engineering leadership

Automating and Modernizing My Site

Posted on June 28, 2019

Recently I set out to replace the infrastructure behind my personal website.

I had a few goals when I started the project a few days back…

  • I want to write articles in vim, press a button and have them show up on the internet.
  • I want to control the build pipeline - I want minified html, css (written in sass), and javascript. I don’t want to be forced into using javascript, even though I’m deeply invested in React!
  • I don’t want to write a blog server from scratch. Thats a solved problem.
  • I want nice TLS, but I don’t want to store the certs unecryped on disk, and I don’t want to store them in a docker image.
  • I want to manage this all through private ssh keys as opposed to usernames and passwords.
  • I want the infrastructure to be as mutable as the source of the blog itself, and I want to be able to switch cloud providers instantly.
  • I want everything to be containerized and using some kind of orchestration service to keep the processing running, the logs flowing, and the service updates smooth.

And also some anti-goals…

  • No databases
  • No user administration
  • Not expensive (can run on one small instance)
  • No javascript

The Stack



Static site generation. Blog posts with Markdown & Front Matter. The content is pretty nice to manage and consists of some files in a directory: posts



Dead simple tls termination, static web server. Shortly I’ll be turning on gzip compression and tuning the ssl parameters. Hugo can serve html, but its really more of a development tool per the current project maintainer.

I chose alpine linux for the container base because its got a small attack surface and I don’t need fancy tools in the container context.


Infrastructure as code. The deployment on digital ocean consists of a firewall, some dns records, a single droplet of the smallest size, all provisioned with terraform here: infrastructure/

We make minimal use of the provisioning tools inside terraform, opting to manage that with Ansible due to its slightly better model for managing state in remote software.

This is evidenced by how silly it is to set up a docker swarm on multiple nodes with terraform alone – you have to set up an external data source, parse input and output json and so on, when in reality you just want to run a command on a machine and get the result back (in this case docker swarm init). Ansible does this super well!


Install some packages, set up systemd, install docker, start the swarm and deploy the stack. It does these things really well with nothing more than its shell module.

However, I’m going to be improving this by using its built-in python modules as they do a better job of tracking idempotency on commands that you issue and not doing unnecessary work. I’m also overusing local plays for convenience, right now everything assumes and linux environment anyhow.

Docker & Swarm

Right now we ensure the services are up of being in a single node docker swarm. docker’s default policy with swarm services is to restart on failure. docker itself is managed with systemd, and there is no special configuration required there. the docker daemon isn’t listening on any ports.

all docker remote management is done through ssh directly connecting to the docker daemon with private keys. its actually so nice using docker’s built in support for ssh via docker -H ssh://host. this allows for more advanced setups with bastion hosts, transparently, through ~/.ssh/config files, without having to worry about setting up docker daemon to listen on a port and screw around with tls certs.

For this small deployment, we can manage docker services logs with the docker service logs command, which just takes nginx stdout and stderr and routes it to the docker daemon logs via journald. This is easy out of the box!

All in all, I can write a post, run ansible play and not worry about it. Happy with the project, and to finish it off I’ll turn on gzip compression and tune the ssl params on nginx to get an A+ rating.