Matt Finucane

Building this site - An overview

Part one gives an overview of how this site was built.

Objectives for this website

Since setting up my peronsal online presence back in 2008, my websites have gone through several iterations and relaunches.

The first iteration of this website ran on WordPress with a custom theme I had created.

Subsequent iterations launched in 2013 and then again in 2014 used a simple PHP back end and then the Meteor framework respectively.

Each time I released a new version of the site, it was getting closer to the ideal setup I wanted to have but not all the boxes were being ticked.

I wanted to create a simple portfolio site that would fulfill these requirements:

With those requirements established, I set about exploring the various options and platforms available to me.

Static site generators

A static site generator is a program or platform that generates the HTML structure for a website from a combination of layout templates and text content, typically written in Markdown format.

Markdown is a lightweight markup language formatted as plain text and when parsed, it generates clean HTML.

Below is an example of some simple Markdown content.

## This is a second level heading

This is a normal paragraph with *emphasised* text.

- and this
- is a list
- of items

This is the HTML that is generated from the above:

	This is a second level heading
	This is a normal paragraph with <em>emphasised</em> text.
		and this
		is a list
		of items

This is a much cleaner solution that negates the need to edit HTML by hand.


Hugo is a static site generator written in the Go programming language. It has a simple opinionated structure for specifying content, sections, partials and shortcodes. These are the building blocks used to generate the website.

The compiled version of Hugo runs as a standalone binary, so it does not require any infrastructure to be installed such as PHP, Ruby or NodeJS.

Hugo can be run as a standalone server that regenerates websites when the source code is changed. It also generates all content on a one off basis when deploying.

I chose this platform for the following reasons:

Note: Shortcodes are a feature in Hugo that allow you to build custom HTML snippets and embed them inside your content. This is a very useful and powerful feature.

The development environment

Anyone who has tried setting up a content managed website on their local machine will be no stranger to compatibility issues that can arise, especially for those who have worked with Django, Drupal or Ruby on Rails.

To avoid this scenario and to allow me to easily test my site against new versions of the Hugo framework, I use Docker and Docker Compose. I will go through how I set these up in the future posts for this series.

With these two installed (which can be easily done on any platform) I can bring up a development environment quickly. I don’t need to install all the infrastructure I am going to need in turn on my local machine.

Docker is a tool that manages self contained operating system runtimes and isolates them from one another. It’s a bit like having running instances of Linux all running separately but working together to get the site running.

Managing assets

Anyone building the front end for a website will have heard of the various task runners such as Grunt, Gulp and webpack.

A task runner is a tool that is used to concatenate and minify your styles, scripts and images. This is important to ensure that the data coming down the wire is compact and that the number of requests to load a page is kept to a minimum.

This project uses Gulp to handle assets and has two different setups for the development and build environments.

Deploying changes

This website uses GitHub and CircleCI to handle deployments. Whenever I have finished a feature or a fix, I merge these changes into the develop branch on GitHub and CircleCI picks up these changes, pushing a build to my staging server.

Likewise, when I push changes to the master branch of this project and tag a release, the changes are built and pushed to the production server.

Wrapping up

This article provides an overview of how this site is set up. In part two I will provide a more detailed overview of how I structured the content and layout for this site. The whole project can be seen on GitHub.