How we build websites has evolved over the years. Today, there are more options than ever for building websites, as developers have pushed the field forward by seeking out modern approaches. These modern tools can come with a variety of benefits like greater scalability, faster loading times, displaying dynamic content, and more, but many options also come with a cost. One such modern web development technology that developers are leveraging today is a static site generator (SSG).
In this article, we will explore what static site generators are and the factors to consider when choosing one for your project. We will also go through a list of top SSGs worth considering in 2023. Let’s dive in!
What are static site generators?
SSGs make websites faster to load because they pre-build the necessary files needed to display the website before the user requests them. They are another set of tools we can explore for building performant websites.
What are the benefits of SSGs?
We can use SSGs to create websites that are secure, scalable, and easy to maintain. They have grown in popularity because of how flexible and performant they are. SSGs are a great choice for developers who want to create websites that simultaneously deliver dynamic content and performance at scale.
When should you use an SSG?
SSGs are great for creating marketing sites, landing pages, documentation, and blogs. However, they are not the best solution for every scenario. They are inadequate for cases where we want to display live, fresh, and dynamic data that changes frequently. Examples are stock trading and crypto exchange platforms or SaaS dashboards with content that constantly needs to be updated. In such scenarios, frameworks like Next.js, Nuxt.js, and Remix that support server-side rendering are better suited to meet our needs.
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Factors to consider when choosing a static site generator
As of this writing, there are over 347 static site generators available. The multitude of options is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we are spoiled with multiple options to pick from. However, knowing how to select a suitable option can also be difficult.
Here is a list of factors to consider when choosing an SSG to work with.
The nature of your project
The type of project we want to build will affect what tools we choose since it is important to use the technology best suited for the unique requirements of your project. For example, while we could technically use the same SSG to build blogs, documentation, and marketing sites, other SSGs may be a better fit for a given use case. Hugo is a great choice for blogs and documentation, while Gatsby, Nuxt.js, and Next.js are great for marketing sites.
Ease of use
Not every builder or team has the time and resources to learn a new tool from scratch. In most cases, we often have to hit the ground running, leaving little time for in-depth learning. These are some questions worth asking when choosing an SSG:
- Is the SSG built with familiar technology, or would we need to learn a new programming language to utilize it properly?
- How detailed is their documentation?
- Do they provide beginner tutorials and other learning materials to aid the learning process?
- Are templates and themes available to speed up the building process?
Your tech stack
The compatibility of the SSG with our team’s tech stack is critical. Not only will using an SSG that corresponds with our stack boost developer productivity and efficiency, but it will also reduce development time.
Here are some SSGs and the languages they correspond with:
- Next.js and Gatsby are great for React developers
- Nuxt.js is great for Vue.js developers
- SvelteKit is great for Svelte developers
- Hugo is great for Go developers
A great way to decide if an SSG is a good option is by studying its developer community. Time has proven that developers tend to rally around good tools and software, so it may be worth considering if it is well-reviewed.
A developer community is also important for receiving support and assistance. For example, getting support on Stack Overflow from other developers is easier when using a popular tool with a large and active community. In fact, some communities that are large enough often have Discord servers and Slack workspaces, making it easier to get assistance when needed.
Maturity and level of adoption
A great way to decide what SSG to use is by checking out what other people in the industry use and how mature the tools are. One reason Next.js is widely adopted is that it is a mature framework with several great features and has the backing of Vercel.
For example, Next.js has built several great features over time and has the backing of Vercel. These factors have contributed to its wide adoption among developer teams.
Adding a well-established SSG to your tech stack carries less risk than working with a lesser-known newcomer. This is not to say that new entries are bad options. However, it may take a while for developers to start working with them, which can impact other factors mentioned above, like the developer community around those tools.
Keep learning about the best ways to create performant websites
Top static site generators worth considering in 2023
To properly review the static site generators worth considering, we will break them into these two categories:
- Frameworks that offer multiple rendering methods, including static site generation: Gatsby, Next.js, Astro, Nuxt.js, and SvelteKit fall into the multi-rendering category.
- SSGs that only provide static rendering functionalities: Eleventy and Hugo fall into this single-rendering category.
Let’s start off by reviewing the frameworks with multiple rendering options, and then we will move on to the SSG-specific tools.
Frameworks with multiple rendering methods
Next.js is not solely an SSG but one of the most widely used open-source, React-based frameworks for building websites and web apps. It supports Server-Side Rendering (SSR), Static Site Generation (SSG), Incremental Static Rendering, and Client-Side Rendering (CSR).
A great thing about Next.js is that it allows us to decide how we want to use SSR or SSG for each page. That makes it a nice choice for more complex projects where multiple rendering methods fit the bill.
Next.js was created by Vercel and currently has 101k GitHub stars. It is widely adopted by the developer community, which has developed tons of free and paid learning materials that are beginner-friendly.
Next.js also has well-structured documentation that is easy to navigate, which makes for a seamless learning experience.
- File-based routing system
- SSG by default, unlike other tools that are SSR by default
- Data fetching with the getStaticProps function for SSR pages
- Image optimization via its custom Image component
Gatsby is also one of the most popular and widely used frameworks out there. It is an open-source framework built upon React.js and is a great choice for creating websites and apps. It provides SSG, in addition to deferred static generation (DSG) and server-side rendering (SSR). A great thing about using Gatsby is the plethora of themes, starter templates, and plugins it provides.
Beyond its framework functionality, Gatsby also has a product offering called Gatsby Cloud, which is a cloud infrastructure for building and hosting Gatsby websites. Gatsby Cloud is to Gatsby what Vercel is to Next.js.
As of this writing, the Gatsby framework has 54.1k GitHub stars and an active developer community. Not only does Gatsby have extensive documentation, but there are also numerous educational resources in the form of articles and YouTube videos.
- Supports GraphQL-based data fetching
- Has a massive plugin ecosystem that has plugins for different use cases, including styling, images, analytics, and search
- Supports integration with multiple CMSs, including Prismic
- Provides multiple themes and starter templates
- Has access to a global CDN, cloud functions, and edge deployment via Gatsby’s cloud platform
- Provides out-of-the-box image processing, compression, and optimization with its gatsby-image plugin
Like other tools on our list, Astro is technically an open-source framework, not a static site generator. This means that even though Astro supports static site generation, it also provides SSR and has other features. For example, it supports technologies like Tailwind CSS, React, Vue, and Svelte, and allows us to mix them together in the same application.
One interesting thing about Astro is its Island architecture, which allows us to have interactive content on static pages. Astro islands open the doors to new ways we can mix SSG with dynamic content. An example use case is injecting a countdown timer component needed for a sales campaign onto a blog page.
Even though Astro is a relatively new solution, its wide array of exciting features has caused it to gain tons of attention among developers.
Astro provides multiple integrations and themes, which developers can use to enrich their applications. It has 26.9k GitHub stars.
- Multiple themes available
- Provides several integrations
- File-based routing
- Provides native support for Markdown and MDX
- Supports mixing multiple frameworks
- Island architecture allows the injection of interactive content into static pages
Nuxt.js is a Vue-based framework and is not purely a static site generator. However, it can work as an SSR framework for building SPAs or as an SSG. It has a full static mode, which we can use to develop static sites.
The latest version of Nuxt.js, Nuxt 3, uses Vite by default, making it faster and more performant.
Nuxt.js is very popular among Vue.js developers. As of this writing, Nuxt.js has 43.4k GitHub stars.
- File-based routing
- Full static mode
- Supports Typescript
- Zero configuration startup
- Auto-imports components
- Provides over 160 modules
SvelteKit is a Svelte-based framework built by Rich Harris. It is the successor of Sapper, which was Svelte’s first framework. Being powered by Svelte, SvelteKit also doesn’t have a virtual DOM, making it very fast and highly performant. Similar to the other options above, you can choose from multiple rendering methods, among which is SSG.
SvelteKit has recently gained more attention because of Rich Harris’ move to Vercel. This move means that Svelte and SvelteKit now have Vercel’s backing and support. As of this writing, SvelteKit has 13.4k GitHub stars.
- No virtual DOM
- Zero configuration
- API endpoints
- Static site generation
- File-based routing
- Code splitting
- Hot module reloading
Dedicated static site generators
Eleventy has grown in popularity over the years, particularly as websites like web.dev, ESlint, MDN, and Netlify were built with it.
Eleventy has 13.7k GitHub stars.
- Flexible templating system
- Supports 11 template languages
- Fast build times
- Flexible configuration
Hugo is a static site generator written in Go that is optimized for fast build times.
Hugo provides useful content management features that make it an excellent choice for websites or blogs with many posts. Firstly, it handles all its content in markdown files stored in a /content directory, making it easy to publish and manage a large amount of content from a single folder. Secondly, Hugo has built-in support for pagination, generates a table of contents, and supports grouping content into categories and tags called taxonomies. Lastly, Hugo offers word count and minutes-to-read functionalities.
Hugo also uses markdown for metadata, layout templates, and i18n configurations. It is licensed under Apache-2.0 and has 65.3k GitHub stars.
- Cross-platform support for Windows, macOS, Linux, and more
- Integrated Google Analytics support
- Uses markdown for creating content
- Built-in support for pagination
- Supports the generation of table of contents
- Offers pagination functionality
- Supports internationalization (i18n), meaning developers can quickly build multi-language websites
- A great theming system and it provides more than 300 themes
- Besides HTML output, Hugo supports other formats like AMP and JSON
Get the info you need to choose the perfect tool
Static site generators make it possible to quickly and effortlessly generate static sites. With many SSGs available, there are limitless options for creating the perfect website.
Static site generators have changed and are changing how we build websites. Beyond the SSGs we looked at in this article, there are other great ones worth exploring.
Ultimately, it is important to make the right considerations when choosing what SSG to use this year. Happy hunting and building!
Know someone who’s looking to use an SSG this year? Share this guide with them; it’s sure to help.