Recently, a friend opined about wanting to set up a site, but wasn’t sure how. I asked for a bit more info, and since it sounds like he’ll be well-served by a static site generator, I figured I’d throw together this post.
The site you’re reading right now is set up this way, though it has years of baggage from different ways of hosting it, different ways of integrating the themes, etc… hopefully, this guide will provide a good starting point. I’m very happy with how I’ve got this set up, despite not posting to this site very often, and (aside from your domain) it’s completely free. It’s also pretty easy to use, once you’ve got it set up.
Introduction (or: Why should I host a site like this?)
I’ve been running this blog for a while, and it’s gone through a few different hosting methods. But before I was generating it with Hugo, I went through some other options: Wordpress, Ghost, probably others. Using a traditional blogging platform is nice, but either you have to host it on their SaaS platform (like wordpress dot com) or host it yourself, and dynamic sites can be a pain to run ( and have security flaws if you don’t keep the software updated). So eventually I switched to static site generation with Hugo; first hosting it manually, then updating automatically with a commit hook and Caddy, and finally the method I’m detailing here.
I still like Hugo, over other static site generators, for a few reasons. It’s easy to configure, it has built-in support in Azure Static Web Apps, theming is fairly easy using Git Submodules… but most importantly, posts and pages are written in Markdown, which is as close to a universally-understood markup language as we’ve ever seen. And combined with configuration being done through TOML, and a large community built up around the app, that makes Hugo pretty darn accessible to most people.
But that doesn’t stop it from being daunting! Even if you’re reasonably technical, if you don’t have experience hosting a website, then having to figure out how (and where) to host a static site might be a pain. So that’s why we’re here.
The benefit to hosting a Hugo site on Azure Static Web Apps is that you get free hosting from a major cloud provider, and aside from the initial configuration, all you need to do to maintain the site is write posts in Markdown and push them to Github. The process is front-loaded, the hard parts come first, and once you’ve done the hard parts the rest is pretty smooth. So if all you need is a simple site, where you can host your own pages and/or blog posts… it’s an excellent solution.
Everything I did for this post is public, so you can go take a look if you want:
- The site itself: https://demize.dev or https://ashy-ocean-02ca66910.2.azurestaticapps.net
This site is also public, so you can check it out on Github if you’d like a more detailed example.
This may be called “From Zero to Hugo”, but it won’t be a truly comprehensive guide. Resources you may find useful include:
- John Gruber’s Markdown specification or the Github Flavored Markdown specification. It’s not as daunting as it looks–and if you’ve been using Discord or Reddit, you probably already know most of this.
- The official Hugo Quick Start guide. We’ll cover a bit of this here, but this guide is more about getting it hosted and less about designing it.
- Microsoft has their own version of this guide. Had I remembered this existed, I may not have written this! It’s pretty similar to mine, because it covers mostly the same topics, but it also has a bit of extra information at the end (and I think mine has a bit more of the basic information… so they may sort of compliment each other).
You’ll also want to own a domain name; any one will do, as long as you own it. I strongly recommend registering it with (or transferring it to) Gandi, though you’ll be fine with whatever registrar; ideally you’ll have one that supports ALIAS records on the apex domain, and that’s what I’ll assume you have.
Things to install
You’ll need to install a few things to be able to create your site. If you use Windows, I’d recommend setting up Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) and using it for this, however all the requirements will work on any system. You’ll need:
- Git (Git for Windows on Windows)
- Hugo (You may want to jump to the Less-technical Users section of its install guide). Make sure it’s on your PATH!
- A text editor. Please don’t use Notepad. VS Code will get you good syntax highlighting, and built-in Git integration.
- A terminal. This is already on your system, but you’ll need to use it, so I’ll
mention it here. This can be
cmd.exe, but you’ll have a better time in… anything else.
Accounts you’ll need
You will need a couple accounts to do this:
- A Github (or Azure DevOps) account
- A Microsoft account to log in to Azure with
Creating the site
Assuming you don’t yet have a Hugo site, you’ll need to create one. Following mostly the instructions from the Hugo quick start guide:
$ mkdir new-site $ hugo new site new-site Congratulations! Your new Hugo site is created in /home/demize/projects/new-site. ... $ cd new-site $ git init Initialized empty Git repository in /home/demize/projects/new-site/.git/ $ git submodule add https://github.com/theNewDynamic/gohugo-theme-ananke.git themes/ananke Cloning into '/home/demize/projects/new-site/themes/ananke'... ... $ echo theme = \"ananke\" >> config.toml $ hugo new posts/my-first-post.md Content "/home/demize/projects/new-site/content/posts/my-first-post.md" created $ # Make the post something that will render on Azure $ sed -i 's/true/false/' content/posts/my-first-post.md $ echo "Welcome to my new Hugo site hosted on Azure!" >> content/posts/my-first-post.md $ # Make sure we aren't adding the built files to Git $ echo "public/" >> .gitignore
This will get you a very basic site, but it’s enough for us to push to Azure. The getting started guide continues on with some more information on customizing your theme, and I would recommend making sure the site is set up how you want it before proceeding.
Hosting the site on Github
Once you’ve got the initial setup done, you’ll need to put the site’s code on Github so it can be pushed to Azure automatically—that’s why you’re here, right?
You could also use Azure DevOps for this, and the process would be largely the same, but I’ll assume you’re using Github.
This is a pretty simple process, and Github will guide you through most of it:
hugowith no arguments to make sure your site builds properly. If it fails to build, it won’t deploy, and that will probably cause you some issues in the next section. You should see an output like this:
$ hugo Start building sites … hugo v0.105.0-0e3b42b4a9bdeb4d866210819fc6ddcf51582ffa linux/amd64 BuildDate=2022-10-28T12:29:05Z VendorInfo=gohugoio | EN -------------------+----- Pages | 10 Paginator pages | 0 Non-page files | 0 Static files | 1 Processed images | 0 Aliases | 1 Sitemaps | 1 Cleaned | 0 Total in 22 ms
- Make sure your code is committed locally:
$ git add . $ git commit -m "Initial site setup" [master (root-commit) 970bac1] Initial site setup 6 files changed, 20 insertions(+) create mode 100644 .gitmodules create mode 100644 .hugo_build.lock create mode 100644 archetypes/default.md create mode 100644 config.toml create mode 100644 content/posts/my-first-post.md create mode 160000 themes/ananke
- Create a new repository on Github. Give it whatever name you want, and make it public or private, either’s fine (though you may prefer private). Make sure you leave all the options under “Initialize this repository with:” blank, or you’ll run into some issues.
- Run the commands from the “push an existing repository from the command line”
section on the next page (note that your commands will be slightly different
$ git remote add origin firstname.lastname@example.org:demize/demo-site.git $ git branch -M main $ git push -u origin main Enumerating objects: 11, done. Counting objects: 100% (11/11), done. Delta compression using up to 16 threads Compressing objects: 100% (6/6), done. Writing objects: 100% (11/11), 1.11 KiB | 1.11 MiB/s, done. Total 11 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0) To github.com:demize/demo-site.git * [new branch] main -> main Branch 'main' set up to track remote branch 'main' from 'origin'.
And now your site is hosted on Github! But we still need to put it on Azure.
Hosting the site as a Static Web App on Azure
This is probably the scariest part, but it’s actually pretty easy.
- Log in to the Azure Portal.
- Search for
Static Web Appsin the top search bar and click on the matching result.
- Click the
➕ Createbutton on the following page.
- You’ll need to provide a bunch of information here:
- You should only have one subscription, and it should be selected by default.
- You may need to create a new “Resource Group” under the subscription. It
doesn’t really matter what resource group you use; I went with
demo-sitefor the example I’m using for this post.
- Similarly, you need to name the web app, and I named mine
- You probably want the Free plan.
- Select whichever Azure region you want; the closest one to you is always a good choice.
- Connect your Github (or Azure DevOps) account, and select the appropriate repository from the dropdowns.
- Select the
Hugobuild preset, and leave the default options unless you know what you’re doing.
- Once you’ve completed all that information, continue to
Review + createand create the app.
- Once the deployment is complete, you’ll get a notification in the Azure portal saying it’s complete; click the “Go to resource” button in that to go to the resource.
- In another tab, open your Github repository and go to the “Actions” tab.
ci: add Azure Static Web Apps workflow fileaction to know when your site should be ready, and wait until the action completes to move on.
- Back on Azure, you should see a URL listed under the “Essentials” section. Open this URL to go see your site on the internet!
You’ll also probably need to edit the workflow files that Azure generated here.
git pull to get them locally, then edit
.github/workflows/azure-static-web-apps-[random bits].yml and change the line
- uses: actions/checkout@v2 to say
- uses: actions/checkout@v3 (that is,
v3). If the line already says
v3, you’re fine, but it may not
have been generated with the current version specified there.
You may also want to add, immediately below
submodules: true, a line reading
fetch-depth: 0. This lets certain themes gather more information about your
commit history to determine information like when posts were last updated, so
it’s not a bad idea to set.
Make sure to add, commit, and push this change, though feel free to wait until you’ve added a new post or page to push.
Now, technically you can stop here, but do you really want your site URL to be
Setting up a custom domain
Thankfully, custom domains are pretty easy to set up on Azure, and Azure will
guide you through most of it. Go to the “Custom domains” page from the menu on
the left (under Settings), click the
➕ Create button, and follow the
instructions (see also their
You’ll need to go to your domain registrar and edit your DNS records there. You
need to create two new records for the domain (or subdomain) you want to use:
a TXT record, with the random value given to you by Azure, and an ALIAS or CNAME
record with the domain Azure generated for your site. You’ll need an ALIAS
record for an apex domain (like
demize.dev) or a CNAME record for a subdomain
demize.unstable.systems). Make sure you’re not including the
Once you’ve added the two new records, and once Azure validates the domain, Azure will automatically provision an SSL certificate for it through DigiCert, so even if your domain is on the HSTS preload list, you’ll be good now. DNS can take a while to update, so this could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, unfortunately.
Adding new posts
Now comes the fun part! Adding and publishing new posts with this workflow feels a bit magical.
Add a new post, edit it (make sure to set “draft” to false!), add it, commit it, and push it like you did with the first post:
$ hugo new posts/my-second-post.md Content "/home/demize/projects/new-site/content/posts/my-second-post.md" created $ # Edit this post in your favorite text editor $ git add content/posts/my-second-post.md $ git commit -m "Added my second post\!" [main 96e6a97] Added my second post! 2 files changed, 8 insertions(+) create mode 100644 .gitignore create mode 100644 content/posts/my-second-post.md $ git push Enumerating objects: 9, done. Counting objects: 100% (9/9), done. Delta compression using up to 16 threads Compressing objects: 100% (4/4), done. Writing objects: 100% (6/6), 804 bytes | 804.00 KiB/s, done. Total 6 (delta 1), reused 0 (delta 0) remote: Resolving deltas: 100% (1/1), completed with 1 local object. To github.com:demize/demo-site.git 0b91c98..96e6a97 main -> main
Now go back to Github, check the Actions page on your repository, and watch as it deploys automatically to Azure. After a minute or two, refresh your site, and you should see the second post listed!
To summarize this process a bit:
- Create a post, edit a post, make any changes you want
- Once you’ve made all the changes you’re making, add them to git with
git add .to add all the files, or
git add [list of files]to add specific files)
- Commit the changes to git with
git commit -m "commit message"to include the commit message on the command line)
- Push your changes to Github with
- The site will update itself!
Notes and caveats
Some miscellaneous notes and caveats with this method:
- Because the site is statically generated, if you make a post with a date in the future, it won’t show up on the site even after that date. You can either make sure that the post has a date in the past when you push your changes, or you can go to Github and manually trigger the action to deploy it to Azure, but because of how this process abstracts away the actual site generation, it’s easy enough to get tripped up by this.
(There’s only the one for now; this section may be updated in the future.)
Hopefully by this point you’ve got a site hosted on Azure for free, and deployed
to Azure by a Github action when you push to the
main branch. The only changes
you should need to make at this point will be to your site itself, whether to
the site config or to the posts and pages themselves… and when you make those
changes, it should update automatically on Azure.
If you’ve got any issues, think there’s anything I need to cover better, or just have any other feedback on this guide, please let me know! You probably already know how to contact me, but my contact page has all the methods you can use.
No changes have been made to this document yet. This section will be updated as changes are made, or this notice will remain if no updates are made.