6 of the Best Static Site Generators in 2020

Posted by Zain Sajjad on November 18, 2020

GSD

The web started with the delivery of simple markup files before developing into a beast that powers almost all essential aspects of our society. It has moved a long way from serving static files to where it is now: rendering sophisticated client-side frontend apps. 

In this article, we will take a look at Static Site Generators (SSGs). We’ll first start with defining them and seeing why they are needed, and then take a look at some of the best ones available in 2020. 

What is a Static Site Generator?

Even today, the best and most performant sites on all of the web are the ones that rely the least on runtime computations. Static Site Generators allow you to develop the simplest of production websites while leveraging all the benefits of the modern development experience. SSGs create all the pages of your website at build time. So when users request a page, rather than generating it from scratch, it can serve as a static HTML file. SSGs today have many modern frontend libraries for development.

Why Static Site Generators?

Blazingly Fast  πŸš€

With traditional CMS-based sites, webpages are generated when they are requested; Depending upon the load on the server, response times could increase drastically. With an SSG all the heavy processing to generate pages is done at build time. Hence, when the user requests a page, it is already available as a simple HTML file. These files can be served via CDNs to make delivery even faster.

Safe & Secure βš”οΈ

Recent surveys suggest that most sites powered by traditional CMSs may have vulnerabilities and can be easily compromised. Static sites don’t have many security issues as there is no processing at runtime. Data sources are not decoupled from your web servers, thus one doesn’t have to worry much about data security.

Cost πŸ’°

For a traditional CMS-based website that relies on server-side rendering, as the number of users increases, the cost of infrastructure to quickly serve your site increases exponentially. As discussed, static sites do not require any processing when the user requests a page. All of these pages can be served via a CDN. This reduces the infrastructure cost drastically while keeping the best possible performance. 

Should I use a Static Site Generator?

Today, being blazingly fast is not so much an add-on, rather it is a basic requirement. An SSG allows you to keep your website fast, secure, and scalable, yet still highly customizable. It is a great solution for highly customized portfolio managers, e-commerce websites, blog engines and much more.

SSGs have many advantages and can be the best choice for a number of use cases, but when it comes to heavily interactive websites, they might do more harm than good. For apps that have user interactions and real-time data updates, an SSG might not be the best solution.

Discover how ButterCMS works with any tech stack.

Best Static Site Generators (SSGs) of 2020

NextJS:

NextJS is the most popular and complete framework for developing modern React applications. It allows you to create static sites with a great developer experience and zero configuration. Though NextJS is an advanced-level framework and focuses on application development, it comes with tons of features to make your static site both the best in performance and also scalable. For sites with a large number of pages, NextJS provides features to keep build times lower by dynamically generating and storing pages upon request.

Build Performance Rank: 1️⃣

Website | ButterCMS Tutorial | GitHub

Best Things πŸ”₯:

  • Incremental static regeneration that allows you to update static content after you have already built your site. This regeneration of pages is done in the background while keeping your site up and uninterrupted. 
  • Allows SSG, SSR, and CSR in the same project. For large scale applications, this can be a crucial aspect. A few pages in a large application might require a mix of all rendering mechanisms.
  • API Routes; an option to build API endpoints for backend functionalities.

To Remember:

  • Can be overkill for a small project. NextJS is an amazing framework with a number of outstanding features, but it can be overkill for small scale sites.

Technology

Language

Framework

Primary Focus

JavaScript

ReactJS

Application

Features

Level

Image Optimization

Hybrid [SSR + SSG]

Data Layer

Advanced

βœ…

βœ…

Any

Popularity

NPM Downloads

GitHub Stars

Contributors

1Million+

55k+

1300+

Gatsby

A wide range of plugins and a large number of contributors make Gatsby the fastest-growing framework for React applications. For projects requiring quick bootstrapping, Gatsby can be a no-brainer, as you can find a number of themes and community-developed plugins to get you up and running fast. Gatsby has an awesome experimental feature that allows integrating a number of features (like new themes, fonts, etc.) in your app by just a command — no need to follow bulky tutorials.

Website | ButterCMS Tutorial | Github

Best Things πŸ”₯:

  • Best handling for images. Gatsby has the best API for handling images, from resizing and optimizing to serving the best formats, Gatsby covers it all.
  • Top ecosystem. Gatsby has one of the best ecosystems in the open-source community. A number of plugins, themes, and recipes are available that have been developed by the community.

To Remember:

  • Requires source plugins to pull data from different sources. Since the data layer of Gatsby is GraphQL, it requires source plugins to load your data and to leverage the uniform GraphQL interface.

Technology

Language

Framework

Primary Focus

JavaScript

ReactJS

CMS

Features

Level

Image Optimization

Hybrid [SSR + SSG]

Data Layer

Advanced

βœ…

βœ…

GraphQL

Popularity

NPM Downloads

GitHub Stars

Contributors

474k+

47k+

3,500+

Discover how ButterCMS works with any tech stack.

NuxtJS

An intuitive VueJS framework built with modularity at the core, NuxtJS keeps user experience and site performance in its focus. It comes with descriptive error messages and powerful defaults to keep your development smooth and fast. If your team has expertise with VueJS, NuxtJS is a great solution for developing your next web application.

Website | ButterCMS Tutorial | GitHub

Best Things πŸ”₯:

  • Abstracting away client/server distribution. Its main scope is UI rendering while abstracting away the client/server distribution.
  • Get ES6/ES7 compilation without any extra work. 

To Remember:

  • Smaller community. As compared to other JS-based SSGs, NuxtJS has a smaller community, resulting in fewer sources and potentially less extensive documentation.

Technology

Language

Framework

Primary Focus

JavaScript

VueJS

CMS

Features

Level

Image Optimization

Hybrid [SSR + SSG]

Data Layer

Advanced

❌

❌

Any

Popularity

NPM Downloads

GitHub Stars

Contributors

274k+

31k+

250+

Hugo

Hugo is the fastest amongst all popular static site generators. It claims that it builds at <1ms per page. The average site builds in less than a second. Unlike other SSGs discussed above, the Hugo is framework-free so you can use the templating engine of your choice. It uses GoLang to compile websites. It has a range of themes to get you up and running quickly. 

Website | ButterCMS Tutorial | GitHub

Best Things πŸ”₯:

  • Fastest build time. When it comes to building time performance, no SSG can beat Hugo.

To Remember:

  • No Plugins support. Hugo doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to community plugins, so you have to work with what Hugo’s got.
  • Knowledge of GoLang. GoLang is not a highly-adopted technology amongst web developers.

Technology

Language

Framework

Primary Focus

Go

None

General

Features

Level

Image Optimization

Hybrid [SSR + SSG]

Data Layer

Basic

βœ…

❌

Any

Popularity

Docker Pulls*

GitHub Stars

Contributors

1Million+

47k+

650+

*All Time

Jekyll

The Ruby-based SSG built with simplicity at its core, Jekyll aims to be a perfect solution for personal or organizational websites. Jekyll is the engine behind Github pages. It is the oldest of all mentioned SSGs. As they describe themselves, “Jekyll takes your content, renders Markdown and Liquid templates, and spits out a complete, static website ready to be served by Apache, Nginx, or any other web server.”

Website | Github

Best Things πŸ”₯:

  • Simplicity. When it comes to simplicity it is the best SSG, and who wants sophisticated stuff for a simple personal website?
  • The old man has many friends. Jekyll has a wide range of plugins that makes it easy to add extra features to your site.

To Remember:

  • Slows down as the list of plugins grows. Though it has a wide range of plugins available, as soon as the list of plugins grows, the build time of applications increases.

Technology

Language

Framework

Primary Focus

Ruby

None

CMS

Features

Level

Image Optimization

Hybrid [SSR + SSG]

Data Layer

Basic

❌

❌

Any

Popularity

Gem Downloads*

GitHub Stars

Contributors

1.3Million+

41k+

997+

*All Time

11ty

Eleventy(11ty) is a JavaScript version of Jekyll. It comes with the same level of simplicity. Even with a very basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JS, one can create amazing websites using 11ty. It also has a number of different templating engines.

Website | GitHub

Best Things πŸ”₯:

  • You have choices. Since 11ty is framework independent, one can adopt any of the JS libraries: React, Angular, Backbone, Ember, or whatever you like.
  • You are in good company; 11ty is powering a number of websites today.

To Remember:

  • Community plugins; 11ty has community-developed plugins and many of them are not maintained anymore.

Technology

Language

Framework

Primary Focus

JavaScript

None

General

Features

Level

Image Optimization

Hybrid [SSR + SSG]

Data Layer

Basic

❌

❌

Any

Popularity

NPM Downloads

GitHub Stars

Contributors

43k+

7k+

250+

Recap:

As we discussed in our recent post about the future of front-end development; JAM Stack & Static Site Generators will keep growing in terms of adoption and advancements. There is still a lot to conquer as we move forward. For developers and companies working on projects that will grow from simple static sites to sophisticated web apps, they should opt for any of the advanced-level frameworks such as NextJS, Gatsby, or NuxtJS. For simple branding websites or blogs, Jekyll & 11ty are the best choices. If you’ve got prior experience with Go or want to develop a highly dynamic website, opt for Hugo.

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Zain Sajjad

Zain is a Senior Frontend Engineer at Peekaboo Guru. He is passionate about anything and everything React, React Native, JavaScript & Mobile Machine Learning.

ButterCMS is the #1 rated Headless CMS

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