A static site generator automates the process of coding static HTML webpages.
A static site generator is a tool that generates a full static HTML website based on raw data and a set of templates. Essentially, a static site generator automates the task of coding individual HTML pages and gets those pages ready to serve to users ahead of time. Because these HTML pages are pre-built, they can load very quickly in users' browsers.
Static site generators are an alternative to content management systems (CMS) — another type of tool for managing web content, generating webpages, and implementing templates. (A template is a reusable format for web content; developers use templates to avoid writing the same formatting over and over.) Static site generators are typically part of a JAMstack web development approach.
In the early days of the Internet, websites were stored as static HTML sites, with all webpages laid out and hard coded in advance. This was inefficient because it required developers to code each webpage manually.
Content management systems (CMS) emerged as a way for developers to avoid all that manual setup. Instead of coding the pages ahead of time, content is stored in a CMS database, and when a user requests a page, the server does the following:
Content in the CMS has to fit in one of the fields offered by the CMS database, but as long as it does, it should appear in its proper place on the website every time.
A static site generator is a compromise between these two approaches. Like a CMS, it allows developers to use templates and automatically generates webpages — but it does the latter ahead of time, instead of in response to a user's request. This makes for faster website performance, because the webpages are instantly ready for delivery to end users. It also offers greater customization to developers, since they are not limited by the database fields offered by the CMS.
A frontend framework is a collection of files and folders of prebuilt code to help with the design and formatting of a website. Common frontend frameworks include Bootstrap, React, and Vue.js, though there are many others.
Frontend frameworks are extremely helpful when developers are initially building a website. However, frontend frameworks on their own do not generate HTML webpages, unless a developer uses additional tools. A static site generator can be used along with a framework for a developer to rapidly get a fully designed website or application ready for use. Most static site generators allow developers to use any framework they want.
Markdown is a widely used, simple markup language for formatting text. Many developers today prefer using Markdown to traditional HTML when coding content, and many static site generators support Markdown.
Many static site generators are available for use today. Some important ones to know are:
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