as a dependency. But importantly not at the first place. Because we use $< that will be the first dependency.

I also have a short script instead of directly using pandoc. It is easier to handle toc using the metadatas in the file. And if someday I want to put the template in the metas, this will be the right place to put that.

The is quite straightforward:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
set -eu

# put me at the top level of my project (like Makefile)
cd "$(git rev-parse --show-toplevel)" || exit 1

# check if there is the #+OPTIONS: toc:t
if grep -ie '^#+options:' "$orgfile" | grep 'toc:t'>/dev/null; then

set -x
pandoc $tocoption \
       --template="$template" \
       --mathml \
       --from org \
       --to html5 \
       --standalone \
       $orgfile \
       --output "$htmlfile"

Once generated I also minify the html file. And, that's it. But the important part is that now, if I change my script or the template or the file, it will generate the dependencies.


One of the goal I have is to be as agnostic as possible regarding format. I know that the main destination format will be html. So as much as possible, I would like to use this format. So for every generated html file I will generate a clean XML file (via hxclean) so I will be able to get specific node of my HTML files. These XML files will constitute my "index". Of course this is not the most optimized index (I could have used sqlite for example) but it will already be quite helpful as the same index files will be used to build the homepage with the list of articles, and the RSS file.

SRC_POSTS_FILES ?= $(shell find $(SRC_POSTS_DIR) -type f -name "*$(EXT)")
DST_XML_FILES ?= $(patsubst,%.xml, \
                        $(patsubst $(SRC_POSTS_DIR)/%,$(RSS_CACHE_DIR)/%, \
$(RSS_CACHE_DIR)/%.xml: $(DST_POSTS_DIR)/%.html
	@mkdir -p "$(dir $@)"
	hxclean "$<" > "$@"
.PHONY: indexcache
indexcache: $(DST_XML_FILES)
ALL += indexcache

So to resume this rule will generate for every file in site/posts/*.html a corresponding xml file (hxclean takes an HTML an try its best to make an XML out of it).

HTML Index

So now we just want to generate the main index.html page at the root of the site. This page should list all articles by date in reverse order. To achieve this I wrote a short shell script but here is the corresponding rule in the Makefile:

HTML_INDEX := $(DST_DIR)/index.html
MKINDEX := engine/
	@mkdir -p $(DST_DIR)
.PHONY: index
index: $(HTML_INDEX)
ALL += index

My script takes advantage of the index files we constructed before with hxclean. Mainly I use hxselect to find the information I want to find, the title, the date and the keywords.

#!/usr/bin/env zsh

cd "$(git rev-parse --show-toplevel)" || exit 1
# Directory

# maximal number of articles to put in the index homepage

# HTML Accessors (similar to CSS accessors)
# title and keyword shouldn't be changed

formatdate() {
    # format the date for RSS
    local d="$1"
    # echo "DEBUG DATE: $d" >&2
    LC_TIME=en_US date --date $d +'%a, %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S %z'
finddate(){ < $1 hxselect -c $dateaccessor | sed 's/\[//g;s/\]//g;s/ .*$//' }
findtitle(){ < $1 hxselect -c $titleaccessor }
findkeywords(){ < $1 hxselect -c $keywordsaccessor | sed 's/,/ /g' }
    for keyword in $*; do
        printf "\\n<span class=\"tag\">%s</span>" $keyword

autoload -U colors && colors
tmpdir=$(mktemp -d)
typeset -a dates
dates=( )
for xfic in $indexdir/**/*.xml; do
    postfile="$(echo "$xfic"|sed 's#^'$postsdir'/##')"
    blogfile="$(echo "$xfic"|sed 's#.xml$#.html#;s#^'$indexdir'/#posts/#')"
    printf "%-30s" $postfile
    d=$(finddate $xfic)
    echo -n " [$d]"
    rssdate=$(formatdate $d)
    title=$(findtitle $xfic)
    keywords=( $(findkeywords $xfic) )
    printf ": %-55s" "$title ($keywords)"
    taglist=$(mktaglist $keywords)
    { printf "\\n<li>"
      printf "\\n<a href=\"%s\">%s</a>" "${blogfile}" "$title"
      printf "\\n<span class=\"pubDate\">%s</span>%s" "$d"
      printf "<span class=\"tags\">%s</span>" "$taglist"
      printf "\\n</li>\\n\\n"
    } >>  "$tmpdir/${d}-$(basename $xfic).index"
    dates=( $d $dates )
    echo " [${fg[green]}OK${reset_color}]"

echo "Publishing"

# building the body

cat templates/index-preamble.html  >> $tmpdir/index

for fic in $(ls $tmpdir/*.index | sort -r | head -n $maxarticles ); do
    echo "${fic:t}"
    year=$( echo "${fic:t}" | perl -pe 's#(\d{4})-.*#$1#')
    if (( year != previousyear )); then
        echo $year
        if (( previousyear > 0 )); then
            echo "</ul>" >> $tmpdir/index
        echo "<h3 name=\"${year}\" >${year}</h3><ul>" >> $tmpdir/index
    cat $fic >> $tmpdir/index
cat templates/index-postamble.html  >> $tmpdir/index

title="Yann Esposito's Posts"
description="The index of my most recent articles."
author="Yann Esposito"
body=$(< $tmpdir/index)
date=$(LC_TIME=en_US date +'%Y-%m-%d')

# A neat trick to use pandoc template within a shell script
# the pandoc templates use $x$ format, we replace it by just $x
# to be used with envsubst
template=$(< templates/post.html | \
    sed 's/\$\(header-includes\|table-of-content\)\$//' | \
    sed 's/\$if.*\$//' | \
    perl -pe 's#(\$[^\$]*)\$#$1#g' )
    export title
    export author
    export description
    export date
    export body
    echo ${template} | envsubst
} > "$indexfile"

rm -rf $tmpdir
echo "* HTML INDEX [done]"