It was just about two years ago that I converted my WordPress blog into a Jekyll blog. Overall, I am very happy with the decision, here’s why.
My Content, My Way
I think one of the biggest advantages to using Jekyll, is that it stores content in simple files. This means that I am free to edit using the program of my choice. The editor in WordPress is nice if you just want to add a few sentences and make a bold word here or there. If you are more comfortable with something that feels like Microsoft Word the WP editor is probably great.
As a developer, and someone who loathes Word, the WP editor just never felt
right. I found myself fighting with it just to do simple things like pasting
code snippets. Ever view your HTML after copy/pasting content around in the WP
editor? It’s not at all uncommon to see random empty
<p> tags all
over the place.
Eventually, I found myself always using the code editor and authoring my own paragraphs in HTML. I hated this process, and found it eventually made me stay away from blogging.
I don’t have these problems with Jekyll. My posts are simple markdown files I compose with MacVim. I can compose a post much faster this way than I ever could using the WordPress editor. If I decide emacs is all the rage in 5 years, I won’t have to change a thing with my blog. Why not use the same editor I work with every day to blog with? It just makes sense.
Git History is Priceless
Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but I’m becoming more and more fascinated with looking over the history of my various types of content. I love seeing dates on photos via EXIF data, dated comments in old websites, or timestamps (if they’re accurate) on old Fireworks PNGs. I can see code or an image and it brings me back to the time when I was creating it.
With my development work, I can look back and see how far I’ve grown since my early beginnings back in 1998. I’ve been recovering some old posts and noticed that my writing has improved as well. It’s been interesting to see how that has changed, as well as the topics of writing that were covered.
So how does all of this nostalgia relate to git? For me, git is a natural part of my every day work flow. Using Jekyll and git, I can store my content and, my layouts in the same place. More importantly, I have a history of my entire website that I can go back through at any time.
I’m going to repeat that last bit again because it brings me to my next point: I have a history of my entire website.
Back babe, back in time
Having a history of my website goes much beyond simple nostalgia. I’m constantly jumping to old projects to copy old code or see old examples. I used to try keeping copies of different layouts for my sites. This became pretty cumbersome as the number of sites grew, and I’m extremely sad to say that I’ve lost a couple.
Again, I use Git every day to manage code revisions, so using it for my blog is a no brainer. If I need to check for old examples, I can just poke through the git history.
After using git, I realize that I have a big issue with not having a history of all of my content. By nature, with Jekyll and git, all of my content is store with a history. With WordPress, only posts are stored with any sort of history (and not a very good one, at that).
If I want to truly preserve the history of layouts or posts on a WordPress blog, I have to do it myself. That means every time I change themes, I need to make a dated backup. At the very least, I’ll need to note the date and theme I have installed. If I wanted to capture the content stored in the database, thats a separate backup. This is just a pain in the ass.
Consider this: I could revert my blog to it’s original state 2 years ago when
I setup Jekyll with just one
git checkout command. If I wanted to keep the
posts I’ve made up until today but revert everything else, it might take two
checkouts. WordPress might install for a new user in 5 minutes, but it sure as
hell doesn’t restore from backups or revert history that fast.
I’m going to start tagging versions just before I change the layout. This will make it very easy to keep multiple archive directories if I wanted to that showed the site at different dates. Cuz you know, nostalgia is fun :)
MySQL, It’s Not You, It’s Me
I really love MySQL — it’s been the only database I’ve used in production since 2005. I’ve written web sites and PBXs that perform millions of queries a day. As much as I love MySQL, I really think it has no place in my blog.
I think WordPress’ database-driven approach to content storage is a drawback here. First, you have to remember to keep database backups of your content. If you take an old blog offline or a host crashes, you’re pretty much screwed without a database backup. Keeping backups can be taken care of by cron and other utilities, but if you’re like me, you forgot to make backups on at least one host and have lost some content.
Assuming you do have a reliable backup, working with your posts can be fairly difficult. You’ll either need a working WordPress installation or know MySQL in order to do anything with the data.
Jekyll removes MySQL from the equation, and I no longer worry about database backups (or backups at all for that matter).
Theming is Easier
I first tried WordPress in 2005 or 2006. The main thing that drew me to it was the administration area and the plugins that were available. What I didn’t like was the lack of themes, or more specifically, my lack of theming knowledge.
Not knowing enough PHP to handle a WordPress theme limited me to whatever prepackaged themes were available. This always felt wrong to me. I never liked having a layout someone else had too. Today I know how to make a WordPress theme, and I still hate the process. I never liked not being able create layouts my way.
Jekyll allows me to do themes using the HTML and CSS I know and love. Where thats not enough, Liquid (Jekyll’s template engine) covers the gap. Moreover, it forces me to code my own themes rather than relying on something else hundreds of other people are using.
Static is Fast and Secure
Static HTML is as fast as you can get with HTTP (aside from just sending headers, text, or something else silly). The content is read in from a static file and sent as a string of HTML (more or less) to a user’s browser.
A stock WordPress installation is considerably slower in comparison. WordPress is powered by MySQL and PHP. Any page load requires a number of MySQL queries and some work by PHP to render the HTML to be sent to a user’s browser. The load on either PHP or MySQL can vary drastically depending on themes or plugins that may be installed.
WP plugins such as WPCache attempt to resolve this issue, and by all rights, probably do — if you know enough to install them and take the time to actually do so.
Static HTML is secure too. The only way you’re hacking a Jekyll blog is if you have the password to the server it’s hosted and you edit the files. WordPress plugins are notorious for introducing security holes that give attackers to entire blogs or servers without having a server password.
For me, these are unnecessary trade-offs. I don’t need a database. I don’t need a full scripting language. I like HTML and it just makes sense to serve that to begin with.
I couldn’t imagine the time I’ve wasted searching for WordPress themes or plugins that I ended up not using. Updating these or installing new ones was a huge distraction for me that took away from time that could have been better spent blogging. I finally decided to switch to Jekyll when I realized what little value these things were really providing me.
It’s More Fun
Since I’ve switched to Jekyll, blogging is just more fun. Blogging with WordPress always felt like doing mopping a dirt floor.
Oh, did I mention no more WP directory permission or htaccess issues?