Why I switched from Octopress 2 to Hugo

Until now, I haven’t been publishing anything on any of my three blogs for half a year now. There are many reasons, but one of them was that I wanted to migrate away from Octopress 2. Octopress 2 is ancient and slow and unmaintained, and I’d been waiting for Octopress 3 for over three years to arrive, so when I heard that Octopress 3 was finally going to be officially announced at JekyllConf, I decided it was time to migrate my blogs, to Octopress 3 or Jekyll, or something else entirely.

Factors to consider when choosing a static site generator

Some factors I kept in mind while evaluating a new static site generator:

Speed is critical for me

Speed was a huge consideration for me when I evaluated alternative static site generators, so I was particularly interested in evaluating

The advantages of these two are that they are implemented in statically typed languages that compile to native executables.

Furthermore, Hakyll is a library, such that your configuration is actually merely a Haskell program using the library, without the indirection of configuration languages and interpreters of the languages, and you can compile your site into a specialized native executable. (For example, Hakyll uses Pandoc as a library for Markdown processing.)

Advantages of going to Jekyll?

Jekyll is the most popular static site generator, so I had to evaluate it despite knowing up front that it was not going to be a speed winner. It might well be fast enough. The benefits of using a platform with a large and passionate community are tremendous: bugs get fixed, cool features get added, people step in to help you out if you have questions, incremental improvements keep happening, themes abound that you can just take and use. I never evaluate using a technology based only on one consideration (such as speed).

Note that Octopress 3 is basically a really cool interface over an underlying Jekyll setup, so I will only refer to Jekyll below, with the understanding that all performance matters that apply to Jekyll apply to Octopress 3 as well.

Speed comparisons: Octopress 2, Jekyll, Hugo, Hakyll

Full generation from scratch

My personal blog has 585 posts. Here are the from-scratch full generation times, based on migrations away from Octopress 2 that I performed using a bunch of Perl scripts. Note that the sites are not completely equivalent, because I only wanted to get a rough idea, not compare total equivalence:

Jekyll and Hakyll don’t do too badly, but Hugo was by far the fastest.

Although I suspect that as more features get added to Hugo, it may slow down some, I also trust that since the author and the Go community in general are obsessed with speed, Hugo is a safe bet for anyone concerned about speed.

Full generation but not from scratch

Hakyll stores a lot of information in a cache directory. If you’ve done a full generation and change nothing and do a full generation again (my-compiled-site-builder build), it comes back almost instantaneously. If you’ve modified a file (as in the incremental, server mode generation), my result was slightly slower than in server mode:

Incremental generation

I brought each generator up in “server” “watching” mode, to see what would happen if I changed a single file, resulting in regeneration of everything affected. For example, I changed the most recent blog post, which affects its generation as well as potentially the main page, RSS, sitemap, archive, tags and categories.

It’s interesting that Hugo’s live “watch” functionality does not really improve over regenerating the site from scratch.

For Hakyll, there is tremendous improvement. I believe this may be because of the use of a cache directory but also because a Hakyll-compiled generator incurs no interpreter overhead once you have it running in server mode watching for changes.

9.95 seconds is still kind of slow for me, for making a quick change to a file in progress and wanting to see how it displays in the browser, so Jekyll is not optimal for me. But Hugo’s 4.11 seconds is acceptable.

So why not Hakyll?

So, given that Hakyll looks so promising, and I would far prefer writing and debugging Haskell code, to hacking in some mixture of Go templating and other configuration languages, why did I not migrate to Hakyll?

There are many considerations that go into what I choose as a technology to solve a specific problem. For example, there’s a reason I wrote all my one-shot little blog migration scripts in Perl, even though I no longer write Perl for any other purpose (although Perl was one of my main languages I used for nontrivial programs from 1999-2010).

Hakyll has a small community. I’m not sure I would even call it a community. It’s basically one guy’s project. It is completely unopinionated, such that to create any reasonable site you have to write your own code or copy and paste from someone else’s. There is no formal concept of “theme” or an official theme sharing site.

Hakyll is pretty confusing to build if you don’t use a Cabal sandbox, and even then, there have perpetually been build problems of some kind or another, for years. Last year, I could not get it to build at all.

Meanwhile, the Travis build is perpetually broken and doesn’t even test multiple versions of GHC and Cabal. A call to get Hakyll into Stackage is still open.

I ran into a serious YAML-handling bug that still has not been addressed after over a year.

In other words, just because Hakyll seems to perform well on a simplistic toy migration of my personal blog (after all the workarounds for the bugs mentioned above) doesn’t mean that I can trust it to work if I do more complicated things, or that bug reports will get addressed.

I’m writing this not to criticize the author of Hakyll, who by the way writes a lot of quite high-quality blog posts on Haskell and has a day job developing in Haskell. Open source projects are labors of love that just cannot be sustained by one person who has many things to do in life.

Winner: Hugo

It would be nice if there were a larger Hakyll community, but the reality is that there isn’t, and therefore as someone who also has many things to do and prefers to write for my blogs rather than implement features for the blog engine, I chose Hugo as the clear winner for my current needs.

Hugo not only has an entire official discussion site but also an active Gitter room.

The official documentation is pretty good and continues to be updated.


Choosing a static site generator is like choosing any other software to perform a task: you have to evaluate many different factors and tradeoffs among the different choices available. For me, speed is very important, but also a thriving, growing community of maintainers, contributors, and users.

In the end, I chose Hugo, because it is fast, actively maintained, and has a sizable community revolving around it.

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