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How I Built It: rwblickhan.org (2022)

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Main Setup

I use the Publish static site generator, primarily developed by iOS indie developer John Sundell. There are many, many static site generators out there, but I like Publish for a few reasons:

Publish takes care of converting a bundle of Markdown text files into the beautiful website you see here. It starts with a single struct:

struct RWBlickhanOrg: Website {
    enum SectionID: String, WebsiteSectionID {
        case books
        case films
        case recipes
        case stories
        case technical
        case tools

    struct ItemMetadata: WebsiteItemMetadata {
        // Add any site-specific metadata that you want to use here.

    var url = URL(string: "https://rwblickhan.org")!
    var name = "rwblickhan.org"
    var description = "A description of rwblickhan.org"
    var language: Language { .english }
    var imagePath: Path? { "/images/coverimage.png" }

Publish needs a single Swift struct, conforming to the Website protocol, that provides all the metadata for a website. In this case, I called it RWBlickhanOrg.

Publish divides content into items, sections, freeform pages, and a single main index page. All of the content lives in Markdown files in the Content/ directory. Each directory in Content/ maps to a section, which is made up of item pages, each of which is mapped to a Markdown file; each section can also have a single Markdown file named index.md for its main page. Any Markdown files in Content/ but not in a directory is considered a freeform page, unless the file is index.md, in which case it’s used for the main index page. All of these Markdown pages are parsed and the results are injected into HTML templates; see Theme below.

As examples:

Each section needs a SectionID, although to be honest I don’t know what Publish uses it for internally. You can also add ItemMetadata like publish date, which is pulled from the Markdown frontmatter, but I don’t use that.

I also have to define some constants Publish uses internally, like a reference to the base url of the site so Publish can statically replace relative links with absolute links (/images -> https://rwblickhan.org/images, for example).

try RWBlickhanOrg().publish(
    at: nil,
    using: [
        .sortItems(by: \.date, order: .descending),
        .generateHTML(withTheme: .rwblickhan, indentation: nil),
        .step(named: "Apply Tailwind") { _ in
            try shellOut(
                to: "npx tailwindcss -i ./Resources/theme/styles.css -o ./Output/theme/styles.css -c tailwind.config.js")
        .generateSiteMap(indentedBy: nil),
        .unwrap(.s3("rwblickhan.org"), PublishingStep.deploy),

Running publish generate runs this file as a script. All this script does is create an instance of the RWBlickhanOrg struct defined above and publish() it.

publish() takes a parameter that defines the steps in the publishing pipeline. Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, but a few are interesting:


HTML Templates

Publish is built on the Plot HTML template engine, which allows me to write a template for each type of page. That has two benefits:

private struct RWBlickhanOrgHTMLFactory<Site: Website>: HTMLFactory {
    func makeIndexHTML(for index: Index, context: PublishingContext<Site>) throws -> HTML {

    func makeSectionHTML(for section: Section<Site>, context: PublishingContext<Site>) throws -> HTML {

    func makeItemHTML(for item: Item<Site>, context: PublishingContext<Site>) throws -> HTML {

    func makePageHTML(for page: Page, context: PublishingContext<Site>) throws -> HTML {

Plot exposes a core HTML type, representing a block of templated HTML. Publish uses these in an HTMLFactory to produce a template for each type of page. For instance:

func makeIndexHTML(for index: Index, context: PublishingContext<Site>) throws -> HTML {
        .head(for: index, on: context.site, stylesheetPaths: [
            .header(for: context.site),

In Plot, HTML elements are mapped straightforwardly to type-safe Swift enums. In this case, I let Plot generate a standard <head> element, with the addition of my custom CSS. Then I add a <body> made up of a header (produced by a helper function) and a semantic <main> element wrapping a <div>, which just contains index.body (the parsed Markdown) and some styling (see Styling below).

The section template, applied to the index.md of each section, is more complex:

func makeSectionHTML(for section: Section<Site>, context: PublishingContext<Site>) throws -> HTML {
        .head(for: section, on: context.site, stylesheetPaths: [
            .header(for: context.site),
                    .forEach(section.items) { item in
                        .li(.a(.text(item.title), .href(item.path)))

This looks identical to the index template until after the section.body. In particular, I add an unordered list (<ul>) tag, then use Plot’s .forEach template command to add a link (<a>) in a list item (<li>) for each item page in the section, which I can access via section.items. In particular, that means that each section’s index page automatically gets a nice list of item pages!

Finally, I expose the HTMLFactory to Publish:

extension Theme where Site == RWBlickhanOrg {
    static var rwblickhan: Self {
        Theme(htmlFactory: RWBlickhanOrgHTMLFactory())

In particular, this allows me to reference the theme as .rwblickhan, as I did in the publishing pipeline.


For styling, I use the Tailwind CSS framework that has gained popularity recently. Unlike the standard way of writing CSS, where each HTML element is assigned a CSS class and a separate CSS file specifies layout and typography for each class, Tailwind has a set of built-in “utility classes” that are applied directly in the HTML. This has two major benefits:

In particular, in this case, the styling is applied by a helper function:

private func makeStandardBodyClass() -> Node<HTML.BodyContext> {
    let layoutProps = "pt-32 mb-8 mx-4 md:max-w-3xl md:mx-auto"
    let typographyProps = "prose dark:prose-invert"
    let linkTypographyProps = "prose-a:text-rwb-blue-light dark:prose-a:text-rwb-blue-dark prose-a:no-underline hover:prose-a:underline"
    return .class("\(layoutProps) \(typographyProps) \(linkTypographyProps)")

This uses Tailwind’s utility classes to define the layout, colors, and typography for the main body text. I’ve split it into multiple, concatenated strings because Tailwind tends to use extremely large sets of utility classes.

layoutProps contains the main layout props. pt-32 adds padding at the top to avoid the header. mb-8 and mx-4 add a bit of margin to the other edges, which is mostly for small devices where the text goes edge to edge. On medium-size screens and larger (md in Tailwind parlance), I set max-w-3xl to limit the text to a reasonable line length and mx-auto to center the text horizontally.

typographyProps enables the typography plugin with prose or, in dark mode, prose-invert. That provides reasonable typographic defaults for any text in the body.

linkTypographyProps overrides the typography plugin’s defaults for link (<a> tag) rendering. I use a standard rwb-blue-light for link text color, with a slightly darker rwb-blue-dark in dark mode. I also set no-underline unless the cursor is hovering over a link.

The header, meanwhile, is also produced by a helper function:

private extension Node where Context == HTML.BodyContext {
    static func header<T: Website>(for _: T) -> Node {
                .class("bg-black absolute md:fixed h-24 top-0 inset-x-0 flex items-center justify-between"),
                    .class("ml-4 md:ml-12 text-white text-4xl no-underline hover:underline"),

There’s some boilerplate here to make this work in Swift, but this essentially defines a semantic <header> wrapping a <div>. We style that with a black background and an absolute position, unless we’re on a medium-sized or larger screen, in which case we position it as fixed so that the header doesn’t scroll away. It has some sizing constraints and it’s flex so that its contents are automatically laid out in a horizontal row; items-center vertically centers the items in the flexbox and justify-between spreads them out as far as possible horizontally.

Right now, though, the only content is a single <a> tag on the left of the screen, which has white text color but otherwise matches the rendering in linkTypographyProps. This link always takes us back to the homepage.

To enable Tailwind, I still need a main styles.css, which also allows me to globally override some stying:

@tailwind base;
@tailwind components;
@tailwind utilities;

@layer base {
    html {
        font-family: Vollkorn;
        @apply bg-white dark:bg-neutral-900;
    hr.solid {
        @apply border-t border-black border-solid;

The first three lines are boilerplate. font-family: Vollkorn sets the default font-family to Vollkorn, which I store alongside styles.css; the HTML templates above reference Vollkorn/vollkorn.css to find the typeface. I also globally set the site background to white or, in dark mode, dark gray. For hr.solid line breaks, I ask Tailwind to apply a solid, black, top border.1

There’s also a pygments.css file, which defines the colors used in code blocks, as applied by the Pygments plugin. I just got that off the internet 🤷‍♀️

Finally, there’s a config file for Tailwind in the aptly-named tailwind.config.js:

const tailwindcss = require("tailwindcss");

module.exports = {
  content: ["./Output/**/*.html"],
  theme: {
      fontFamily: {
        'sans': ['Vollkorn'],
        'serif': ['Vollkorn'],
      extend: {
        colors: {
          'rwb-blue-light': '#3366cc',
          'rwb-blue-dark': '#2e5cb8',
          'rwb-slate-light': '#ebedef',
          'rwb-slate-code-light': '#f6f8fa',
          'rwb-slate-code-dark': '#161b22'
  plugins: [

I have to tell Tailwind where the content lives, because it will analyze which utility classes you apply in HTML and generate an optimized CSS file that only contains the utility classes you actually use. In this case, I want it to apply to any .html file in the Output/ directory, where the final generated HTML templates will be stored after the template step in a build; that’s why the Tailwind step has to be the final step in our publishing pipeline above.

I also ask Tailwind to use Vollkorn as the default font for both sans and serif modes. I extend Tailwind’s color palette with a few colors, including the aforementioned rwb-blue-light and rwb-blue-dark. Finally, I enable the typography plugin.


I serve the final generated files out of a AWS S3 bucket. I hide that behind Cloudflare’s CDN, which is free for a simple website like this and makes it easy to set up a domain name and SSL certificates. Finally, I have my repository set up with Github Actions so that every commit to the repository triggers a new build and upload.


I manage the infrastructure with Terraform, an infrastructure-as-code framework that operates on HCL configuration files stored directly in the repository. Those configuration files describe what infrastructure setup I want (in particular, an S3 bucket behind Cloudflare’s CDN with a domain name and SSL certificates set up correctly). To actually deploy the infrastructure, I simply run terraform apply and it figures out how to deploy everything!

As mentioned, the config files live in the repository. To be honest, I don’t fully understand how all the configuration files work - I actually just followed this tutorial which is for exactly this use case!

Continuous Deployment

Every time I push a new commit to the repo on the main branch on Github, I trigger a Github Action workflow that rebuilds the website and redeploys it. That’s configured in .github/workflows/swift.yml:

name: Swift

    branches: [ main ]

    runs-on: macos-12

    - name: Install AWS CLI
      run: curl "https://awscli.amazonaws.com/AWSCLIV2.pkg" -o "AWSCLIV2.pkg" && sudo installer -pkg AWSCLIV2.pkg -target /
    - name: Install Pygments
      run: pip3 install Pygments
    - name: Checkout rwblickhan.org
      uses: actions/checkout@v2
        path: rwblickhan.org
    - name: Checkout Publish
      uses: actions/checkout@v2
        repository: rwblickhan/Publish
        path: Publish
    - name: Cache Publish
      uses: actions/cache@v2
        path: $GITHUB_WORKSPACE/Publish/.build
        key: publish-1
    - name: Install Publish
      run: cd $GITHUB_WORKSPACE/Publish && make install
    - name: Install Tailwind
      run: cd $GITHUB_WORKSPACE/rwblickhan.org && npm install -D tailwindcss
    - name: Run Publish
        AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID: ${{ secrets.AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID }}
      run: cd $GITHUB_WORKSPACE/rwblickhan.org && publish generate && publish deploy

This is based on the Swift Github Action template. Some notable aspects:


  1. Why only a top border? Line breaks are typically only one pt tall, so it doesn’t matter whether I have a top or bottom border!

  2. Arguably, I should ask Cloudflare to empty its CDN caches, but I haven’t bothered building that out yet.