The appeal of using plain HTML pages

April 24, 2019

Once upon a time our local support site was a wiki, for all of the reasons that people make support sites and other things into wikis. Then using a wiki blew up in our faces. You might reasonably expect that we replaced it with a more modern CMS, or perhaps a static site generator of some sort (using either HTML or Markdown for content and some suitable theme for uniform styling). After all, it's a number of interlinked pages that need a consistent style and consistent navigation, which is theoretically a natural fit for any of those.

In practice, we did none of those; instead, our current support site is that most basic thing, a bunch of static .html files sitting in a filesystem (and a static file of CSS, and some Javascript to drop in a header on all pages). When we need to, we edit the files with vi, and there's no deployment or rebuild process.

(If we don't want to edit the live version, we make a copy of the .html file to a scratch name and edit the copy, then move it back into place when done.)

This isn't a solution that works for everyone. But for us at our modest scale, it's been really very simple to work with. We all already know how to edit files and how to write basic HTML, so there's been nothing to learn or to remember about managing or updating the support site (well, you have to remember where its files are, but that's pretty straightforward). Static HTML files require no maintenance to keep a wiki or a CMS or a generator program going; they just sit there until you change them again. And everything can handle them.

I'm normally someone who's attracted to ideas like writing in a markup language instead of raw HTML and having some kind of templated, dynamic system (whether it's a wiki, a CMS, or a themed static site generator), as you can tell from Wandering Thoughts and DWiki itself. I still think that they make sense at large scale. But at small scale, if I was doing a handful of HTML pages today, it would be quite tempting to skip all of the complexity and just write plain .html files.

(I'd use a standard HTML layout and structure for all the .html files, with CSS to match.)

(This thought is sort of sparked by a question by Pete Zaitcev over on the Fediverse, and then reflecting on our experiences maintaining our support site since we converted it to HTML. In practice I'm probably more likely to update the site now than I was when it was a wiki.)

Written on 24 April 2019.
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Last modified: Wed Apr 24 00:00:00 2019
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