Hello again! This is going to be my first legitimate post on this page so hope you’re as excited as I am! Today’s post is going to be about how I built this blog from scratch and 100% for free. And this is something anyone can do. So, let’s get into it!
Deciding on a solution
I had two basic requirements for this blog:
- It had to be headless
- Be as low-cost as possible
Wait, what’s up with this headless stuff?
Well, a headless blog would be able to operate without a front end, meaning, I want to be able to interact with it (publish posts, delete posts, etc.) without having to interact with a UI.
This allows me to edit posts locally by just interacting with the backend and then those changes would automatically be reflected wherever I render the posts offering me tons of flexibility in how I choose to present posts. And these posts can be rendered from any site.
In my case, I needed the blog to be headless because my portfolio website is hosted on GitHub, which only allows statically hosted sites (no back-end or database). If I wanted a backend, I would have to host that separately on another server.
Initially, I considered using WordPress as the framework for my headless blog. WordPress has a strong community behind it and tons of documentation, so it wouldn’t be too hard to spin up a blog quickly and get to posting. Plus it’s open-source. ^_^
That being said, WordPress is kind of overkill for my purposes as its main purpose is to serve styled content to websites in order to provide a full build.
So, I looked elsewhere and came across Strapi. With Strapi, I had much more flexibility and they had a configuration readily available to support blogging. To get started, all I would have to do is build it with the blogging template and I would have access to a clean UI that stores blog posts on a database of my choosing.
Like WordPress, Strapi has to be hosted, so I would have to find a platform to host my web app. Although there are numerous cloud hosting platforms that offer inexpensive web application hosting (AWS offers hosting on lambda as little as $5 a month), these platforms usually offer small resources unless you fork over some extra dough.
Being the cheapskate that I am, I wanted to do this for free, so popular cloud hosting platforms were out the window. Unfortunately, not a lot of platforms offer a free option, especially in the wake of hackers (such as Purpleurchin) abusing these free resources to mine crypto. This is the main reason why hosting platforms, like Heroku, don’t offer free web app hosting anymore :(.
So, I tried looking for headless cloud content management services (CMS) that offered free hosting and stumbled upon Cosmic.js. They offered a free tier subscription. I started using it and was very pleased. They had an easy-to-use UI and making objects for content was pretty straightforward. However, a free subscription was limited to only 1GB of storage. I liked it so much that I planned on using it for displaying projects and testimonials but continued my search for blog hosting.
I finally came across the concept of using Google Sheets as a database and using the Google Cloud API to interact with it. At first, this seemed ridiculous. Using a spreadsheet as a database seemed tacky and stupid. But it would actually be perfect for my needs. I’m not going to store huge amounts of data and with a fresh Google Account I’d have access to 15 GB of free storage. This would be more than enough than I’ll ever need! With the added bonus of this being hosted for free for me on the cloud, what more could I ask for?!
And that’s how I came to the decision of hosting my blog 100% for free with Google Sheets. Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of how I actually did it.
How to host a blog with Google Sheets
To make a blog with Sheets, you’ll need a Google Account (obviously), a new Sheets doc (to store your blog entries), and Google Sheets enabled on the Google Cloud API.
Configuring the Google Cloud API
- Go to the Google Cloud Console
- Create a new project under the “Select a project” dropdown
- After filling out basic details, search for “Google Sheets API” in the search bar at the top and click “Enable” on the first result
Creating a Service Account
- In the credentials section click “Create Credentials” at the top.
- Select the “Service account option”
- Add a name and click “Create and Continue”
- Configure the role as Project -> Editor, then click “Done”
- Back in the “Credentials” tab, select the new service account
- Select Keys -> Add Key -> Create new key
- Select JSON in the popup and click “Create” (keep this file handy as we’ll use this to authenticate with the API)
And that’s it! All that needs to be done now is to give edit permissions to the service account in the Sheet.
To make this usable, I made a web UI that makes it easy to create, edit, and delete posts. Once I create posts, all I have to do is render them by requesting the Google Sheet in CSV format with Papa Parse.
And that’s how I hosted my blog for free using Google Sheets! Thanks for making it this far and stay tuned for more tutorials and posts! 🙂