Eduardo Trujillo

The last time I wrote a post about my blog was around two years ago. At that type, I was riding on the Node.js hype train, so I was excited to rewrite the engine my blog was running on in JavaScript.

Fast forward to today, and now this blog is just a bunch of statically generated HTML files and images served by an Nginx server.

So what happened?

Side projects. Lots of them.

My blog used to be the go-to hobby project to work on after school. It served as a platform for me to learn about different languages, security practices, and how to structure web applications.

Though, once I got my CS degree, I started working a full-time developer, and, as part of the job, I started learning a lot and writing libraries to make said job easier.

After a while, I had many go-to projects that I could work on during my free time. Working on a project now meant also considering the opportunity cost of not working on other projects, and the blog routinely kept loosing this battle.

However, every now and then, the blog got some attention. Let’s take a look:

Timeline:

  • Pre-2014: Create a CMS from scratch in PHP and use it run a blog and a few other sites.
  • 2014: Jump on the node.js hype train and rebuild a simpler CMS in Javascript while keeping compatibility with the original database schema.
  • Late 2014-Early 2015: Port the views to React.js code while also making the server use isomorphic Javascript.
  • 2015: Extract the backend code into a separate Go API, while also building a Kubernetes cluster to run the front-end and backend containers, plus a small Redis instance for API rate-limitting.

Out of all the things I tried, there was one “feature” that I kept pushing back: A UI to write articles. My blog might have had bleeding-edge JS, an API, and a solid infrastructure, but it still lacked content.

Don’t get me wrong; These were really fun to implement and set up, and I learned things that I later applied to other projects. However, the high friction (posting articles over MySQL) kept getting in the way of content, which is kind of the centerpiece.

Given the reduce availability, I decided to knock down the walls obstructing content, and going for something simpler.

Enter: Hakyll

Jekyll is a very popular tool for generating static sites. It is used by GitHub pages and many blogs out there. However, it is not the only one: There’s Octopress, Hugo, GitBook, and a lot more.

One that caught my eye in particular was Hakyll. It is a very similar tool, written in Haskell, a purely functional language.

Let’s also mention that it’s 2015, and that there’s another hype train going around. This time its about Functional Programming.

So, I decided “if I’m going to create a statically-generated blog, why not do it in style?”. I jumped on another train and started writing my new blog using Hakyll.

feelsgoodman.jpg

Hakyll did not disappoint. It is a really fast alternative to Jekyll that also happens to be very extensible using plain Haskell code. This were my favorite bits on working with it:

  • You are not bound to just creating a blog, you can customize the compilation process to create many different kinds of collections and pages.
  • It backed by Pandoc, meaning that it supports reading posts in many file types, and also rendering them in other formats (like PDFs) besides just HTML.
  • It’s a Haskell script that gets compiled into an executable!
  • It does not require you to know too much about functional programming concepts.

Hakyll is simple and fast, but it’s speed and extensibility are the killer features.

In less than a week of working with Hakyll, I had a new blog setup with my previous posts, a projects mini-wiki, and a sweet new design. However, this is probably because I already had some experience with Haskell and the Gulp/SCSS combo.

If you want to take a peek under the hood, the code used for generating this blog can be found on my Phabricator instance. I’m hoping to write a follow-up post on some of the custom snippets in it.

By the way:

  • Always keep your posts in a portable format (like Markdown)! It will make it easier to migrate your posts to other blog engines or static site generators.
  • If you are choosing which static site generator to use, make sure it has good support for syntax highlighting.
  • If you are trying out Hakyll, consider using stack instead of just cabal. You can easily setup a Hakyll project by using their template.
  • Support for LaTeX is also a good thing to look for: \(1 + 2 - \Omega = x + y + z^2\)

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