Sawyer Shepherd's Blog

How I Started My Server

My server used to be an old gaming desktop, now running Debian 11. I publish my blog with a custom static site generator written in Ruby.


This website is running off an old midrange gaming computer, from circa 12 years ago. I received it for free from a friend, who himself also got it for free from an elderly neighbor.

The specs are as follows:

The computer had no drive, so I bought a 256GB SATA SSD and slapped it in. The case doesn’t have mounts for 2.5" drives, so the SSD just kinda… floats around. It’s not much of a problem though, since the server stays on a shelf all the time.

It runs great, except for one unusual issue: I can’t get it to restart automatically after a power outage. Even after enabling “Restart After AC Power Loss” in the BIOS, it doesn’t work! I’ll have to check for a newer BIOS version to flash.


Operating System

After a great deal of consideration, I chose to install Debian 11 (Bullseye) on the server. I usually opt for SystemD-less distros, but I’ll concede that the init system makes it a breeze to create and sandbox services. Debian is a staple in the server world too—it’s fast, simple, and outdated stable. And with my experience using Debian for desktop and Armbian for server, there was no better choice.

Web Server

The server is running Nginx with a custom sandboxing configuration. Here’s the service override file, in case anyone is interested.

Note: You must change the PID file in /etc/nginx/nginx.config to /run/nginx/ for this to work.

SystemCallFilter=~@privileged @resources
RestrictAddressFamilies=AF_INET AF_INET6

It makes the master process not root and prevents Nginx from doing things that it doesn’t need to do.

I know that’s a bit of a cop-out of an explanation, sorry. If you want to learn more about SystemD sandboxing, the manpage for systed.exec is very good. You can also use systemd-analyze security to see a qualitative score of all your services, and systemd-analyze security [service] to see how to harden a specific service. The configuration above gives a exposure score of 1.5—pretty good for a internet-facing service.

Static Site Generator

I build my website with a static site generator I wrote in Ruby. I could go on forever about why I love Ruby, but that’s a blogpost for another day. The rundown is that it’s a beautifully ergonomic, flexible language that allows for insane productivity.

Wait, that sounds a lot like Python too, right? Well, that’s another future blogpost. Python had a lot of weird little gremlins that like to surface in the middle of a project. My initial attempt at a static site generator was in Python—I only got about 10 lines in when I realized that Python can’t handle paths with dots in the middle, e.g. src/./post/2021/11/4/index.html isn’t an openable file. You have to jump through hoops to turn it into an expanded path.

That’s how Python usually is for me—jumping through hoops to do something that should be simple. There’s a lot of that in Python, and that’s just not a developer experience I want from a supposedly ergonomic scripting language.


The basic goal of my webserver is to reduce boilerplate. Each source post is a Pandoc Markdown fragment.

Because Markdown is a superset of HTML, I can write a source post entirely in HTML if I really need fine-grain control, and it’ll still be valid Markdown.

This is how the source directory of the site usually looks like. The generator is hyper-specific to this directory hierarchy, but it could easily be modified to fit another.

├── footer.html
├── header.html
├── post
│   └── 2021
│       └── 11
│           └── 6
│               └──
└── style.css

For every Markdown file in the post/ dir, the generator determines the date from the path, converts the fragment to HTML with Pandoc, adds the header and footer, then automatically fills out tags like the title or date. The final generated files are compliant with XHTML 1.0 Strict.

The homepage generation follows a different approach to that of the posts. The title and a collapsible summary of each post is appended to the homepage in order of date, with the summary of the latest post expanded.

This is what the output directory would look like if I ran the above source directory through the generator:

├── index.html
├── post
│   └── 2021
│       └── 11
│           └── 6
│               └── index.html
└── style.css