Best Static Site Generator for Jamstack in 2023
Jamstack is becoming increasingly popular, and so are the technologies used to develop it. While this is great, it might raise uncertainty about which Static Site Generator should be used for Jamstack development.
There are no simple answers to this question, and without a proper understanding of the technologies used to develop Jamstack, choosing the right tools can be very confusing.
As an agency working in the industry, we have pretty good hands-on knowledge about the best static site frameworks for 2022. While it's true, there are a lot of them out there –333 at the time of writing to be exact– it ultimately boils down to two major frameworks, Next.js and Gatsby.js (and maybe Hugo in some cases).
If you're considering migrating to Jamstack, you're probably considering Next.js or Gatsby.js. Luckily we have used both extensively and can share our experience with them and how it relates to choosing a Static Site Generator for your next project.
This post shows you how to choose the best static site generator for your particular use case.
This post covers
Table of contents
What is a static site generator?
A static website generator (SSG) is like a construction kit for websites. SSGs act as a website builder. You input data and templates to build the website, and the SSG pre-renders all the content in the CDN to ensure that your web page is ready for your users' browsers when they open it up.
This is how static sites work:
Using an SSG is an alternative to the traditional CMS approach of WordPress, where sites are sluggish and underperforming. Static site generators enable non-technical users to build either simple or complex websites on the fly.
Thanks to the rise of Jamstack, static site generators are one of the most popular ways to create websites. They're easy, quick, and you don't need any technical skills to build static websites.
In fact, a lot more people than before use static site generators to build high-quality websites without worrying about databases or static HTML – just add Markdown text files with some tags thrown in here and there, and you’re done.
SSGs offer an alternative for those looking for simplicity and flexibility, whether building a portfolio site or a global eCommerce store.
Static sites come in two flavors:
Traditional SSGs: This type of site generator allows you to use any language to build your static sites. They generate the HTML, CSS, and JavsScript your site needs to run, but you put the rest.
What is a static website?
Static sites built with modern technologies are often hosted on a content delivery network, which means that you don’t need a server to render the page and that your visitors will interact with a snappy site that loads quickly no matter where they are.
Do you need a static site generator?
Static sites are incredibly appealing for developers and business users alike because they offer the user benefits of a static website with the developer-centric features of a dynamic one.
SSGs enable you to create static web pages, retrieve content from external databases using APIs, and use layouts similar to a WordPress theme, all with the customization benefits of a site built on a headless CMS.
You need a static site generator if you:
Need a secure website that’s not vulnerable, like a WordPress website
Want a fast website that scores well on Google Lighthouse test
Require constant content changes
Choosing a Static Site Generator for Jamstack development
So what are the key factors to consider when choosing a Static Site Generator for Jamstack?
While we recommend Next.js or Gatsby, these points still apply to any of these two static site generators, so pick your poison if Next.js or Gatsby is not your thing.
Speed: How fast your static websites can be? While most SSGs grant you speed, some options make it easier for you to unlock that speed.
Security and reliability: Is your site generator secure? Static sites are more secure than dynamic ones because static websites are pre-built files that only communicate with the backend and not with the server.
Headless CMS integration: Do other Jamstack technologies like headless CMSs support it? With frameworks such as Next.js, this is not a problem since you mostly integrate everything with an API, but it might be a problem in Gatsby, where you'll need Gatsby-specific source plugins to handle CMS integrations.
Jamstack ecosystem: Does it provide an ecosystem for plugins, builds, and previews? With Next.js, you're pretty much set with Next.js + Vercel (Vercel makes Next.js). Gatsby has Gatsby Cloud, but it's not nearly as good as what Vercel offers and costs a lot more as well.
Dynamic content: Does it support pre-rendering and interactive content? Most generators do, but some allow you to provide dynamic functionalities through serverless functions, making it easier and cheaper to scale them.
Cost-effective: Is it too expensive for your needs? While Jamstack development is affordable, some static site generators come with extra costs or require additional tools to work to its fullest potential, increasing costs.
Driving force: Is it purely non-profit open-source or backed by a business? While pure open source is great, there's a risk where no one has the interest to maintain that framework, and it will become unsupported. On the other hand, by using something backed up by a big company (React <> Facebook, Gatsby <> Gatsby Inc., Next.js <> Vercel, and so on), you can ensure that your SSG of choice won't get deprecated anytime soon.
Best Static Site Generator for Jamstack in 2022
There are no rules on sourcing and composing your data on Next.js. In essence, this means you can use any API as your data source and use that data in any way you like during build time or server-side.
This will take more time to configure than Gatsby's source plugins but in the end, provide much more flexibility and fewer dependencies.
Any cons to Next.js data sourcing? It takes more time to write your API queries if you're not using a Headless content management system starter for example. Gatsby uses GraphQL, where you can easily filter and sort data in queries. This gives you lower-level access to everything but takes more time.
Low level and hands-on: Next.js is lower level than Gatsby albeit the difference is not that big.
Choose how to source data: Next.js does not dictate how you should fetch and compose your data, nor does it have any plugins as Gatsby does. This means you'll have to create a lot of those features from scratch, whereas in Gatsby, you can use plugins and GraphQL.
Interactive React components
Nuxt.js is a framework for building SPAs and SSGs that can be used in either static or dynamic sites, depending on your needs – it has all of the features you would expect from these two types.
A major difference between Nuxt compared to other frameworks such as Next.js –which uses Vue, arises because this last one also includes functionality related directly towards serving content via servers when needed instead of being merely based on generating HTML files only; making everything ranging from production.
Any cons to Nuxt.js? Well, yes. Nuxt’s structure and setup is pretty opinionated, which means it will be complicated for you to find plugins and even more complicated to make it work with custom libraries. It can also be hard to debug and its small community make it a less interesting option than other SSGs on the list.
Great for SEO: So, if you’re a fan of single page apps and their ability to deliver fast load times for mobile users, then Nuxt.js could be a good idea. It fixes all those pesky SEO issues like client rendered pages and slow performing web servers.
Serverless architecture: You can use Nuxt to create a server-side rendered Vue.js app on AWS Lambda and AWS API Gateway that can easily integrate with your own API or third party APIs such as a headless CMS, eCommerce, and serverless architecture.
Automatic code splitting: Nuxt takes the hassle out of page sharing by automatically creating bundles for you, whether it be on one or many pages. In addition to this convenience feature Nuxt also gives developers control over how much data they want included in each particular bundle so that only what's necessary gets sent across communication channels!
SEO-focused marketing sites
Sites that need social management capabilities
You'll have to use Gatsby source plugins to fetch data into Gatsby's GraphQL data layer. Gatsby dictates how you'll need to fetch data and limits you to use services that provide a source plugin for Gatsby.
This is pretty limiting, and often source plugins get unmaintained or don't work properly for the aforementioned reason. Also, this will add more dependencies to your project, which is always bad.
Any pros to Gatsby.js source plugins? Yes, source plugins make it substantially easier and faster to fetch and set up your integration to your CMS or other data source and will standardize how data is handled inside Gatsby (GraphQL).
Easier to get into: Gatsby.js is also a bit more approachable, whereas Next.js is more low-level. In addition, Gatsby provides more out-of-the-box gatsby plugins and other boilerplate included with Gatsby. However, this might not be the best agnostic for Jamstack, where it's beneficial to have hands-on access to every aspect of your project.
Corporate "vendor lock": In Jamstack's ecosystem wise, we're not huge fans of Gatsby as some features such as incremental builds are "vendor locked" behind Gatsby Cloud (Gatsby's own cloud platform). You can do incremental builds with something like Netlify, but it's not as easy as with Gatsby Cloud.
Gatsby dictates how you source data: Gatsby is strict on how you source data. As a result, you'll have to use source plugins for each data source you wish to use.
Jekyll is a simple, blog-aware static site generator perfect for personal or project websites. Think of it like an file-based CMS without all the complexity! Jekyll takes your content and renders Markdown templates before spitting out ready-to-serve website files with Apache on Linux systems, Nginx, and Github Pages in other environments through its easy command line interface (CLI).
Jekyll is a free and easy way to create your own website. It takes page templates –those things like main menus and footers that you’d like shared across all the web pages on your site– where manually writing HTML code each time one needs them can be tedious or impossible for some people with no technical knowledge at all, even though they're probably not very surprised. However, this tool has never been an easier method than now.
Does Jekyll have drawbacks? Like every SSG, it’s based in Ruby. Ruby is great, but it’s not the most used language out there, which reduces the pool of developers and development agencies.
Less complexity: The Jekyll website is a static site with templates. It has fewer components to create and maintain, making it easier for beginners or those on limited resources, such as myself. All you need are keywords and meta tags, plus something called _data file_.
More stable than most: WordPress has many different components that work together to generate web pages for visitors. If one of these fails, your website may stop working or become difficult to access because there are no other alternate options in case something goes wrong with a server serving only files on its own without any additional software being used.
Enhanced security: WordPress is a great content management system, but it relies on you always have the latest updates, which hackers can exploit. Statics sites eliminate this problem because there's no dynamic data storage for hackers to exploit; they only have static files that don't often change enough, making them less likely targets of attack.
Hugo is a static site generator written in Go. It takes any directory with content and renders them into full HTML websites that can be loaded within the blink of an eye – even on slow connections.
With Markdown files containing front- matter for meta data, Hugo makes it easy to customize your website without writing code or worrying about customizing templates; add what you need using one simple interface: edit stylesheets if desired (there aren't many), tweak fonts sizes until they're perfect upright.
What about Hugo’s drawbacks? Although it is a popular static site generator, it lacks content management capabilities, which makes it unwieldy for some users.
Exceptionally fast builds: Hugo is an exceptional tool for anyone who needs to build pages quickly and easily. With its fast page speeds and extensive theming system with different color schemes or layouts that can be changed on-the fly without having any impact whatsoever on your website's functionality, you will find yourself happy working within this software.
Great template support: Hugo takes directories with templates and files, then uses them as input to compile all the pages for your website.
Internationalization capabilities: Hugo allows you to create a multi-language site without the complexities. You won't have to reconfigure your website for these other languages; instead, you can use Hugo's features and make it polyglot-friendly at once.
Spinning sites from templates quickly
Evaluate your next static site generator
What’s your use case? Each SSG is different. They’re not cut from the same cloth and offer additional capabilities. Think of what you will build and select the site generator that adapts to your circumstances.
What tool ecosystem do you need? Like with your languages, each SSG supports different tool ecosystems and allows you to create different tool stacks. So if you already have some services running and want to keep them, make sure the site generator you pick allows you to use them.
Closing thoughts: Next.js or Gatsby?
So now that you know what are some of the most important criteria for choosing a Static Site Generator, you'd probably want to know the best one.
Ultimately in real-life commercial use, it boils down to Next.js vs. Gatsby.js.
As an agency working in the industry, we can tell for a fact that Next.js is more widely adopted than Gatsby and is often a better choice for Jamstack.
Yes, that's partially true, but it's more complicated than that.
Next.js is less opinionated on how you'll source data, where you'll deploy your app, and how you'll build your project. Instead, next provides essential building blocks that get you started quickly but enables developers to fine-tune and optimize your code to fit any requirements.
Gatsby is more opinionated due to how data is sourced with Gatsby plugins which adds another layer of dependencies (a bad thing). Next gives you more bare-bone access to everything, but it'll take longer to set up than Gatsby if you're not using a starter project.
Build your next static website with Ikius
While a dynamic site can be a good idea for certain users, in most cases, an overly dynamic site can result in both performance issues and potential loss of customers or visitors. At Ikius, we can help you decide whether or not you need a dynamic site and guide you in choosing the best static site generator for your use case. We can also help you pair that SSG with a headless content management system for maximum performance.
Read more about our experience with static website generators here: Interactive website development with Next.js.
Do you need website development services?
Ikius can help you build a static site or progressive web application. We can build something from scratch or work with your devs to lend them an extra hand during implementation.