Fast & easy SSG with hosting and custom domain

Updated: I no longer use Hexo as my static page generator, in the meanwhile I’ve switched to Hugo, but this guide is still relevant.

…and all of this.. for free ? Yes ! (Except for the domain itself :))

As a bonus, it’s quite easy and most importantly, if you are a little bit like me, it’s also quite enjoyable.

So let’s get in to it, my setup is already done so this guide is being done as retrospective, this is the way how it should be the least painful to setup.

The last time I tried static page generators was quite a while.. going years back, it was a terrible experience back then if I’m to be honest.. those times are long gone.

I was looking for lightweight, fast and easy to understand and set up static site generator and I decided for Hexo

This guide is written in a way which expects you to be at least familiar with some basics of git, npm, linux systems in general.

Prerequisites:

  • Free accounts on both GitHub and Netlify (and yes, you can register with Netlify using your GitHub account :)
  • Linux system or Windows 10 WSL/2
  • Installed git, nodejs + npm

Let’s begin !

  1. Create new repository on GitHub using this link

    • You can select private repository
  2. Now let’s install & configure hexo.

    # Install prerequisite packages
    sudo apt install libtool automake autoconf nasm
    # Install hexo npm package globally (-g)
    sudo npm install -g hexo-cli
    

    Now let’s create a new directory and initialize it

    mkdir -p your/repo/dir
    hexo init your/repo/dir
    cd your/repo/dir
    # Install hexo packages
    npm install
    # Install additional hexo plugins, --save ensures that these plugins are
    # saved to package.json file, so netlify can install them too !
    npm install --save hexo-all-minifier
    npm install --save hexo-asset-link
    

    Let me show you how the basic directory structure looks like and which config files there are:

    pd@pd:~/repos/hexo-web$ tree . -L 3
    .
    ├── README.md
    ├── _config.yml  # <= "Main" hexo config
    ├── content
    │   └── contact.md
    ├── scaffolds
    │   ├── draft.md
    │   ├── page.md
    │   └── post.md
    ├── source
    │   ├── _posts
    │   └── images
    └── themes
        └── minima
            ├── LICENSE
            ├── README.md
            ├── _config.yml   # <= "Theme" hexo config
            ├── layout
            └── source
    
  3. It is now the time to edit your _config file located in your newly initialized directory, configure basics such as url, title, description, keywords etc..

    then add these lines at the end, so above installed additional plugins would work.

    # hexo-all-minifier
    all_minifier: true
    image_minifier:
      optimizationLevel: 2
      progressive: true
    
  4. Optionally you can install custom theme from various available here or straight away continue setup of _config.yml file of your default theme here: themes/landscape/_config.yml where you need to also edit some fields such as page title, owner, info, description etc.. (depending on theme).

  5. You add new posts by executing hexo new post <post name> and this will generate a new post in to source/_posts directory where you can edit them, initially there is ‘hello-world.md’ located there so you can get familiar with it.

  6. Once both main config as well as theme config files are set up based on your preferences, you can test your page locally by starting hexo local server.

    hexo server
    

    Once you are happy with your barebone page we can continue to the deployment part.

Deployment

  1. Firstly, add your ssh key to your github account here

  2. From your hexo ‘root’ directory (or so called git project directory) you will be performing initial (and subsequent) deployment to the GitHub repository this way:

    # Get in to your directory where you initialized hexo
    cd your/repo/dir
    # Initialize git
    git init
    # now connect to your remote git repository
    git remote add origin git@github.com:username/repo_name.git
    # Stage all changes
    git add .
    # Commit all changes
    git commit -a
    # Push your commit
    git push
    

    For easier management I created following ‘alias’ function, you can add this piece of code in your .bashrc or .bash_aliases in your home directory (~/).

    push () {
        read -p "Commit description: " desc
        git add . && git add . && git commit -a --allow-empty-message -m "$desc" && git push
    }
    # 'git add .' is there twice so it also catches renamed files in one commit
    

    Then execute exec $SHELL to load the changes, from now command push will work and perform stage, commit and push all at once with or without commit message (for repo in your current directory).

  3. Once the code is published to github, we can set up netlify page :) go to app.netlify.com and click ‘new site from git’ and follow on screen instructions, netlify will detect that you are using hexo and prepare deployment commands/directory for you, so you can just continue to ‘deploy site’.

  4. Set following options on netlify to optimize build and experience, under site settings:

    General -> Site details -> Change site name -> Choose custom name ;)

    Build & deploy -> Post Processing -> Asset Optimization -> Edit settings -> Enable Bundle CSS only*.

    *Other options are not as effective as the plugin we installed for hexo (hexo-all-minifier)

    Domain Management: Optionally set up custom domain and definitely set up https certificate, which is of course free, thanks to AWESOME Let’s encrypt !

  5. Now.. every time you ‘push’ changes in your repo, netlify will automagically build the site using hexo and publish it.

    • Let me note that using netlify is in in my opinion currently better choice than github pages, you may use github pages if you set up deployment to public repo (you can create new repo where hexo will deploy using hexo-deployer-git, but it gets little bit more complicated)..
    • This is a big advantage of Netlify compared to GitHub pages, among others.. such as github only sends 10 minutes Cache-Control header which is far from ideal..

Optional stuff

I personally use following two additional plugins:

npm install --save hexo-generator-sitemap
npm install --save hexo-helper-obfuscate
  1. hexo-generator-sitemap
    • The easiest way is using Netlify snippet injection functionality.. in your netlify site settings, select Build & Deploy -> Post processing -> Snippet injection -> Add snippet

      • Select Insert before head

      • Name the script as you wish

      • And then paste following code:

        <% if (config.sitemap.rel) { %>
        <link rel="sitemap" href="<%-config.url + config.sitemap.path %>" />
        <% } %>
        

      This will ensure that upon deployment your site will provide canonical link (for better SEO) as well as link to generated sitemap.

      There is also a possibility to edit your theme’s layout.ejs file and put it there before end of head header.

    • But we are not done yet.. this must be put in your hexo config:

      # hexo-generator-sitemap
      sitemap:
        path: /sitemap.xml
        template: ./sitemap_template.xml
        rel: true
        tags: true
        categories: true
      
    • Also create this sitemap_template.xml file in your project root directory:

      <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
      <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
        {% for post in posts %}
        <url>
          <loc>{{ post.permalink | uriencode }}</loc>
          {% if post.updated %}
          <lastmod>{{ post.updated | formatDate }}</lastmod>
          {% elif post.date %}
          <lastmod>{{ post.date | formatDate }}</lastmod>
          {% endif %}
        </url>
        {% endfor %}
           
        <url>
          <loc>{{ config.url | uriencode }}</loc>
          <lastmod>{{ sNow | formatDate }}</lastmod>
          <changefreq>daily</changefreq>
          <priority>1.0</priority>
        </url>
           
        {% for tag in tags %}
        <url>
          <loc>{{ tag.permalink | uriencode }}</loc>
          <lastmod>{{ sNow | formatDate }}</lastmod>
          <changefreq>daily</changefreq>
          <priority>0.6</priority>
        </url>
        {% endfor %}
           
        {% for cat in categories %}
        <url>
          <loc>{{ cat.permalink | uriencode }}</loc>
          <lastmod>{{ sNow | formatDate }}</lastmod>
          <changefreq>daily</changefreq>
          <priority>0.6</priority>
        </url>
        {% endfor %}
      </urlset>
      
    • You can also enable optional plugin “Submit Sitemap” by cdeleeuwe in Plugins section of Netlify, which automatically sends our sitemap to Google, Bing, and Yandex after every build.

  2. hexo-helper-obfuscate
    • As for obfuscation hexo plugin, you can use this html code in your posts or theme files to obfuscate email addresses. This should provide at least minimal protection.

      <a href="mailto:<%- obfuscate(email@address.here) %>" target="_blank">email me</a>
      

      I personally put it in my menu (my theme’s header.ejs file) and ensured that it’s taking email address from newly defined ‘email’ variable that I put in my theme config.

      <% if (theme.email) { %>
      <a href="mailto:<%- obfuscate(theme.email) %>" target="_blank" class="ml">email</a>
      <% } %>
      
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