Moving 18 years of this personal blog from Wordpress to Hugo

It sounds a bit more involved than it turned out to be, but I have a thing for posts titled “Moving M years of K from Y to Z”.

As can be seen in the history page or rather the first weblog entry dated 2001-02-27, this blog has been around for more than 18 years.

It started as some CGI script, then spent some time as a LiveJournal, then, thanks to meeting Professor Biella Coleman who was at that point still a grad student, went through a Movable Type phase and then, at some point, converted to Wordpress.

I don’t know when exactly the Wordpress stage started, but it’s probably not too long after Wordpress was born in 2003 somewhere.

Anyways, after many happy years together, our ways are parting.

The new block-based editor in Wordpress 5, Gutenberg, caters more for Wordpress as a CMS, and far less for Wordpress as a platform for long-form blogging.

Personally I have noticed that the new editor gets in my way most of the time, where the pre-Gutenberg editor worked just perfectly, for my use case.

Because life is short, and many more blog posts have to written, I made the decision, not easily, to move this blog away from Wordpress, to a different and hopefully more suitable platform.

I ended up choosing Hugo because its native mode of operation involves me writing posts in some form of text editor, which is my preferred modality in any case, but primarily because of all the static generators, it was the only one with a prominent Emacs Orgmode plugin.

(Based on what I now know about Hugo, it looks like once again Emacs Orgmode helped me make the best decision.)

In the rest of this post I describe the process of migrating the blog you see before you from Wordpress to Hugo.

Export data from Wordpress.

I used SchumacherFM’s wordpress-to-hugo-exporter to export my whole wordpress site to a Hugo-compatible project.

Following(ish) the instructions, I git cloned the wordpress-to-hugo-exporter into the wp-content/plugins folder of the relevant wordpress installation, and then I invoked the export script with php hugo-export-cli.php.

The end-result was a 600MB /tmp/wp-hugo.zip which I SCP’d down to my laptop and then unzipped into a directory called hugo-export.

Install hugo get site up and running.

The main goal here was to get Hugo running with the exported wordpress data.

After installing hugo with brew install hugo, I continued with Hugo’s quick start instructions.

Create the new Hugo site:

hugo new site cpbotha.net

Copy the exported contents into the Hugo site:

mv hugo-export/* cpbotha.net/content/

I chose the minos theme from the great Hugo Themes repository and installed it into the new site like this:

cd cpbotha.net/themes
git clone https://github.com/carsonip/hugo-theme-minos.git

Before starting up the new site for the first time, I edited the top-level config.toml so it looked like the following:

baseURL = "https://cpbotha.net/"
languageCode = "en-us"
title = "voices in my head"
theme = "hugo-theme-minos"
# required for disqus comments, see next section
disqusShortname = "cpbotha"

[permalinks]
  # mimic wordpress permalink configuration for future posts
  # exported wordpress posts have `url` correctly set which overrides everything
  posts = "/:year/:month/:day/:slug/"

Note: The theme that you currently see on this site is a modified version of minos, implemented using Hugo’s Theme Components mechanism.

Fire up Hugo in development mode!

To see your site in all of its new static glory, you can start Hugo in development mode from the project’s top-level directory:

cd cpbotha.net/
hugo serve -D

By pointing your browser at http://localhost:1313, you’ll be able to see a dynamic version of your site that automatically refreshes whenever you make changes to any of the underlying files.

Transfer comments to Disqus.

This blog’s small but amazing group of commenters, and the comments they have written over the years, are super valuable to me. It was important to transfer them and their work over to the new blog without a hitch.

Motivation.

I considered self-hosting comments using something like Commento, but the fact that I was able to get ad-free Disqus for free, as this site does not do advertising, and the fact that the conversion from Wordpress to Disqus is well-documented, won me over.

Furthermore, going from Wordpress to Commento often involves a quick stop at Disqus in any case. In other words, the option of self-hosting remains.

Procedure.

The Disqus plugin for Wordpress has an automatic “import comments” mode which promises to transfer all of your wordpress comments to Disqus.

In my case, this worked for most posts, except those with more than 60 or 70 comments, in thich no comments were transferred.

I ended up following the “manual import” procedure documented in the Disqus help.

In short, you export your whole wordpress site as XML / WXR, download the file, and then import that using the upload functionality of the Disqus import site.

This seemed to have transferred all of my comments.

In spite of multiple attempts at automatic import, followed by the manual import, Disqus was clever enough not to duplicate any comments.

Export domain name should be same as display domain name.

It is important when you export your Wordpress comments, that the domain-name you export from is the same as the domain-name where you’ll end up displaying the Disqus comments.

If this is not the case, you will have to edit the exported XML files to search and replaced all of the instances of export domain name to display domain name.

Build and upload the new static hotness.

My workflow now looks like this:

  1. Write new post in Emacs with hugo serve -D running. The browser window adjacent to Emacs updates in real-time showing my changes. (I will eventually look into ox-hugo so I can write posts in orgmode.)
  2. When I’m happy with the post, I build the site with hugo -d ~/Downloads/cpbotha.net and sync it up to my web host using rsync

You can build the site by just invoking hugo in the top-level directory, in which case the output of the build will end up in a sub-directory named public.

However, I keep the source to this blog in a git repository in my Dropbox, and I would prefer not syncing the expendable 600MB+ output directory, instead building it and syncing it from ~/Downloads.

The little bash script I used to perform step 2 in one go looks like this:

#!/bin/bash
hugo -d ~/Downloads/cpbotha.net
# sync contents of public dir into static_cpbothanet/
rsync -av --progress ~/Downloads/cpbotha.net/ \
cpbotha@my.webhost.com:~/webapps/static_cpbothanet

Bonus level: Bundling and automatic resizing of images.

As each edition of the WHV usually contains at least an image or two, an important piece of the puzzle was how to keep images together with the markdown post source, instead of in a separate static directory.

In addition, Wordpress has this great feature where it automatically resizes images on upload, enabling posts to inline lower resolution versions that can be clicked on to see the full resolution.

I had resigned myself to the reality that this would probably be a manual process for Hugo.

Thanks to a super useful and detailed post by Laura Kalbag, I learned that the image-bundling problem had already been addressed by Hugo, and that Laura Kalbag had developed a Hugo shortcode which solved the second problem using Hugo’s built-in image processing and a relatively new browser feature called srcsets.

With her img shortcode, high-resolution images are automatically resized into multiple lower resolution versions at build time, all of which will be offered to the client, which will then decide which to download based on the client-side display parameters.

With regard to the image bundling, this is simply a matter of creating a directory containing the relevant images and the post contents in a file called index.md.

In my case, I would create a post by invoking the following command in the top-level directory:

hugo new content/posts/2019/some-post-slug/index.md

Based on the permalinks setting in the config.toml, this post will be available at /year/month/day/slug-in-frontmatter/. The index.md can refer to images that are in the same directory using just their relative filenames.

Mailing lists.

In addition to The Commenters mentioned above, I also treasure The Readers. :)

On the Wordpress blog, I had already started making use of Mailchimp a while back for the daily and the weekly post emails, in addition to Wordpress.com’s own email subscription which services the largest group of readers.

I briefly looked into tinyletter, but then decided that it made the most sense to migrate the Wordpress.com email subscribers over to the Mailchimp daily email list.

It was relatively straight-forward to export a CSV with subscriber address from Wordpress.com and then to import that into the Mailchimp list.

Wrapping up.

Converting this blog from Wordpress to Hugo went significantly more smoothly than I expected. In fact, the first Hugo version was online after a single evening of work.

Other than that, Hugo has already impressed me a number of times with its speed, and features that have clearly been thought through. Besides the built-in image processing and the theme composition, there are smaller but still super useful features such as the archetypes which I have configured to help me start a blog post more easily.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions.

Here’s to at least 18 more years of blog posts!

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