Colophon: Experiments in Static Site Generation

Colophon is a very experimental static site generator built atop the Racket programming language and the Pollen publishing system.

Colophon’s goal is to be a tool for thinking and writing, as well as for publication. This is in contrast to other static site generators like Frog, Jekyll, or Hugo, where the focus is on publication, rather than creation. Colophon is inspired by the work of Joel Dueck, epecially The Local Yarn.

Colophon currently has the following components:


A Wishlist

A few days ago, Prof. Shriram Krishnamurthi started writing on a website using his own Racket-based website generator, including a detailed About page. I particularly liked the section about why the site is not a blog, which includes some thoughts about how he wants the site to develop. That got me thinking that I should write down what I want from Colophon. I’ll try to update this post as and when the particular features are implemented (or discarded).

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Basic Syntax Highlighting

One of the big reasons I’m diving into the “write your website generator” rabbit-hole is that I can have posts with nice syntax-highlighted blocks of code without onerous copy-pasting between Spacemacs and WordPress (or some other blogging platform), and with the flexbility to add better styling or other features to the code in question. So for today, we’ll try to set up syntax highlighting for code blocks in Colophon.

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Dependency Management

I’ve been gradually fleshing out parts of the Colophon system. An immediate issue that I’ve been running into is dependency management. For example, making a change to a post needs to trigger the related indexes to rebuild. However, Pollen as it stands doesn’t make this easy. In particular, it rebuilds pages only when the corresponding source file has changed (the posts/index.html is rebuilt when the posts/ file is changed.

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Extracting Reusable Code

After a long hiatus, I’m putting some work into Colophon again. When I left off some months ago, I had a decently working static site generation setup, including niceties like syntax highlighting and basic index generation. But a large part of the functionality was in the pollen.rkt file for this website, not in the code for Colophon itself. My hope is that Colophon will be usable for interesting websites in general, and that it will be possible to get a usable starting site with a single command. So I spent a couple of hours pulling out functionality from the website-specific code into Colophon proper.

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Key Principles and Features

Here are some thoughts on principles guiding the development of Colophon and the features they imply.

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Themes and Templates

With the most recent refactoring, Colophon has a basic, but functional theming system. Since Colophon is a system for building websites, themes are written as CSS (though in the future themes could be written in something like CSS-expressions).

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