Static Hosting on Amazon S3

I've had an outstanding todo for quite some time to migrate my basic and essentially-static business website off of Squarespace. I ended up replacing it with a combination of Octopress and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), which, it turns out, are a fantastic duo.


A brief prelude: Squarespace is fantastic, and should be the first port of call for anyone, especially a business, who needs a website. I can't even enumerate the number of ostensibly well-run restaurants and businesses who either don't have a website, or if they do, it's some horrid Flash-payload thing that won't run on the primary device customers tend to be using at the point of need: their phones! Squarespace isn't free, but is totally worth the small monthly cost for pretty much anyone.

I started my business site there due to a combination of being overwhelmingly-busy at the time, as well as generally curious about the service... but it eventually became time for me to move on1.


I've become quite enamoured with Octopress - the blogging engine that I use for this site (and host on GitHub). I like to think of it as the anti-Wordpress - it produces good, old-fashioned directory trees of HTML pages from markdown-formatted source files and SASS style sheets. No application server or database, and the attendant care and feeding, required - just a plain old web server serving files2. This is a perfect choice, it turns out, for a basic company site. It has all the necessary infrastructure for blogging, should that become necessary, and has built-in responsive design and other niceties.


S3 is Amazon Web Services' online file storage service (distributed, redundant, RESTful, etc). It is purportedly used as the persistence backend for Dropbox, among others. My needs are considerably more modest - I just want it to store and serve my site content. It turns out it has an option for exactly this purpose:

S3 Static Website Hosting

Thus, a static website with Octopress and S3 requires that you simply:

  1. create content within an Octopress repository
  2. execute Octopress' bundle exec rake generate to produce static HTML
  3. deploy the output to an S3 bucket (bundle exec rake deploy)


Out of the box, Octopress does not know how to deploy to S3. That's easily remedied via an extension to the Rakefile that I found via this blog post. With that s3 rake task added, and S3 bucket variables defined, it's simply a matter of running bundle exec rake deploy. to deploy new content. The underlying s3cmd is, obviously, smart enough to only send content deltas to the S3 bucket.


At the time of writing, Amazon charges 9.5¢ per Gigabyte-month for the first 1TB of storage (cheaper thereafter), plus 0.5¢ per 1000 RESTful (GET, PUT, etc) operations, plus some minimal data transfer charge. One reasonable way to describe this might be: extremely inexpensive!

So Far, So Good

Thus far, I'm really happy with this setup. My personal blog, this site, is currently hosted on GitHub Pages3, but I'll probably move this over to S3 also. Obviously, the static site constraint remains - I can't, for instance, have a page with a form, or an XHR endpoint, etc. But if those should become necessary - it's very easy to upgrade to an EC2 instance with Rails, and remain within the Amazon ecosystem. I guess that's how they get you...

  1. Squarespace is definitely overkill for a static site if you have the time, knowledge and inclination to host it elsewhere. But many website-needing entities do not possess the intersection of those properties - hence the genius of Squarespace as a product itself. 

  2. This resultant simplicity has an inherent appeal - not dissimilar to that, for me, of iOS vs OS X. The former trades possibility for simplicity - a desirable exchange in many (but obviously not all) scenarios. 

  3. GitHub Pages hosts static sites for free - not wishing to trespass on GitHub's awesomeness, I reasoned that I should probably pay for the business site's hosting. All 68¢ of it, or whatever the final bill ends up being.