I’ve had more than one friend has asked me to move stuff out of their SquareSpace sites, and each time I give them the same response: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
|I’ve written a follow-up post on example of sites that are published using SSGs on Github pages here: https://www.shootbird.work/posts/examples-of-github-hosted-sites/|
Both friends had the option of either copying the content of their site page by page and saving it, or just rewriting all their content from scratch.
Site builders like SquareSpace and, to a less but significant extent, CMSes like Wordpress, lock your content in by saving it in formats that only they can understand. Last I checked, SquareSpace has no export functionality (looks like SquareSpace now allows you to export your content, but still as a difficult-to-parse XML file), and a Wordpress-like CMS usually allows you to export your data in the form of zipped XML file. In both cases, it’s painful to save your content in a more permanent state like a folder of documents when you start out creating content on one of these platforms.
There are two fixes that I usually recommend:
Write offline, or on a platform like Google Docs where your content is easily saved and exported. When it’s time to publish that post, just copy the content over and apply the formatting you need. I write on tools like link:https://code.visualstudio.com/ [VS Code (free)] and IA Writer (paid, but pretty worth it). If I need to collaborate over a doc, I use Google Docs.
Publish your own plain HTML website.
Option 2 is not as hard as it sounds. In fact, I’ll show how you can get you up and running in fifteen minutes tops and for free using surge.sh.
What is surge.sh
Surge.sh is a hosting service that allows you to quickly publish content on the web by running this command in your project folder:
That’s it. Really.
There’s of course some setup involved, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Install your tools
Once done, install surge.sh by running:
npm install -g surge
Create a simple HTML document
Make a project directory. I’ll assume that you’ve named it
~/Documents/myproject (if you’re working on Windows, this would be something like
<!DOCTYPE html> <html> <head><title>My Surging Website</title></head> <body> <h1>harro.</h1> </body> </html>
That’s it. Create a file called
index.html in your project folder
~/Documents/myproject, paste the above HTML in it and save the document.
Open the terminal (or if you’re on Windows, the command prompt) and navigate to your project folder by typing:
Make sure you’ve got the
index.htmlfile we created earlier in this folder. Run
lsto list the contents of the directory to check this.
Once you’re ready to publish, run the command:
surge will ask you to confirm a few details; for now, hit
Enter to use the default settings — I want you to first get comfortable with the general workflow, and handle configuration details later.
surgecommand on Zed’s machine.
surge has gotten the information it needs, it publishes your page and displays the following message:
Success! - Published to <your-url-here>
<your-url-here> to see your freshly published
index.html page. If for some reason you need more proof that this works, you can go to mine (published as per above, Figure 1): http://highfalutin-zoo.surge.sh
If successful, going to
<your-url-here> should show you a page with a very big "harro", just as we intended.
That’s just the first deployment. You can update your site just by running the
surge command again.
In your project folder, create a new file named
about.htmland add the following code into it:
<!DOCTYPE html> <html> <head><title>About ME</title></head> <body> <h1>ALL ABOUT ME</h1> </body> </html>
Go to your terminal, and run the
surgecommand in your project folder again.
You should find your very informative "ALL ABOUT ME" page right there.
You’ve succesfully published and updated your site on a hosting service!
I named this article "Quick n' Dirty Web Publishing" because it’s quick and it’s really dirty. You get content up really quickly, which is great for:
Plus it’s really really easy to use.
But the service has the following limitations:
It’s a bare-bones service. Any customization that you need to make, you’ll need to be comfortable digging into configuration files and the command line.
The service is opaque. Once you run the
surgecommand, all your files go behind their server walls and you’ll never see them. Your only insurance for keeping your files the way you want them to is to make sure that you keep your own copies of them.
I find that, as someone who doesn’t run a software shop,
surge.sh works best for me as a learning tool. I can quickly run through writing and deploying my own web applications without having to buy a hosting service. But to build and store stuff that need a longer lifespan, I’d either pay for
surge.sh, or host it somewhere else.
Other tools and further reading
The other question is: does this mean I’ll have to write all my content as HTML files?
The answer is of course: no (please don’t).
(Or you could, you know, write a document on Google Docs or Microsoft Word, export that as a HTML file, and upload that to a service like
It takes a while to learn, but you’ll get the hang of it. You write your content as Markdown text files, and crunch them through an SSG which then spits out your HTML/CSS/JS for you in a neat package. You can then upload that to whatever hosting service you’re using. The popular SSGs also have themes you can quickly apply to your site.
Here’s a list of static-site-generators that I’ve used:
Each has extensive documentation that can get you started (if you’re stuck, we can help).
The other thing is hosting: other than
surge.sh, there are many other hosting services that allow you to just push your content up to their servers and get a url that you can access it with.
Here’s a brief list:
Publishing on Github and Gitlab pages both require a bit of extra knowledge:
Knowing how to work a Git repository. Atlassian has a pretty good Git tutorial here.
Configuring your Git repository so that it meets the publishing requirements of these platforms (see the docs for individual platforms).
There are also well-documented by the platforms themselves, so do give that a read. (I have a load of stuff that I want to cover on SSGs, but this is outside that scope for now.)
CMSes and Site Builders are set up so that it’s difficult for you to move and save content (even between sites on their own platforms).
When it’s time to tear down a site on a CMS or Site Builder, you’ll have to deal with XML exports that are usually written in special schemas/formats that are difficult to read and extract data from.
You can publish your own site quickly, easily, and independently with freely available tools.
Publishing your site on a hosting service like
github pages, or
gitlab pagestakes a bit more work, but you have full control over your site content.
If you really want 100% control of your site, you can use full-fledged hosting services like Digital Ocean, but they cost. Cheaper hosting services are available, but I’ve never had a positive experience on these (I might be missing seomething). I usually go for the small US$5 droplets on Digital Ocean, or the free hosting service on Github (though I have been thinking of buying a developer account).