Presenting anna at fireside

There are several amazing SSGs out there, like Hugo and 11ty. Building your own SSG is an amazing learning experience. It also motivates one to maintain and improve their personal site.

Presented and written by Adhesh, Anirudh, Aditya and Nathan

Building personal blogs from the ground up can be a tedious process. Some of us have had our hands deep in vanilla HTML and CSS, which isn't fun to maintain. We all want to get to the point and share our thoughts on the web. But, there is a small bump that stops us from doing so.

Maintaining your personal site is like working with your own Neovim configuration. Every issue fixed would lead to an entirely unrelated bug. There is a lot of time spent fixing things rather than getting productive work done.

A static site generator is an immensely useful application

Lighthouse scores of the anna-docs page

It can simplify the whole process: allowing you to spend time and energy on quality content. Keep reading to find out how we designed anna v1.0.0


ACM-PESU ECC conducts the ACM Industrial Experience Program (AIEP), an annual program that spans six weeks.

It involves students working as a team to develop an industrial-level project. AIEP intends to give students hands-on experience with real-world projects. It is an excellent opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals.

Our AIEP team consisted of Adhesh, Aditya, Nathan, and Anirudh.

Our mentors (cool ass senior names!) gave us some great ideas for a team of us four freshers. We were puzzled whether to build a distributed Postgres clone or a load balancer.

Deep discussions over a week got us to the topic of making blog sites and how tiring it is to work with, which only gets worse as you write more and more content for your internet home.

This and inspirations from Saaru and Sapling pushed us to tackle this problem with our own SSG.

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A static site generator in Go

The small but big decision!

Anna is written in Go. We considered writing it in Rust, but that came with a steep learning curve. Go is a powerful language and has excellent concurrency support, which suited our requirements to build a performant application.

What's in a name?

Probably the first thing that us four came across when joining ACM and HSP was the famous Saaru repository. Saaru, one of the projects that inspired our ssg, is derived from a Kannada word. Saaru is a thin lentil soup, usually served with rice.

In Kannada, rice is referred to as 'anna'(ಅನ್ನ) pronounced /ɐnːɐ/

This was just a playful stunt that we played. We plan on beating Saaru at build times, optimizing at runtime.


We began the project in a unique manner, with each of us creating our own prototype of the SSG. This was done to familiarize everyone with the Go toolchain.

The first version of the SSG did just three things. It rendered markdown (stored in files in a content folder in the project directory) to HTML. This HTML was injected into a layout.html file and served over a local web server. Later, we implemented a front matter YAML parser to retrieve page metadata

What made us develop this to a great extent?

Benchmarks! Can anna lift??

In simple terms, to beat Saaru's render time (P.S. we did!). Something you probably never notice while deploying, but it is what pushed us to spend hours on this.

Adhesh was pretty excited to pick up Go and implement profiling, shaving milliseconds off-of build times, when he implemented parallel rendering using goroutines.


The initial prototype built by Adhesh consisted of a multi-goroutine system. A new goroutine would be spawned to walk the required directories. If the current path being walked was a file, the path would be passed to another function along with its current modification time.

The previous mod time of the file would then be retrieved from a map holding the mod times of all the files:

The new function checks if a child process is running:

This prototype was not very efficient as it created and killed processes for every change. It had multiple goroutines attempting to walk the directories at the same time. It also used multiple mutual exclusion locks to prevent data races. Integrating this into the project also proved to be challenging.

Improved version

The live reload feature was improved by Anirudh. The updated version utilised two goroutines.

The main goroutine used the earlier file walker, with one important change: it sequentially traversed the directory without spawning new goroutines. For any modification to a file in the current traversal, a vanilla render of the entire site would be performed. The goroutine would then sleep for a specified duration (currently 1 second) before attempting the next directory traversal.

The secondary goroutine ran a local web server that served the rendered/ directory.

This eliminated all locks and avoided the creation and destruction of any child processes.

We cook! 🍳

Here are some screenshots out of our group chats, that demonstrate build times, profiling et-al when having thousands of markdown files or in this case just copy-pasting a single markdown file en-mass!

Hyperfine benchmarks comparing the render times of anna, Saaru and 11ty

After about 2 weeks of training (ahem) coding, we had a (merge) bringing parallel rendering and profiling to the table


Heres the CPU profile of anna, generated using pprof. This profile was generated while rendering this site.

Here's an SVG showing how much time each sys-call / process takes and how each block adds-up to render / build times

CPU profile of an anna render generated using pprof

You may wanna zoom-in about 3-4x times to get to see how our ssg works

A big rewrite (when we went for a TDD approach)

Starting off this project, we kept adding functionality without optimization. We didn’t have a proper structure; PRs would keep breaking features and overwriting functions written by fellow team-mates.

A new proposed rendering system

We proceeded to restructure our SSG into: modules previously part of cmd/anna/utils.go and cmd/anna/main.go were to be split between pkg/parsers/, pkg/engine/ and pkg/helper

├─── helpers
│   ├─── helpers.go
│   └─── helper_test.go
├─── engine
│   ├─── anna_engine.go
│   ├─── anna_engine_test.go
│   ├─── engine.go
│   ├─── engine_test.go
│   ├─── user_engine.go
│   ├─── user_engine_test.go
│   └─── engine_integration_test.go
└─── parsers
	├── parser.go
	├── parser_test.go
	└── parser_integration_test.go

Currently there are two separate types of files that have to be rendered. One set includes user-defined files such as, and various posts. These are specific to a user.

The second set of files that are rendered include tags.html, sub-tags.html and posts.html Now, the generator/engine has a method to render "anna specific" pages and another method to render "user defined" pages which include all the user pages and posts

Here's some of Anirudh and Hegde's work written during week-2

To search or not to search? 🤔

That is the question > Is our static site becoming and at what cost?

We were wondering if we’d need a search function on our site since Google and any other web-crawler index our site anyway. If we needed to implement it, we had a constraint: we cannot use an API. It had to be static and local to be user-friendly to work with. Aditya and Anirudh implemented a JSON index generator that uses "Deep Data Merge" to index posts on our site.

This index is built at runtime and works without any lag or noticeable delay when searching across posts. We mean to re-write it using WASM if necessary and if it costs us time when performing searches.

Demonstration of the search feature in anna

JS integration as plugins

Aditya added a field to our frontmatter which lets you pick and add certain JS based snippets to your site. This way, you get to add highlight.js support, analytics scripts and donation page widgets; that you can source from the static/scripts folder and toggle as needed per-markdown page.


Nathan proceeded to work on a GUI; a web-based wizard that let's a new user setup anna along with a couple of easter eggs along the way 🍚

The wizard lets a user pick a theme, enter your name, pick navbar elements, and validates fields using regex checks so you don’t need to worry about relative paths in baseURLs, canonical links, and sitemaps. After successfully completing the setup, the wizard launches a live preview of your site in a new tab.

Demonstration of the GUI wizard in anna


What if you'd want to add a contact form to your site? or embed YouTube videos or iframes of your choosing?

Anna let's us do that! Although, the point of a static site generator is to quickly get to writing and focusing on the content. You can still embed js elements and iframe as needed to showcase any interesting YouTube videos or to just rickroll people!


You can tag posts by hand, at the start of each markdown file and you get a nice sub-page on your site so readers can discover similar content or browser by category.

changelog: showcasing important additions --- as the weeks proceeded






We are at week: 3/6 and have a lot of things in store and bugs to squash!

Today anna is tagged at v1.0.0 and we use it on our personal sites: // //