Core design principles

I intend Foliomatic primarily for personal web sites such as this one. It should also be useful for projects and organizations whose Web presence is mostly static content, updated from time to time. It is not going to be a general content management system, nor a framework for highly dynamic Web 2.0 content, but it will support some dynamic features, such as comments on pages.

Structure

Foliomatic is a site compiler. It reads a directory tree of source files and produces another tree of rendered, static HTML files, which you drop into your web server. Foliomatic is designed to take its input from a version control system, which handles access control and replication. It can, optionally, integrate history information from the VCS into its output.

Foliomatic is thus similar to existing systems such as Ikiwiki, Chronicle, and Jekyll. Foliomatic is more generic in some ways, and more restricted in others.

  • Chronicle and Jekyll are primarily intended for blogs, so they place strong constraints on site layout that are undesirable in a portfolio. Foliomatic does not care how your site is organized.

  • Ikiwiki is primarily intended for use as a wiki. It therefore has many features which are irrelevant or even undesirable for a site with a small number of trusted authors. Almost all of its access control logic, for instance, is useless and gets in the way, as is the split between content (kept in the VCS) and configuration (must not be kept in the VCS, or any editor can break the site).

Foliomatic assumes that you have a small number of trusted authors who make their changes through the VCS rather than on the web. It does not support general editing via the web, and it expects you to keep everything in your version control repository. It will support pulling configuration from a different repository than content, in case you need two levels of author privilege, but I would really rather see version control systems grow per-directory or per-branch access control than implement it on top.

  • Chronicle and Jekyll have no support for feedback from the web—no comments, no pingbacks, etc. Ikiwiki supports discussion pages and blog-style comments, but in a fairly clunky manner. Foliomatic will support blog-style comments smoothly integrated with the site. It will probably not support wiki-style discussion pages.

I currently plan to use Genshi for the templating engine. Genshi is fast, fully aware of the structure of XML documents, and provides a pipeline abstraction that is easy to add transformation stages to.

Features

Foliomatic can read a wide variety of text input formats. Most attention will go to lightweight markup languages such as Markdown, Textile, and reST, but I also want it to be able to consume LaTeX and Texinfo, and prettyprint source code via a tool such as Pygments. Integration with software documentation systems such as Sphinx and Doxygen might be nice. It can also do useful things with non-text input. For instance, it can generate gallery pages from directories of photographs by interpreting the EXIF data, and will do something useful with a collection of PDFs (once I figure out what that is).

Foliomatic’s formatting of pages can be extended with transformation stages that run either before or after conversion from the source format to HTML. For instance, an equivalent of SmartyPants converts plain quotation marks into proper typographic curly quotes; sparklines and full-size graphs can be generated from embedded data or external files; equations can be rendered into MathML. (You can tell I’ve spent a lot of time in science land.)

Foliomatic is designed to generate an entire web site, so it understands all sorts of meta-information that you might need to copy into the web server’s space, such as .htaccess files, robots.txt and favicon.ico.

Foliomatic believes Ruby’s Postulate:

I have a theory that, in general, the accuracy of metadata is inversely proportional to the distance between the metadata and the data which it proports to describe.

Thus, Foliomatic treats the actual contents of a file as authoritative, and every other source of information as suspect. For instance:

  • It only looks at character set directives within the file when it cannot determine the character set from the characters themselves.
  • It only looks at the file name’s extension when it cannot determine the file format from magic numbers at the beginning of the file.
  • It only checks for a date stamp on the file (from the OS or the VCS) when there is no date annotation within the file.

In all cases, metadata annotations expected by downstream consumers are regenerated from what Foliomatic has deduced from the content.

Non-features

A relational database will not be required—not even a daemon-free one like sqlite. There may be a cache of data extracted from the various files in the source tree, stored in a non-relational persistent store like Cog, but it will only be a cache to speed up rendered-site rebuilds.

I am not much interested in making the site editable directly from the web. This would require access control machinery comparable to ikiwiki; it would also mean people were editing via clunky text input forms.