The Stochastic Game
Ramblings of General Geekery

Why PieCrust?

Recently I realized I’ve been working on, and talking about, PieCrust for quite a while, but I have never given any reason as to why on Earth I have written my own CMS and static site generator when there are so many already out there.

Like many open-source projects, PieCrust was born out of 2 very self-centered stimuli.

One: it’s fun to write new stuff!

And by “new”, here, I’m of course talking about things that were new to me at the time. Writing PieCrust, I learned a lot about web technologies, from HTTP servers to caching and proxies and whatnot.

With my next projects, I’ll learn a lot more – I’m looking at databases and scalability and security and other bigger, more complex things – but it was good to start with something simple and basic.

Two: everything else sucks!

Well, that’s not true, but you know what I mean. The average developer (and that includes me) is usually never happy with what’s available out there.

Most other static site generators are completely OK – they work well for the most part – but they have 2 flaws: they’re simplistic, and they’re doing it wrong.

Simplicity

Most other engines are too simplistic. They confuse simplicity with a lack of features. I believe you can have a fairly fully fledged static site generator without sacrificing how simple it is to use and work with.

Hopefully I succeeded with PieCrust. You tell me.

What the user does

Most other engines are built from the ground up to be static site generators. This means that when it’s time to preview your work in a browser, what they do is just re-generate the whole site and show the resulting HTML file matching the request. Thankfully, they do it incrementally, like a compiler, which means they only generate what was changed, but it’s not ideal unless you’re just looking at simple pages.

If you’re modifying a page with a lot of dependencies, that re-generation can take several seconds, which means you have to wait until you see your updated work. This happens, for example, when you’re working on a blog post that has various tags and categories: updating it means not only re-generating that post’s page, but also the home and/or archive page on which it appears, and all the relevant tag/category listing pages. Some static site generators take a few shortcuts here by not re-generating the whole site in that case, resulting in glitches in the preview.

This “compiler-like” approach works well when you always want the full result of the generation, but in the case of a user working on some content for his website, he only wants to see one page. You can only press F5 on one window at a time. So whatever dependencies a piece of content has, the engine should be able to just generate what the user wants to see. And this is what CMSes have been doing for a long time.

That’s why PieCrust is built from the ground up as a database-less CMS. Sure, it can generate a static site, but that’s just a side-feature. The focus is on what the user does the most (iterating between writing and previewing), and not what the user wants (a static website). What he wants happens later, once he’s done working.

The nice thing is that PieCrust ended up being both a good CMS (especially if you use it with a reverse proxy) and good static site generator (I’ll post some comparative benchmarks someday).