Generating this website part 2


29 September, 2014

This is part two of the “generating this website” series. To read the rest of the series, go to the series index here

OK, time to dive into arguably the most important part of the website generator – generating the posts themselves! Really, this is what it all comes down to; any other features like tags, rss feeds, crossposting and so on are just window dressing. Generating posts is not actually that hard, but you’ll find it’s one of the most often-tweaked part of your Hakyll setup as most changes you want to make affect posts in some way. Let’s get started!


We start with our usual OverloadedStrings definition and Hakyll import. Because we’re developing a module now, rather than the main entry point of our program, we also need a module header. This was missing from the last post but will be present in all the remaining modules in this series.

> {-# LANGUAGE OverloadedStrings #-}
> module Posts where
> import Hakyll

Note that since the module is called Posts, the file itself must also be called Posts.hs, or rather Posts.lhs as it is a literate Haskell document. This has a bit of a knock-on effect, as Hakyll’s default behaviour is to expect that all files will follow a date-title convention for their filenames, so already we will have to do some extra work to get it to draw that information from the Pandoc header instead of the filename.

The following imports give us some extra helper functions which we’ll use throughout our program. These functions (particularly the operators) are so common I almost wish they were part of the standard prelude, but they aren’t so we’ll have to live with a longish import list. I won’t go into too much detail here but as I’ve used explicit imports you can see exactly which functions I’m importing from where.

> import Data.Monoid         
> import Data.Maybe          
> import Data.List           
(intercalate, isInfixOf)
> import Data.Char           
(toLower, isAlphaNum)
> import Control.Applicative 
((<$>), (<*>))
> import Control.Monad       

I’m going to be making use of a few system/date related functions to handle the date specified in the header and rename the file appropriately.

> import System.FilePath  
(replaceBaseName, takeDirectory,
 takeBaseName, splitFileName, (</>))
> import Data.Time.Clock  
(UTCTime (..))
> import Data.Time.Format 
(formatTime, parseTimeM, defaultTimeLocale)

The Set module exports function names that clash with those from the standard prelude for working with lists, so I’ll import it qualified here. In fact, I only make use of one function from it (union), so I could have just imported this function and had done with it, but it’s common form to import data structures like this qualified, so I’m in the habit of it.

> import qualified Data.Set as S

Finally some more specific imports. I’ll be overriding some of Pandoc’s default options so I’ll need to bring those into scope.

> import Text.Pandoc.Definition 
> import Text.Pandoc.Options    
 WriterOptions (..),
 Extension (..),
 HTMLMathMethod(..), def)

As well as that, I’m going to import the Crossposting and ElasticTabstops modules which we’ll cover later in the series.

> import Crossposting
> import ElasticTabstops

After all that, we can actually get on with writing some code! If you’re new to Haskell, don’t worry too much about all these imports – in general you just add them as you come across functionality you need to use which is defined in another module, so you don’t really need to think too much about them ahead of time. Because Haskell encourages breaking things down into small, reusable components, import lists can get quite long. This is a good thing!

Pandoc options

To begin with, I’m going to define the custom version of the Pandoc compiler we’ll use to generate the posts. Hakyll comes with some reasonable defaults, but I’d like to tweak it a little to allow support for features specific to my needs here – in particular, I want support for:

The compiler itself is just a standard compiler with different reader and writer options, and some pandoc-level transformations:

> customCompiler :: Compiler (Item String)
> customCompiler = 
>   readerOptions writerOptions pandocTransforms

Those options are defined in terms of Pandoc’s defaults, provided by the Default typeclass, which allows you to specify a default definition def for any type. First we tell the reader to add readerSmart to its options:

> readerOptions :: ReaderOptions
> readerOptions = def { readerSmart = True }

The writer options are manipulated in a similar way, adding MathJax support, syntax highlighting, and literate Haskell.

> writerOptions :: WriterOptions
> writerOptions = def
>   { writerHTMLMathMethod = MathJax ""
>   , writerHighlight      = True
>   , writerExtensions     = extensions
>   }
>   where extensions 
= writerExtensions def `S.union` S.fromList
[ Ext_literate_haskell

The MathJax constructor takes a string to supply the URL to mathjax.js, so that it can embed it in the output HTML, however in this case Hakyll overrides Pandoc’s default HTML output to insert our templates, and it is there that we import mathjax.js, so we can just pass the empty string here.

Defining extensions as a union of the default extensions with a single-member set may seem like overkill, and for only one item it is, but doing it this way means that if I ever want to add an extension I can just add it to the list.

Finally, we define pandocTransform, for our post-processing needs. This is just the composition of any pandoc-level filters we want to apply – see the posts for those individual filters for more information.

> pandocTransforms :: Pandoc -> Pandoc
> pandocTransforms = elasticTabstops

Generating posts

Here begins a pattern that you will see a lot of. In Hakyll, the way you generate anything is by defining a Compiler. Usually, that Compiler is paired with a Context which provides all the variables you may want to make use of in your template. Finally, we tie that Compiler to a specific set of inputs using Rules, which we covered in the previous post. Often, people write all their Rules inline in one big main function, but to make breaking the configuration over a number of blog posts easier, I’ve elected to define each set of Rules as an independent function which I call from main in the first post.

First, then, the Context, which simply extracts data from the metadata header at the top of the file.

> postCtx :: Tags -> Context String
> postCtx tags 
dateField "date" "%e %B, %Y"
tagsField "tags" tags
crosspostField "xp"

As well as the defaultContext, which gives us some common fields such as title, we make use of the date, tags, and xp fields. The first two ought to be fairly self-explanatory – the date is displayed at the top of this page and the tags are listed at the bottom.

crosspostField will be defined in a later post in this series. It is there for the case where a post on this blog is also posted on another blog – usually I’ve written it for the other blog but received permission to reproduce it here. In that case, I want to include a header at the top of the file giving a link to the original blog post.

I also make use of Hakyll to allow me to write the post here in markdown and have it automatically uploaded to both my blog and the one where I’m guesting – at least if the latter is a Wordpress blog and I have posting rights there. But we’ll talk about that later.

The Compiler follows standard conventions: run the Pandoc compiler (in this case our customCompiler defined above), apply templates, and fix up the URLs.

> postCompiler :: Tags -> Compiler (Item String)
> postCompiler tags = customCompiler
>   >>= loadAndApplyTemplate "templates/post.html"    ctx
>   >>= saveSnapshot "content"
>   >>= loadAndApplyTemplate "templates/default.html" ctx
>   >>= relativizeUrls
>   >>= withItemBody removeIndexHtml
>   where ctx = postCtx tags

Hang on, what’s that saveSnapshot in the middle there? I never mentioned that! Well, that allows us to save a snapshot of our page as it currently stands at that point in the compilation. This is handy, because we’ll want to include the content of the post in RSS feeds and the like, but at that point we only want the content, not the header, footer, and navigation. It is useful, then, to be able to save out a copy at the point where that is all we have and re-use it later, rather than having to recompile the whole thing again when generating feeds.

Finally, our Rules tell Hakyll where to get posts from, how to compile them, and where to put them.

> posts :: Tags -> Rules ()
> posts tags = match ("posts/*" .||. "pending-posts/*") $ do
>   route $ 
metadataRoute dateAndTitle `composeRoutes`
customRoute simplifyURL
>   compile $ postCompiler tags

This is mostly pretty simple. You can see we generate posts from both the posts and pending-posts directories (the latter are generated, but not included in the index, so I can preview them because I know the URL but they’re not “published” as such). We use the date and title metadata fields to generate a filename and then from that create a simplified URL. Finally we compile it with the postCompiler we defined above.

I took the idea (and the code) for the simplified URL route from Yann Esposito’s Hakyll setup. Instead of post-name.html, it outputs a file to post-name/index.html, allowing us to drop the .html part when visiting the page in the browser. It is defined as follows.

> simplifyURL :: Identifier -> FilePath
> simplifyURL ident =
>   takeDirectory p </> takeBaseName p </> "index.html"
>   where p = toFilePath ident

This works nicely, but as Yann points out in his post it leaves a lot of links with index.html at the end of them floating around. We basically never want this, so Yann suggests the following code to strip index.html from the end of all links (I’ve modified it slightly to work with Strings instead of Items).

> removeIndexHtml :: String -> Compiler String
> removeIndexHtml body = return $ withUrls removeIndexStr body
>   where
>     removeIndexStr url = case splitFileName url of
>       (dir, "index.html") | isLocal dir 
-> init dir
>       _                                 
-> url
>     isLocal uri = not $ "://" `isInfixOf` uri

That all fits together quite nicely. There’s just one snag… that dateAndTitle function passed to metadataRoute doesn’t actually exist! We’re going to have to write it.

Extracting the date and title from metadata

As mentioned, Hakyll by default expects the date and title to be included in the filename and as such it can just change the extension and have done with it. Because we might be naming files after the modules they define (in the case of Literate Haskell files), a post such as this one would end up with a URL looking like, which would be very odd. Even without this, it’s quite easy to write a post which accidentally has a subtly different title to its filename, which would be confusing.

Because of this, we’d much rather pull the date and title fields out of the post’s metadata, which ensures consistency and reduces repetition. Unfortunately, Hakyll provides no clear way to do this natively, so we have to make use of its generic functionality for routing based on metadata. We do this using the metadataRoute function, above, which takes as its parameter a function taking a posts Metadata and returning the Routes associated with that metadata, and returns Routes which can be used by the Rules to which is it passed. Its type signature looks like this:

metadataRoute :: (Metadata -> Routes) -> Routes

The function we passed to metadataRoute above was dateAndTitle, which we’ll define here.

> dateAndTitle :: Metadata -> Routes
> dateAndTitle meta = fromMaybe idRoute $
>   mkName <$> getField "title" <*> getField "date"
>   where 
mkName t d 
setBaseName $ date d </> title t
(`lookupString` meta)
formatTime defaultTimeLocale
"%Y/%m/%d" . readTime
map toLower . intercalate "-"
map (filter isAlphaNum) . words

There’s a lot going on in this definition so we’ll go through it carefully.

Function definitions like the one above are part of the reason I love Haskell and others might hate it. There’s so much functionality packed into so little code there, you do have to slow down a little bit and read it carefully to follow it, at least until you are used to code written in the style used (in this case, some applicative style and a little bit of point-free notation thrown in for good measure). Add to this the expressivity of Haskell which allows for a number of different styles, so that even once you’ve got used to the style used here you may open another codebase and find that the style employed there is completely different! There is a not-unreasonable argument that this is problematic; that encouraging a very particular style at the language level (as Python does, for example) makes it a lot easier to read unfamiliar code.

I am sympathetic to this argument up to a point. It does make sense, especially if you are dealing with large numbers of programmers relatively inexperienced in the language (thus not exposed to the various styles of programming available), who regularly have to jump into different codebases (thus run into these different styles frequently). However, I do think the benefits outweight the disadvantages. Firstly, inexperienced programmers are likely to be limited to relatively isolated areas of the code, so they will have time to get used to whatever style is employed there before moving on and learning some new style along with the next codebase. Secondly, once you have learnt the style, it is actually dramatically faster to read succinct code like this than trudging through reams of if statements and manual for-style loops. It’s also harder to make mistakes, as the code fits more closely with the thing it’s trying to do.

So there is a learning curve, and learning curves cost time and money when training programmers. But when the initial hump is traversed1, the increase in productivity is well worth the effort.

OK, after that little detour, let’s get back to it! The dateAndTitle function above made use of two helper functions which haven’t actually been defined. The first is readTime, which we use to normalise the date format. It takes a date string and converts it to a UTCTime which we can manipulate.

> readTime :: String -> UTCTime
> readTime t = fromMaybe empty' . msum $ attempts where
>   attempts 
= [parseTimeM True defaultTimeLocale fmt t | fmt <- formats]
>   empty'   
= error $ "Could not parse date field: " ++ t
>   formats  
= [ "%a, %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S %Z"
  , "%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S%Z"
  , "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S%Z"
  , "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M"
  , "%Y-%m-%d"
  , "%B %e, %Y %l:%M %p"
  , "%B %e, %Y"
  , "%b %d, %Y"

The basic idea for the implementation is taken from Hakyll itself, from its getItemUTC which is defined in Hakyll.Web.Template.Context. Unfortunately, the type signature for that function is quite a lot more complicated than we need, so I’ve extracted the parts we need into a simple String -> UTCTime function here. If the date doesn’t match any of the supported formats readTime will simply crash with an error – not the best error handling but since we’re always going to be running this interactively it doesn’t really matter.

setBaseName turns a string into a FilePath, which it can then manipulate using Haskell’s native replaceBaseName functionality.

> setBaseName :: String -> Routes
> setBaseName basename = customRoute $
>   (`replaceBaseName` basename) . toFilePath


Another form of content on this blog is that of “pages”, which are basically posts except that they don’t have a date or tags associated with them and they are not indexed or included in feeds. As a result they are super-simple – we don’t need to save a snapshot, or to parse the date or change the filename. Instead I can just compile it with a template designed for the purpose and set the extension. We’ll use the same customCompiler as posts for consistency, but we’ll just pass the defaultContext as we don’t need any of the extra metadata posts use.

> pageCompiler :: Compiler (Item String)
> pageCompiler = customCompiler
>   >>= loadAndApplyTemplate "templates/page.html"    
>   >>= loadAndApplyTemplate "templates/default.html" 
>   >>= relativizeUrls
>   where ctx = defaultContext

The rules for pages are equally simple – just grab anything from the pages folder, compile it using the pageCompiler and set its extension to html. This is expressed below.

> pages :: Rules ()
> pages = match "pages/*" $ do
>   route $ customRoute simplifyURL
>   compile pageCompiler


That’s about it for compiling posts! This is almost all you need to get a Hakyll site up and running – the only problem is since we still don’t have post indexing you have to know the URL of the post you want to read before you read it! This is about as complicated as it gets with Hakyll though – if you’ve followed this post, the rest should be easy! We’ll cover indexing next, after which we’ll go about adding special features one at a time.

  1. Anybody who’s read code using the Lens library will get the joke.