It should be apparent to prettymuch anyone who reads this blog that I have lost the impetus to publish regularly. Although I still have many things to say to the internet, it seems to be getting harder and harder to find the time to put these things in a blog form that I’m happy with.
But I’m also not happy with the concept of just abandoning the blog, as so many others seem to do. I like the idea of putting it into hibernation, where it still can be linked to and indexed in search engines, but just not active.
So I’ve been working out how to do that. It’s not as easy as I expected. And, yes, worth blogging about…
“Will I Dream, Dave?”
I thought I wanted something quite straightforward. Basically I was going to convert the site into static HTML by walking over it with
wget or similar. Then find a host who could serve it up cheaply and reliably.
The cheap part was a requirement but also an expectation. I just thought that someone somewhere would give me some hosting space for static files that would charge about the same as my domain renewal each year. I’m not interested in paying much more than that because, well. I might as well just keep paying the hosting plan I’m on now, and keep the blog open.
I also wanted the new hosting to have cool URIs that don’t change. So if, for example, you’ve bookmarked my insightful not-to-be-missed 2007 post on fixing Ubuntu 7.04 display problems, you’ll be happy to hear that I intended to make sure it serves you the same long-obsolete advice for many decades to come.
And that’s the real trick. As I found out, keeping the URIs the same, is not as easy as it sounds.
This was the first thing I tried. wordpress.com offers free-to-inexpensive hosting and, hey, I’m already running wordpress, so it should be a snap to switch over. I’d just run the blog as-is with comments disabled and it would be just like in hibernation.
But then I read the fine print, and found that I wasn’t going to be able to keep my current theme with its famous hand-tuned aside formatting. Not ideal, but not a show-stopper either. Also, importing the images and other assets would require involvement from wordpress support. Bit of a pain, but liveable.
So as an experiment I started exporting from my blog and then importing to wordpress.com. How well did this work? Well, about as well as you can expect with software that is not designed to go clunk. Of course, there is no error message to determine what the problem was, nor even an obvious way to erase all the partially-imported content.
Having resolved by this stage that I was going to convert it to a static site and host it somewhere, I soon came upon the idea of using Amazon’s S3 service. I already had an account, and it looked like a great solution. Cheap, reliable and easy. (Pick any two.)
There are (at least) two problems with using Amazon S3 for this task.
Firstly there is a technical limitation with hosting a “naked” domain (ie girtby.net with no hostname). Basically the way you create a virtual host on S3 is to create a “bucket” with the same name as your host, and then create a CNAME from your domain to that bucketname.s3.amazonaws.com. The problem is that you cannot create a CNAME on the root of a domain, it has to be from a hostname within that domain (eg www.girtby.net will work, girtby.net will not).
So that instantly breaks my URIs, but even if I could solve that problem there’s another limitation. Basically Amazon S3 is not a full hosting environment and doesn’t provide some common web server features. Most notably it won’t serve up / using /index.html.
So I would end up needing my own web server which would perform this redirection. But that defeats the purpose of using Amazon S3; if I had access to a reliable web server, I’d just use that to serve up the site and be done with it.
Google App Engine
Yes, I was quite amazed to discover that you can use Google’s App Engine as a host for an entirely static site. This is an interesting possibility because not only is it a real hosting service, and I can develop software (maybe even a blogging engine!) to bring my site back to life, should I be so inclined.
The plan is almost perfect, but has one flaw. Although Google seem to have once had the ability to host from a naked domain, that ability now seems to have been revoked. Which is a bit unfortunate, as it breaks my URIs.
So that’s really a problem, and one that I must admit I did not forsee when I started using the naked domain as the preferred domain for the blog.