Battle of the Static Site Generator: Gatsby, Docusaurus, Jekyll, and Hugo

Overview Comparison Table

Template LanguageReactReact/MDXLiquidGo
InstallationnpmnpmRubyGemGo binary
Ease of UseModerateEasyEasyModerate
PerformanceFastFastModerateVery Fast
Build SpeedModerateFastFastVery Fast
SEO FeaturesBuilt-inBuilt-inManual SetupManual Setup
DeploymentNetlify, Vercel, etc.GitHub Pages, Netlify, etc.GitHub Pages, Netlify, etc.Netlify, Vercel, etc.
Community SupportStrongGrowingEstablishedStrong
Documentation QualityHighVery HighHighHigh
Ease of Data LoadingGraphQLStatic ContentCustom ScriptsCustom Scripts
Asset PipelineIntegratedIntegratedPluginsExtended
Mobile ResponsivenessHighHighModerateHigh
Git IntegrationStrongStrongModerateModerate
Multilingual SupportPluginsNativePluginsNative
Image ProcessingHighModerateModerateHigh
Content ReusabilityComponentsComponents APIIncludesShortcodes
Live ReloadingYesYesYesYes
Data SourcesMultipleMarkdown, JSONMarkdown, CSVMarkdown, JSON
Static Site GenerationYesYesYesYes
Version ControlGit-basedGit-basedGit-basedGit-based

Installation and Initial Setup

Selecting the right static site generator is just the first step; understanding their setup process is crucial. Let's delve into the installation and configuration for our four contenders.

Gatsby’s Command Line Interface and Scaffold Projects

Gatsby provides an interactive CLI to kickstart projects. To install Gatsby globally, run:

npm install -g gatsby-cli

With Gatsby CLI installed, you're ready to create a new site:

gatsby new my-gatsby-site

Navigate into your new site’s directory and start the development server:

cd my-gatsby-site gatsby develop

This process scaffolds a new Gatsby project and serves it locally.

Docusaurus Quick Start and Configuration Basics

Getting started with Docusaurus requires Node.js and is similarly straightforward:

npx @docusaurus/init@next init my-website classic

This command generates a scaffold for a classic Docusaurus site in the my-website folder. Configuration can be manipulated through docusaurus.config.js:

module.exports = { title: "My Site", tagline: "The tagline of my site", // Additional configurations... };

Once set up, the local development server can be run with:

cd my-website npm run start

Setting Up Jekyll: From Local Development to Deployment

For Jekyll, installation leans on Ruby. Once Ruby is installed, execute:

gem install jekyll bundler

To start a new project:

jekyll new my-awesome-site

Move into the directory and start the Jekyll server with:

cd my-awesome-site bundle exec jekyll serve

This hosts the site locally and monitors for changes during development.

Hugo’s Streamlined Setup Process

Hugo's installation is succinct due to its standalone binary. After installing Hugo, a new site is just a command away:

hugo new site my-hugo-site

Change to your new directory:

cd my-hugo-site

Add a theme and run the server:

git clone themes/ananke echo theme = \"ananke\" >> config.toml hugo server -D

Hugo will compile your static files and serve them instantly.

Each generator has its nuances but stick to fundamental principles: install the tool, create a new project, and start the server. Next steps involve diving into the documentation of each for custom configurations and deployment.

Customization and Theming Options

Customization is a key aspect of building a site that stands out. These generators offer varying theming capabilities, which we'll explore next.

Theming Capabilities in Gatsby

Gatsby harnesses the power of React for theming. By using Gatsby's plugins for styling, such as gatsby-plugin-sass for Sass support, developers gain fine-grained control over the look and feel of their sites.

npm install --save gatsby-plugin-sass sass

Configure the plugin in gatsby-config.js:

module.exports = { plugins: [ "gatsby-plugin-sass", // other plugins... ], };

This enables the use of Sass for complex theming needs in a Gatsby project.

Customizing the Look and Feel of Docusaurus

Docusaurus allows customizations via its theme folder:

// Copy the default theme's files to your project. npx docusaurus swizzle @docusaurus/theme-classic Navbar

To adjust styles, you can modify the .module.css files:

/* src/theme/Navbar.module.css */ .navbar { background-color: #0052cc; }

The above snippet demonstrates how to set a custom color for the navigation bar in Docusaurus.

Jekyll Themes and Personalization

Jekyll themes can be easily integrated with a few lines of code. To add a theme, update your Gemfile:

gem 'minima', '~> 2.5'

And your _config.yml:

theme: minima

After bundle installation, your Jekyll site will take on the new theme's design.

Hugo’s Flexible Theming System

Hugo themes are notable for their ease of use. To add a theme, clone its repository into your themes directory:

git clone themes/ananke

Then, declare the theme in your site's config.toml:

theme = "ananke"

This sets the Ananke theme as the default for your Hugo site, making it ready for customizations.

In summary, while all four static site generators offer substantial theming options, the complexity and flexibility vary. Gatsby and Docusaurus come with advanced options suited for React developers, while Jekyll and Hugo offer straightforward theming suited for quicker customization and setup.

Features and Extensibility

Adding functionality to static sites can transform them from static pages to dynamic experiences. Each static site generator brings something different to the table regarding extensibility and features.

Gatsby's Rich Plugin Ecosystem

Gatsby is renowned for its extensive array of plugins. Whether for adding images or SEO tags, there's likely a plugin available. For instance, to add image optimization with gatsby-image, you would run:

npm install gatsby-image gatsby-transformer-sharp gatsby-plugin-sharp

Then, add the plugins to your gatsby-config.js:

module.exports = { plugins: [ "gatsby-transformer-sharp", "gatsby-plugin-sharp", // other plugins... ], };

The Gatsby ecosystem emphasizes a plug-and-play philosophy, making feature integration seamless.

Extending Docusaurus with Plugins and Community Contributions

Docusaurus is designed to grow with your project, and plugins play a large role. For example, to add Google Analytics, you would install the plugin:

npm install --save @docusaurus/plugin-google-analytics

Then, configure it in docusaurus.config.js:

module.exports = { plugins: ["@docusaurus/plugin-google-analytics"], themeConfig: { googleAnalytics: { trackingID: "YOUR_TRACKING_ID", // Additional options... }, }, // Other configurations... };

Community contributions both enrich and simplify site management within Docusaurus.

Jekyll’s Simplicity and GitHub Pages Integration

Jekyll’s strength lies in its simplicity and its seamless integration with GitHub Pages. Out-of-the-box, GitHub Pages supports Jekyll, requiring less setup. To enable GitHub Pages deployments, simply push your Jekyll repository to GitHub and configure the _config.yml:

baseurl: "/repository-name" # the subpath of your site url: "" # the base hostname & protocol for your site

With this minimal configuration, GitHub Pages handles the rest.

Hugo’s Built-In Shortcodes and Additional Features

Shortcodes are Hugo's answer to quick content enhancements. For adding a YouTube video without external plugins, Hugo's shortcodes come to the rescue:

{{< youtube w7Ft2ymGmfc >}}

By placing this shortcode in your content files, Hugo automatically renders the corresponding YouTube video. Moreover, Hugo supports custom shortcodes, further extending its capabilities.

Overall, Gatsby boasts a rich plugin ecosystem for complex capabilities, while Docusaurus relies on its plugins and a vibrant community for extension. Jekyll, with its lean approach, offers straightforward GitHub Pages integration, and Hugo provides fast and flexible shortcodes for content enhancement. Each generator affords unique features and extensibility options, catering to the diverse needs of developers and content creators.

Performance and Optimization

Performance can't be an afterthought in web development. The speed and efficiency of a site directly impact user satisfaction and SEO. Let’s see how each static site generator stacks up in performance tuning and optimization.

Gatsby’s Performance Tuning and Progressive Web App Features

Gatsby doesn't just stop at building static sites but also provides a suite of tools for performance optimization. It automatically splits code and optimizes images which can be fine-tuned further. Here's how to enable Progressive Web App (PWA) features:

// In your gatsby-config.js plugins: [ { resolve: `gatsby-plugin-manifest`, options: { name: `GatsbyJS`, short_name: `GatsbyJS`, start_url: `/`, background_color: `#f7f0eb`, theme_color: `#a2466c`, display: `standalone`, }, }, "gatsby-plugin-offline", ];

Adding these plugins turns a Gatsby site into a PWA, enhancing load times and user experience.

Docusaurus’ Built-In Performance Enhancements

Docusaurus comes with optimizations out-of-the-box, including code splitting, image lazy loading, and efficient JS loading. These enhancements provide a fast browsing experience without manual tweaks.

Lightweight Performance of Jekyll Sites

Jekyll's minimalist philosophy extends to its performance. It generates static files that result in fast page loads, which is particularly appealing for smaller sites or blogs. While it lacks some of the automatic optimization features found in Gatsby or Docusaurus, its simplicity translates into lean, efficient sites.

Speed Benchmarking Hugo’s Build Times

Hugo is often touted for its blistering build times. Even for large sites with thousands of pages, Hugo compiles in seconds. Let's benchmark the performance for a site with a large number of pages:

hugo --stepAnalysis --templateMetrics

This command provides insights into where build time is spent, allowing for targeted optimization. With its underlying Go implementation, Hugo remains a leader for those prioritizing speed.

In the realm of static sites, performance is paramount. Gatsby and Docusaurus lean on modern web technologies to optimize delivery, whereas Jekyll keeps things straightforward and fast for simpler sites. Hugo remains unrivaled in build speed, making it a favorite for content-rich projects where time to deploy is critical.

Deployment and Hosting

After crafting your site, the next crucial step is hosting. Let's assess the deployment process for these generators—how they streamline publishing your work to the world.

Gatsby and the Gatsby Cloud

In addition to third-party hosting services, Gatsby has its own platform called Gatsby Cloud, specifically designed for speed and collaboration in deploying Gatsby sites. It provides features like incremental builds. For automated deployment, connect your Git repository:

gatsby new gatsby-site cd gatsby-site npm run build

Link your GitHub repository to Gatsby Cloud and set up a webhook for continuous deployment.

Deploying Docusaurus to Popular Platforms

Docusaurus sites are easily deployable to platforms like GitHub Pages, Netlify, and Vercel. Deploying to GitHub Pages, for instance, can be automated through a script in package.json:

"scripts": { "deploy": "docusaurus deploy" }

With your code pushed to GitHub, running npm run deploy will build and publish your site to the gh-pages branch.

Hosting Jekyll Sites on GitHub Pages and Beyond

Jekyll enjoys native support from GitHub Pages. Simply push your repository to GitHub and your site is live. The process is streamlined further with a custom domain configuration:

# In your _config.yml url: "" baseurl: ""

Commit the changes, and GitHub Pages will handle the deployment, serving your site under the custom domain.

Hugo’s Quick Deployment Capabilities

Hugo is crafted for speed, and deployment is no exception. When your site is ready, the following command will compile your site:

hugo -D

Deploying to a service like Netlify is as easy as pushing your public directory to a Git provider and connecting it with Netlify, which then deploys your site automatically.

For developers using these static site generators, hosting solutions are abundant and flexible. Whether it’s leveraging Gatsby’s tailored cloud service for optimal performance, taking advantage of Docusaurus's straightforward script-based deployment, enjoying Jekyll's GitHub Pages integration, or appreciating Hugo's rapid build-and-deploy model, these tools pave the way for easy publishing, ensuring that your site reaches your audience efficiently.

Key Takeaways

When evaluating Gatsby, Docusaurus, Jekyll, and Hugo, key distinctions emerge that guide the choice for developers.

  • Gatsby: Boasts extensive plugin options and optimal performance features, shining with its PWA capabilities and rich React framework. It also offers a dedicated Gatsby Cloud for hosting.
  • Docusaurus: Best suited for documentation with versioning and is deployable to many hosting platforms, harnessing community plugins and customization potential.
  • Jekyll: Offers simplicity and seamless GitHub Pages integration, making it ideal for bloggers and those who prefer straightforward personal or small-scale sites.
  • Hugo: Renowned for its speed, both in site-building and deployment, perfect for large, content-heavy sites needing fast turnaround times.

Choosing the right static site generator is a balance between feature needs, performance considerations, deployment ease, and personal or team proficiency with the underlying technologies. While functionality varies, all deliver on the promise of faster, more secure web projects with a vast community of support. Whether you're looking to publish a blog, company documentation, or a full-blown online platform, these generators provide the means to efficiently build and deploy content to your target audience.


As software developers explore the world of static site generators, questions often emerge regarding SEO, theming, and suitability for various content types.

Which Static Site Generator Is Best for SEO?

Gatsby, with its React-based framework, offers excellent SEO capabilities out of the box, including server-side rendering and easy integration with various plugins for SEO optimization. However, all of the mentioned static site generators create SEO-friendly static pages, and with proper configuration, Jekyll, Docusaurus, and Hugo can also perform admirably in search rankings.

How Does Theming in Jekyll Differ from Theming in Hugo?

Jekyll themes are widely available and can be integrated with minimal configuration, focusing on simplicity and convention. In contrast, Hugo provides a powerful theming system based on its template engine, allowing for more complex and flexible theme creation. Hugo's shortcodes for incorporating custom functionality without additional plugins are particularly notable.

Can Docusaurus Be Used Effectively for Non-Documentation Sites?

Absolutely, Docusaurus can power more than just documentation sites. While optimized for docs, it is flexible enough for building blogs, product pages, and even personal portfolios. It supports custom pages and can be extended with React components, making it a versatile option for various content-heavy sites.