Building a basic static site using grunt and assemble

If you’re not familiar with grunt, I suggest taking a look at the site but in short it’s a task runner that allows you to automate various tasks such as generating CSS from Sass/less, JSLint your JavaScript files or copy files. It also has an ever growing list of plugins, one of which is assemble. Assemble is a plugin that, at it’s most basic, will generate static files from templates, perfect if you want a static site but don’t want to have to change multiple files if you change common elements, such as the header.

Setup

Grunt & it’s plugins are all installed via npm so you’ll need to install node if you haven’t already.

The first step in using grunt & assemble to build static sites is to include a package.json file, so that npm will know what dependencies to install.

package.json

{
  "dependencies": {
    "grunt": "~0.4.1",
    "assemble": "~0.4.0"
  }
}

Now install grunt & assemble using:

npm install

You’ll also need the grunt CLI, which can be installed globally using:

npm install -g grunt-cli

Next up we need to create a basic Gruntfile.js.

Gruntfile.js

module.exports = function(grunt) {
    // Project configuration.
    grunt.initConfig({
        pkg: grunt.file.readJSON('package.json')
    });
    grunt.loadNpmTasks('assemble');
    grunt.registerTask('default', []);
};

This Gruntfile won’t do much at the moment since it has no tasks to run, but you can run it all the same using grunt from the command line & you’ll get a nice Done, without errors message.

Template files

By default assemble uses handlebars as it’s templating language, so all template files created with have a .hbs extension.

My directory structure of choice looks like this:

staticSite/
    package.json
    Gruntfile.js
    src/
        layouts/
            default.hbs
        pages/
            index.hbs

To keep things simple our default.hbs file only contains the following:

src/layouts/default.hbs

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
    <head>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Static Site</title>
    </head>
    <body>
        <header>Static Site</header>
        {{> body }}
        <footer>Footer text here</footer>
    </body>
</html>

The {{> body }} tag is important because that’s what assemble will replace with the content from the page files.

Our index.hbs file is even simpler:

src/pages/index.hbs

<section>
    <p>This is the index page.</p>
</section>

Static file generation

To pull this all together we need to update our Gruntfile to use assemble to generate the static HTML files.

Gruntfile.js

module.exports = function(grunt) {
    // Project configuration.
    grunt.initConfig({
        pkg: grunt.file.readJSON('package.json'),
        assemble: {
            options: {
                layout: "src/layouts/default.hbs",
                flatten: true
            },
            pages: {
                files: {
                    'web/': ['src/pages/*.hbs']
                }
            }
        }
    });
    grunt.loadNpmTasks('assemble');
    grunt.registerTask('default', ['assemble']);
};

A little explanation. In the options property we’re telling assemble to use default.hbs as the layout file, we’re also setting flatten to true. What this does is “flattens” the directory structure for the page files. For example, if we were to set flatten to false the structure of web would be:

web/
    src/
        pages/
            index.html

This is not what we want, we want each page to appear directly under web, so we set flatten to true.

Under the pages property we specify which page files we want to convert into HTML. The property name web/ tells assemble that this is the destination for our static files.

Finally we add assemble to then list of registered tasks in grunt. Now we can run grunt to generate our static HTML files.

Custom Variables

You’re probably not going to want each page to have the same title so we’ll use custom variables & Yaml Front Matter to set a title for each page.

We’ll update our index.hbs page by adding the following to the top:

src/pages/index.hbs

---
title: Home
---

We’ll also create a new page, about.hbs with the following content:

src/pages/about.hbs

---
title: About
---
<section>
    <p>This is the about page.</p>
</section>

Finally we need to update our default.hbs layout file & change the <title> tag:

src/layouts/default.hbs

<title>{{ title }}</title>

Now run grunt to regenerate the files & you’ll see that each page has a different title.

Cleaning Up

It’s also possible that you’ll want to delete a page, but just deleting the .hbs file isn’t enough because assemble won’t then delete the HTML file when you run grunt. To perform some cleanup we’ll use the grunt-contrib-clean plugin. Install it like so:

npm install grunt-contrib-clean --save

Then add the following task to your Gruntfile:

Gruntfile.js

clean: {
    all: ['web/*.html']
}

Finally update the grunt file to include the plugin & prepend it to the list of tasks:

Gruntfile.js

grunt.loadNpmTasks('grunt-contrib-clean');
grunt.registerTask('default', ['clean', 'assemble']);

It needs to be prepended so that it clears the files before assemble generates them. Running grunt should now give you similar output to this:

Running "clean:all" (clean) task
Cleaning "web/about.html"...OK
Cleaning "web/index.html"...OK

Running "assemble:pages" (assemble) task
assembling default layout
src src/layouts/default.hbs
assembling partials
assembling data

Assembling pages...
File "about.html" assembled...OK
File "index.html" assembled...OK
>> Assembled 2 pages.

Done, without errors.

That’s all there is to building a simple static website using grunt & assemble. Be sure to checkout both grunt & assemble though because there is way more to them than mere static site generation.

The files related to this blog post can be found in this GitHub repo - parkji/grunt-assemble-static-site. You can also checkout the repo for the parkji.co.uk site which is also built in the same way.

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About ParkJi

Me!

My name is Ben Parker, I'm a 27 year old front end web developer with a passion for web design, standards & new & innovative technologies.