2 minute read

Sometimes, you want to build a simple HTML page and populate it with some data. You may have some JSON lying around and want to make a simple website to visualize its contents. Or perhaps you want to show off how many books you read in the last few years.

In any case, we’re talking about a small set of data and a single HTML page here. Would you use a static site generator for that? Which one? Jekyll? Hugo, Gatsby? Isn’t that overkill for what we’re trying to do?

I was pondering questions like this when I came across Pandoc Templates. Turns out there is a way to generate static sites that is much simpler than most other options out there.

Alright, this might not be the absolutely simplest way to generate a static site. You got me. I bet someone, somewhere builds their static sites using a one-line Perl script. Jokes aside, let me know if you find an even simpler approach to building static sites.

Enter The Template

A Pandoc template is not much to look at. It’s just an HTML file filled with some special syntax sprinkled in. Syntax that allows you to write conditionals or loops as well as do some other stuff. Let’s say we want to list authors and their respective books to simplify things. To do so, let’s create template.html:

<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    <meta name="date" content="$date-meta$" />
      <h2 class="author">$authors.name$</h2>
        <li class="book">
          <a href="$authors.books.link$">$authors.books.name$</a>

Now that we have a template, we must populate it with some data. I’ve found the most uncomplicated way to do so is to create a markdown file that contains the data as metadata. We keep our data in authors.md.

title: Authors and their Books
  - name: James S.A. Corey
      - name: Leviathan Wakes
        link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8855321-leviathan-wakes
      - name: Leviathan Falls
        link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28335699-leviathan-falls
  - name: Margaret Atwood
      - name: The Handmaid's Tale
        link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38447.The_Handmaid_s_Tale

I found Markdown documents with embedded metadata easy enough to work with. If you prefer specific JSON or YML files, you can use the --metadata-file flag to pass them to your template. See also the other reader options.

Then, run Pandoc to generate your static site. And that’s it.

pandoc --standalone --template template.html authors.md -o index.html

I’ll take Pandoc over other options every day of the week for this particular use case. What about you?

I Don’t Want to Install Pandoc!

I know, right? I don’t want to either. Let’s use Docker instead. Put this into your .aliases and use pandock rather than pandoc.

alias pandock='docker run --rm -v "$(pwd):/data" -u $(id -u):$(id -g) pandoc/latex'