Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

A Faster Blog, Faster

Moving this site to Eleventy and Netlify has been a great way to improve the performance of the deployed end-product, which was reason enough to make the switch.

During the port from Wordpress I've also been pleasantly surprised at how quick the build process is, particularly given the ways build-time work has grown as I've added features like comment imports. Avoiding breakage of URLs that were previously supported by WP has necessitated multiple paginations across the full set of posts, for example to generate year indexes and numbered pages. Each of these additional steps creates several hundred more files, and the fact that everything continues to take less than 10 seconds given my newbie 11ty and nunjucks skills has been great. A quick build also makes it easier to verify changes when deploying.

10 seconds feels great for a full build, but it's not ideal in a ctrl-r development loop. Perhaps there's a better solution, but I've been iterating on content and templates by firing up a linux terminal on my 2017 Pixelbook and starting the built-in 11ty filewatcher and browser sync tools. This monitors the filesystem and fully re-builds every time a file changes. There's work in progress to make incremental builds possible for 11ty, but until then, the speed of a full build is the speed at which changes are visible.

So can we go faster?

Investigating this turned into a fun little project that has helped me learn loads about 11ty and has reacquainted me Node's performance tools. [1]

Skipping to the punchline, my blog builds 35% faster and Frances' is north of 40% faster. Trimmed build output from "before":

slightlyoff@:~/projects/infrequently$ npm run build
...
Writing build/feed/feed.xml from ./_posts/feed.njk.
...
Writing build/page/128/index.html from ./_posts/page.md.
Copied 1189 files / Wrote 1175 files in 7.83 seconds (6.7ms each, v0.11.0)

...and after...

...
Writing build/page/128/index.html from ./_posts/page.md.
Copied 1189 files / Wrote 1175 files in 5.75 seconds (4.9ms each, v0.11.0)

The changes themselves aren't particularly clever. Eleventy is I/O heavy, and for correctness sake, it didn't do much caching. The caches added by these changes are likely error prone and may bloat build memory for large sites. If you've got a big 11ty project, I'd appreciate help testing them.

To do that, replace Eleventy in your project with [2]:

$ cd project-directory
$ npm install slightlyoff/eleventy#faster-builds
...

Then re-build your project and, if you can, note down before/after timings and potential correctness issues w/ content. Issues (or success stories) very much appreciated in the PR conversation. Details about build hardware, OS, and template configuration are particularly useful.

It's been fun getting this far, and while I expect fully incremental builds to make this work obsolete at development time, build speedups still help deployment through Netlify or other cloud-build systems.


  1. The addition of Node debugging in Chrome Devtools, combined with good integration of console.profile/console.profileEnd, plus --debug-brk made many things easier ↩︎

  2. A previous version of this post included long-winded sibling-directory installs, but Mathias Bynens dropped some NPM knowledge on me, significantly simplifying things ↩︎