What's In A Website?

(or "I've Made A Website, Part 2")

Wednesday, 3 May 2023 • 877 words

If you read my first post, "I Made A Website", you'll know that this site uses 11ty. "That's fantastic", you might think, "but how does it use 11ty?" Maybe you want to know where the site is hosted? How is it built?

I'm glad you asked.


We're not using any of the starter projects or templates 11ty offers, because that would be too smart be way more than I needed to get a website 'working'. Besides, it would skip the opportunity for my personal design to emerge naturally! Instead, I started completely barebones:

yarn init -2
yarn add @11ty/eleventy -D

As for my chosen template language, I'm using nunjucks, because Mozilla makes it, it's basically a Jinja port, and I'm a Firefox user. 11ty defaults to LiquidJS, which is probably also a great choice, but we need to change to nunjucks in eleventy.config.js:

module.exports = function (eleventyConfig) {
  return {
    markdownTemplateEngine: "njk",
    htmlTemplateEngine: "njk",

Next, I really had to do something about the default directories. Something just feels wrong about building out to _site/, and including from directories prefixed with underscores. We need to note here that the includes and layouts directories are expecting to be subfolders of input:

module.exports = function (eleventyConfig) {
  return {
    markdownTemplateEngine: "njk",
    htmlTemplateEngine: "njk",
    dir: {
      input: "src",
      output: "build",
      includes: "../templates/includes",
      layouts: "../templates/layouts",
      data: "../data",

We really need some CSS. If you're following along at home, let's add an assets/ folder that gets copied into the build folder, and watch for any changes (to force rebuilds):


Cool, now I can drop stuff in src/assets and it'll get included at build time. This is where I have my main bundle.css, alongside webfont files and images - although those aren't committed to the repository. Binary files can get copied out to the host in a separate operation.

Oh, but I need content! The magic part, really. That's either HTML or Markdown files, in a neat directory structure under src/. For posts (like this), I'll write Markdown files. For more specific pages, I'll write HTML. If you've used other SSGs (static site generators), you may have heard of front-matter, and that's still a thing with 11ty. For example, this page has the following front matter:

title: What's In A Website?
subtitle: (or "I've Made A Website, Part 2")
date: 2023-05-03

This also allows me to pick out which layout to use for things. All blog posts are set to use the post.njk template, which itself extends off the base.njk template. You can do that for an entire directory by making a json file, and that's how I'm setting the layout for all my blog posts:

  "layout": "post.njk"

Making sure it's in the same directory as the files you want to target.


There were a number of ways I could have gone about doing this, and everyone has an opinion on which way is the best! The 11ty documentation has a lot of suggestions, but as a DevOps Engineer I had an idea in mind: AWS. Yes, I know that AWS isn't really in the spirit of the free and open web, and that I could have used GitHub Pages for free, but CloudFront's free tier is now very generous (at the time of writing):

To store the site's files, I'll use an S3 bucket. The amount of data stored will be very low (as the site is so small), and data transfer out to CloudFront from S3 is free. I don't expect to spend more than 1 USD per month (especially during the S3 12-month free tier). A quick run on the AWS Calculator gave me a price estimate of 0.05 USD per month.

Besides, it gives me the opportunity to write some Terraform, configure AWS Cost and Usage alerts, and keep my AWS knowledge sharp.

Building & Deploying

Building the site is really simple. In fact, it's one command:

> npx @11ty/eleventy
[11ty] Writing build/index.html from ./src/index.html (njk)
... # additional output removed for brevity
[11ty] Copied 8 files / Wrote 6 files in 0.18 seconds (v2.0.1)

This drops out all the files into build/, which can then be synced to the S3 bucket with the AWS CLI:

> aws s3 sync build/ s3://my-s3-bucket
upload: build/index.html to s3://my-s3-bucket/index.html
... # etc, for all files

And of course, I wouldn't do that manually, so deployment is done via pipeline on GitHub Actions. Their ubuntu-latest image ships with node and yarn, so it's a case of installing the AWS CLI, checking out the repo, running yarn install, yarn build, then aws s3 sync. I don't keep images or the webfont files in the Git repo (because my brain won't let me), so I just upload those to the bucket when I need to (infrequently) using the same AWS CLI command.

In Summary

That was a fairly comprehensive explanation of what's going on to make this site, and I didn't include all of the things that are going on. If you're interested in making your own site using 11ty, the documentation is a good place to look next. If you want to see the actual code, you can do so on my GitHub.

There's still a few things I want to build for this site. I'd like a place for people to be able to view my photography, or at least some selections from my work, so that will be the next thing that I document building.

Until next time, keep building for the web!