Static Site Generators for Yeoman

12 Sep 2013 | By The Angry JavaScript Nerd | Tags node modules yeoman rants

I often find myself being the only guy in the team who can make (or wants to make) a good ol’ fashioned website. No dynamic stuff, just a simple static marketing site to sell a product. “No problem,” I say confidently, dreaming up designs I can implement rapidly with Vim, Bootstrap, and Glyphish.

The problem I’ve ran into consistently over the last year or so is Yeoman doesn’t do what I think it does. This is what it does in my head:

  • Unites Grunt, Bower
  • Runs a little web server so I can see my site without having to run a web server
  • Doesn’t install any Ruby nonsense
  • Uses idiomatic Node

Here’s what it actually does when I use generator-webapp:

  • Installs loads of weird stuff I don’t need to do with testing and image optimisation
  • Make a Gruntfile.js that isn’t formatted using the coding style of most community Node projects
  • Seems to need Ruby due to Sass when I make it install Bootstrap

Then I realise generator-webapp might not be for me, so I try starting a project from scratch. Then I get into an incredible mess trying to automate the minimization of each Bower component’s JavaScript, CSS, and copying assets to a suitable location with Grunt.

I Miss Makefiles

Here’s how you copy a file in the shell:

* cp tmp/*/*.min.js site/js/

Here’s how you do it with Grunt:

copy: {
  dist: {
    files: [{
      expand: true,
      cwd: 'tmp/',
      src: ['*.min.js'],
      dest: 'site/js/',
      filter: 'isFile'
    },

Not only is it a whole bunch of lines to do something that should be simple, it also has weirdly named properties. I see isFile and start an internal monologue about everything being a file because it’s Unix.

I could write a Makefile in two lines that does this.

Yeoman Static Site Generators

This time I decided to persevere: I tried a bunch of static site generators for Yeoman.

  • Armadillo: Installed lots of stuff I didn’t need, and needed Ruby
  • Go Static: Was more for blogs than simple sites, and seemed to make files indented with tabs

There were more but I only have bad things to say about them. What I ended up with was this:

  • grunt-contrib-connect for running a web server. It was more complex than it needed to be because it defaults to exiting automatically rather than running a server, you need to specify a keepalive setting
  • grunt-contrib-concat for concatenating Bootstrap’s CSS, JavaScript, and any other dependencies in bower_components
  • grunt-contrib-copy for copying the files from bower_components to my website’s asset directories

The Shit Sandwich

I think the reason I have difficulty with Yeoman and Grunt is I see client-side development as “open source stuff” and “my stuff”. I want open source stuff poured out into buckets that I never look at, in a way that’s easy for other people to repeat should they want to install the dependencies fresh (I keep the files in the repository), or experiment with upgraded versions of each module.

Conversely, my stuff should be elegantly encapsulated with a module loader like RequireJS, kept separate and decoupled.

Instead of a neatly organized bento box with very clear sections I end up with a shit sandwich.


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