As a software developer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of technologies over the years. This website has always served as a subject for experimenting with such tech — what better way to learn than to develop, maintain and deploy something not only real, but in this case, very low-stakes.
As such, this website — and its predecessors — have evolved over the last 18 or so years. From hand-crafted static HTML pages, to PHP, Perl CGI, modern JS frameworks and back again to static HTML via tools like Jekyll and Nanoc.
It stood to reason then that the next evolution of the website would be built with Phoenix, the Elixir web framework I’ve been using for the last few years for personal and work projects.
I love building apps with Phoenix. I remember the feeling of using Rails 10+ years ago — the sense of immense joy assembling a prototype in no more than and hour or two. That feeling for Rails has long dissipated, and a Phoenix has risen, so to speak (sorry).
Below are some notes about the build.
It’s important to me that this website does not depend on a database. It adds an overhead I’m just not interested in maintaining. This meant I needed to import my markdown posts from Jekyll in to this new system. That’s easy enough, but given that Elixir code requires a compilation step, I was concerned that trying to build this in Phoenix might introduce some frustrating hurdles.
I was wrong, of course. The excellent NimblePublisher library solves this with ease. My markdown files are not only processed during the compilation stage and included as part of the application bundle, they’re watched for changes such that Phoenix will intelligently reload the page when I make a change.
Phoenix 1.7 introduces Tailwind support out of the box. CSS isn’t something I particularly enjoy writing, so Tailwind is a massive pleasure to use. Furthermore, maintaining well-organised CSS is something of a nightmare. Not really a problem for a tiny website like this, but I still have nightmares from larger projects. Embedding styles in the markup and using Phoenix components is just so nice.
The new design is based on the Spotlight template. I usually prefer designing stuff like this from scratch but I really like the template defaults. I’ve changed bits here and there to give it my personal touch, but the resemblance remains clear.
The website is deployed to Fly.io. I use Fly for several production apps and they’re stellar. Given the low traffic received here, I can’t imagine I’ll ever need anything larger than the free tier, which is nice.
I may move the app to my Linode VPS at some point in future — which is where I run a handful of Ruby and Go services. Just to give me a better look at what a “native” deployment looks like. For now though I’m more than happy to let Fly do the hard work.
The app is automatically deployed via a GitHub Workflow.
I used to think the idea of rebuilding my website every few years was silly. Really though, it’s the ideal way to sharpen skills and toy with new and exciting technology; and Phoenix is about as exciting as it comes right now.