How I accidentally wrote a static site generator

Some context first

I bought my DSLR at the end of 2014. I wanted to host the resulting pictures somewhere. I never liked Flickr much, so I went with 500px. I liked the website and the UI/UX was pretty nice. The community was pretty cool. Having skilled photographers around is really valuable, as you can learn and find inspiration. But it might also hurt (it definitely did, sometimes) to see photographs much better than yours!

For some reason, I kinda stopped photography in 2017. I took a few pictures here and there but didn't do anything with them. Basically, the cost (i.e. the time the whole thing took) was way too high for what I felt I got from it (emotions or whatever).

At the beginning of 2020, I went through all my data on my personal storage (which included my pictures) to sort and rearrange them. It made me happy to have all those souvenirs and I thought I should really go shoot again.

This narrative is not entirely true, though. ;)

While it did happen, it didn't happen initially. I bought a case for my photography gear for unrelated reasons (compulsive buying) and thought if I was spending money on it again, I should make good use of it. Nevertheless, the souvenirs really nailed my motivation!

Initially, I thought I could keep using 500px but I realized I'd lost my access and that during my hiatus they had been pwned. Now that I have more experience publishing pictures on the Internet, I have a better idea of what I want and care about. During the ensuing years, I have also acquired much more experience in hosting my own services, which I try to do for everything I use.

Looking for some FOSS

I thought writing my own would be difficult/time consuming, so I went for doing what I do best: using existing Free Software. I carefully thought through my requirements, and here they are:

A quality project is both subjective, and an obvious requirement so I won't talk more about it. But PHP apps written by someone who wanted to make their first project? I'll pass. :)

I really care about showing EXIF for pictures. As with software, being able to study how they're made is really helpful. I feel like pictures without EXIF are as interesting as closed source software, so I tend to ignore both. (In a photography context, of course. I won't look at which phone model took that cat picture).

On a side note, surprisingly, I learned that people recently created gallery software and added machine learning. Well, I've better use for my computing power and I prefer simpler things.


Writing my own - the process

Sadly, I didn't find anything that met those two simple requirements.

Because of that, I thought I would either write something myself or put the photos into my blog. I was not very fond of the idea of putting my pictures on my blog (as a weird application of the "do one thing and do it well" rule), but even if I were to do so, I wouldn't want to extract the EXIF myself/manually for each picture.

I began writing a python script which parsed the EXIF, which was kind of funny. For instance, the library I use gives a tuple for the exposure and depending on each field's value, it has a different meaning.

I had already used jinja2 in my uv script, so I thought "let's generate a basic html page!" since it was easy. That was my planned alternative to using my blog. Since I know nothing about web design/frontend and I wasn't very enthusiastic, I thought maybe I would later hire someone to do it.

I began to add some very basic CSS to experiment. I had scavenged it from some random website which had the nice quality of being very simple! I was happy with the result, so I tried to improve it further. I thought "if I'm stuck or stop having fun, then I'll look into hiring" which eased my mind a lot!

Surprisingly, I didn't struggle that much and I did have fun! Tackling one small issue at a time made it a breeze.

I thought that using icons was better than text since they convey as much information while being much much shorter. I had bookmarked a set of icons (because they're MIT-licensed) a few days before, thinking "I doubt I'll ever need these, but who knows?" The set didn't have an icon for the lens so I used the lego icon. It looks similar and it has a smile on it! What's not to love?

During the process, I went to look at how I did stuff with my blog and I noticed it was a complete mess. Seeing how easy writing a static site generator was made me want to write one for my blog. So, stay tuned! ;)

The result

The result is available here: The code is, of course, available as well.

I would not necessarily advise someone to reuse the code as-is (even though you definitely can since it's Free Software). It's pretty tailored to my needs. For instance, the red color used is the same as on my blog (coherency FTW). I made no effort to make it easily customizable, more than what I needed to make the code maintainable (up to a certain point, since I have exactly 0 tests... I already feel my future self's frustration, oops!).

That said, if you're thinking about building something similar, you're totally free (well as long as you abide by the license terms ;)) to study/take parts from it!

I'm really happy with the result. The code is pretty simple (though some hacks exist here and there), as you would expect from a less-than-300-line python script. I learned quite a few things (e.g. improved my skill with jinja2, discovered that creating a RSS feed is actually not that hard, etc). I'm really happy with how the website looks. Doing web design is completely out of the ordinary for me, so it was nice to do something different!

And it's funny... I do things that are 1000x times more complicated, but generating 200 html files with a single command really feels like magic!

By Vigdis in
Tags : #autohébergement,
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